Linux Looms for Microsoft

Enterprise users want vendor to cooperate with developers.

Microsoft Corp. must learn to cooperate with Linux and open-source developers to ensure better interoperability, rather than porting its products to Linux, enterprise users say.

Their comments follow the release of a Client Advisory from Meta Group Inc., of Stamford, Conn., last month, which said Meta expects Microsoft to start porting products to Linux by late 2004 (see "Lintel Turns Up the Heat").

Brian Richardson, a Meta analyst, told eWeek that the research companys position on Linux in corporate data centers is based on dozens of client interactions.

Meta said it expects most of the Linux growth for the next two years to come at the expense of Unix. By 2005 to 2006, however, "we believe that the Lintel [Linux on Intel] market share will be large enough that Microsoft will become more pragmatic about Linux," Richardson said. "We expect this to impact Windows pricing, packaging and, ultimately, even some component porting to Linux."

Despite the expected growth of Lintel, most of the Windows and Linux customers canvassed by eWeek do not expect Microsoft to port its products to Linux any time soon and say its unlikely that Microsoft will change its hostile attitude toward open source.

Sean Frazier, a computer networking consultant in Burbank, Calif., said he expects Microsoft to scrutinize product sectors in which it wants a larger market share.

"With Sun Microsystems [Inc.], IBM and Novell [Corp.] adapting and porting different aspects to Linux or even, to some extent, porting and/or selling services based on Linux, I can only imagine that Microsoft is giving serious thought to adapting services to work with Linux," said Frazier.

For their part, Microsoft officials, in Redmond, Wash., have rejected all Metas assumptions, saying their company has no intention of porting to Linux.

Some customers have a different idea. They want Microsoft to embrace all industry networking and software standards.

David Wheeler, president of Kineticode Inc., a content management and development consulting company in San Francisco, and who has worked with Microsoft and Linux software, said he hopes Microsoft will start working with open-source developers where it makes sense. "I would also like to see [Microsoft] increase interoperability between its server products and other server products," Wheeler said.

But David Blomberg, an engineer at a large network solutions company in Tokyo, disagreed, saying Microsoft is already doing "more than enough" by raising prices and releasing programs "riddled with bugs. Linux will continue to gain ground due to Microsofts increasing restrictions on what you can do with your own server and with their increasingly expensive software.

"I would most like them to open up their full APIs. Not just the common ones but the hidden ones that show how the internal system actually communicates, so we can finally interoperate 100 percent," Blomberg said.

Other users do not want to see Microsoft products running on Linux any time soon. An IT manager with a metals production company in Pittsburgh said it is too early for any Microsoft products to be directly ported to Linux.

"I think that Linux needs to mature a little more and find its place in all of this. Also, reports have shown that the number of security issues around Linux has been higher than for Microsoft. So, why would I want Exchange Server on Linux if it was going to be a point of attack for hacker/virus writers?" asked the IT manager, who requested anonymity.

The Meta researchers predict that Microsofts move to Linux will become inevitable, given Metas forecast that Linux on Intel will constitute 45 percent of server sales by 2007. However, Microsofts Peter Houston, senior director of Windows server strategies, disputes this estimate, saying it is not bound by factual research and is "speculative at best."

But some software users believe it is probably a valid estimate.

"Microsofts client pricing factor alone will make this a realistic projection," said the IT manager for the metals production company. "Look at Microsofts client licenses pricing. While most server operating systems have a client-quantity pricing scheme, I dont see this in the Linux community. Thats one of the reasons I am looking to make the move there."