Longhorns Real Job: Trying to Gore Linux

Opinion: Microsoft's No. 1 job for Longhorn is to make money, but killing off the Linux desktop isn't far behind, Linux & Open-Source Center Editor Steven Vaughan-Nichols writes.

You want to know one reason why Microsoft is taking so long to come out with Longhorn? It wants to make darn sure that its as Linux and open-source unfriendly as humanly possible. Today, you can mix and match Linux, Windows and open-source programs pretty much as you see fit.

On my home network, for example, I run OpenOffice on my XP Pro, W2K and SuSE, Red Hat and Xandros Linux desktops, while accessing files via Common Internet File System (CIFS) on servers ranging from Windows NT to Server 2003 to a variety of Linux and BSD boxes running Samba 3. I can do that because open standards-based programs enable me to pick the best possible programs for my uses.

While I may disagree with Sun Microsystems president Jonathan Schwartz on many open-source issues, such as his calling Red Hat a "proprietary Linux distribution," hes dead right on one thing: Open standards are what make computing really go.

Microsoft, of course, sees it another way. In the past, it set its operating systems so that unless you ran Microsofts own programs, you got a second-class experience. We saw that with Netscape.

Now, after having their hands gently slapped by the Department of Justice, the boys from Redmond have another plan: Make it so that users of their next desktop system wont be able to use non-Microsoft-blessed servers or programs at all.

Im not the only one who sees this coming. The GNOME Foundation and Mozilla Foundation teams also see it coming, and theyre trying to come up with a plan of defense.

Theyre convinced that Avalon, Longhorns presentation subsystem, and XAML, Avalons Extensible Application Markup Language, will lock in users to Microsofts proprietary programs or only to programs written with Microsoft-proprietary tools. Me, I think thats a big deal, but I think WinFS, Longhorns file system, is at least as big a problem.

You see, Microsoft is busy patenting everything it can lay its hands on with all three. In fact, Microsoft is now building up its patent arsenal, applying for a rather amazing 10 patents a day. The idea isnt to ensure that Microsoft makes a fair profit from its patents; its to make sure that no one else can write fully compatible software.

The irony of this is twofold: Its exactly the opposite of what the patent system was supposed to do, and XML was meant to open internetwork and interapplication communications, not provide a way to lock them up.

The open-source leaders are considering ways around these problems, such as promoting the use of open standards-based technologies like GNOMEs open-source GUI toolkit, GTK+ and Mozillas User Interface Language, XUL.

Or, taking a leaf from the Samba crew, just try to reverse-engineer and clone Avalon and XAML. Either approach could work, but work needs to start sooner rather than later, no matter which direction developers end up going in.

Next Page: I fear WinFS may be a harder nut to crack.