MS-Linux? It Could Happen Linux & Open Source Center Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols thinks that Microsoft has laid the groundwork to offer its own Linux distribution-that is, if Linux gives the company too much competition.

Could Microsoft come out with its own Linux distribution? It sure could. Theres nothing in the GPL to stop it. And in fact, SCO CEO Darl McBride told me at Novembers CDXPO in Las Vegas that Microsofts second licensing payment to his company was for the rights to incorporate Services for Unix (SFU) into its operating systems.

SFU, for those who dont know it, gives users access to a Unix shell environment that runs on top of the Windows kernel. It also includes a software development kit that includes many Unix application programming interfaces and such basic Unix development tools as make, rcs and gcc.

Historically, Microsoft has used SFU to make it easy for corporate customers to migrate from Unix to Windows. In practical terms, Ive found it to be an extremely useful way to manage cross-Windows and Unix network services. Ive said it before, and Ill say it again: If Im running a shop with both Windows and Unix (whether its AIX, Solaris, Linux or what have you) I want SFU. Its one of Microsofts best software offerings, and the upcoming version, 3.5, looks darn good, too.

It also looks good to me as a possible way to host Linux on top of Server 2003. Sound impossible? Its not. Before SCO decided it wasnt a Linux company, it offered Linux Kernel Personalities (LKP), which boiled down to Linux virtual machines that ran on top of UnixWare, so we already know you can run Linux on top of another operating system.

Microsoft already has SFU. For what its worth, Microsoft has SCOs permission to put SFUs Unix functionality into Windows Server so its unlikely that SCO could complain about Microsoft using Linux. Mind you, I dont think for a second that SCO would yell at anything Microsoft would do, but Microsoft taking the SFU option finesses SCOs legal claims against Linux.

Now, would Microsoft do this? I think it just might.

I cant see Microsoft coming out with its own independent Linux distribution. Despite the Department of Justice ruling, Microsoft has continued to make its programs and operating systems interdependent. For example, if you really want to get any significant advantage from using Office 2003, you need to buy into Office System 2003, which in turn means buying Server 2003 and SharePoint Portal Server. Microsoft couldnt do that with an MS-Linux.

But Linux as a "service" on Windows Server? That, I can see.

Now, the only way I see this happening is if Linux starts eating Microsofts server market share the way Linux has the older Unixes market share. In that case, Microsoft will want to make a dramatic move to try to knock out its Linux rivals. I think its to set up the foundation for such a move (and to help SCO to continue to trouble Linux) that Microsoft obtained the right to place SFUs functionality within a server operating system.

Mind you, running Linux as a service wouldnt add a darn thing to Microsofts offerings. Indeed, it would hurt them in some ways since it would distract them from their main plans. Linux certainly wouldnt gain anything from running on say Server 2003. But, if Microsoft were to make such a move, it wouldnt be about technical benefits. It would be about stealing Linuxs thunder. It would be about saying to customers: "Linux? We can give you that, only better because you dont have to worry about SCO legal action."


You see, Microsoft has never been about being technically better. Microsoft is about creating the perception that its the best and embracing any technology that might disrupt that illusion. If Linux gives Microsoft enough trouble, I think Microsoft is ready to embrace Linux… just enough to try to strangle it.

Discuss This in the eWEEK Forum Linux & Open Source Center Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about Unix and Linux since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.