The Battle Is On


Thereís no doubt that the air is charged between these two. Criticism from both sides is no rarity. However, two events in past months stood, in my opinion, atop the others.


In February Linux got quite a punch from IDC analysis. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) study compared the cost of Windows 2000 and Linux servers, from acquisition, through IT staffing... TCO analysts claim that: "...the cost advantages of Windows are significant: 11-22% less over a five-year period." What?! Is the maintenance of Linux server really that bigger from Windows 2000ís? Somehow I doubt it. But then, regarding lower costs of software products and high costs of human resources in United States, research perhaps might be true. However, as I read on, somehow I couldn't get rid of a feeling, that authors were biased. (Could the reason to this be the fact that they were sponsored by Microsoft Corporation?) Highlighting Windows 2000 preferences and not really mentioning the pros of Linux... or putting them as con - for instance, the need of configuration. Says IDC: "...Linux applications require optimization", which means more costs, while Iím saying: "I can have a better control of my system."


Anyway, after seeing Microsoft being overwhelmed by IDC TCO study in February, June found an annual memo of Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer - Microsoft, to their employees finally regarding the threat of Linux to Microsoft. After the voice of IT community claiming that Linux has certain advantages seemed to be ignored, it probably was the voice of numbers what was heard and what showed Microsoft the possible threat of Linux and open source movement. And what are the numbers saying? That Linux covers up to 20% of new servers. It still is far from capturing the majority but it yet is a nice piece of cake. Plus predictions say it will get up to 40% by 2005.


"...Linux and OpenOffice is seen as an interesting, 'good enough' or 'free' alternative," Ballmer wrote in his annual letter summarizing Microsoft's market position and its goals for the coming year. Ballmerís words (good enough or free alternative) might sound more as a bash than praise at first, but when you consider all the ignorance and sometimes even offense, they paid to Linux before...

The fact that he mentioned OpenOffice makes me feel like Microsoft is not only seeing Linux as a threat in enterprise computing, but also as a possible threat within desktops. And - you might want to run Windows on a Linux-based network, but who will want a Windows server, when they're running Linux on workstations?


Ballmer goes on and this time his words even sound like a praise: "Noncommercial software products in general, and Linux in particular, present a competitive challenge for us and for our entire industry, and they require our concentrated focus and attention."


IDCís TCO study might have killed the myth (/truth - you decide) of Linux being free, but what about it's stability and long-liveness? (Unlike Windows, Linux can run for a longer period of time without reboot.) Or what about the above mentioned pro (/con Ė once again, you decide), wide space for configuration? These, as well as many other, questions can't be overlooked. One would be stupid, if they did. And Microsoft certainly isnít stupid. (If nothing else, then their wealth proves it.) So how will they deal with the arising competitor?


Microsoft Linux?


Sounds like a joke? Well, yes, it is. But then, when you think of itÖ what's so funny about it? I think it would be great. I actually believe, this world would be a better place, if Microsoft made their own distribution of Linux. Or if they went even further and made their own version of Linux kernel. Now, close your eyes and start dreaming...


Imagine kernel having no security holes, no backdoors, in my opinion Linux's biggest obstacle on its way to conquer at least the non-desktop world of PCs, because a team of well-paid programmers finally didnít leave any backdoor open. (Now it sounds like Windows has zero problems with security and backdoors and that must make you laugh. No, I only think, that unlike Windows, there still is a chance to fix bugs in Linux.)


Now imagine the desktop. Appleís OS X proves that a solid desktop can be done upon a UNIX-based system. So why not upon Linux? There are several nice desktop environments developed for Linux. My personal favourite is KDE. Itís easy to use, highly customizable, offers a lot and, not to forget, it looks good. The problem is itís damn slow and quite unstable.


But what if it was done by someone, who has as much experience with graphical desktop environment as Microsoft? Fast, well designed environment running your favourite MS apps, such as Office or Internet Explorer. Plus it would still be Linux and youíd be able to run your favourite X applications, anything from a good development environment to X-term.


This perhaps has a problem, and I donít mean all the hard work beyond now. According to the rules of Linux publication, anyone can create new source code for Linux, but they must publish it back to the open source community for inclusion in later releases. This doesn't sound like a good strategy for Microsoft and makes it impossible to build a proprietary Linux kernel. But they could possibly do some kind of middleware - free kernel, commercial applications. Todayís office tools for Linux with OpenOffice in the front line can hardly even challenge MS Office. The question is, whether Microsoft would be interested in selling applications for Linux and not selling operating system with it; this way, they would actually significantly improve the Linux package, which could lead to a dramatic loss in their OS sales. But on the other hand, if they were selling a desktop environment with it, it wouldnít be much different from selling OS.


Now, back to reality. All eyes are on Longhorn, successor to Windows XP, now. Iím not quite sure, whether calling it successor was right. It is going to have some dramatic changes from Windows, new file management, for instance. "Longhorn is our big bet on galvanizing the next big breakthrough--even bigger, perhaps, than the first generation Windows release," says Steve Ballmer. He continues with strong words: "Öit truly is the next quantum leap in computing, which will put us years ahead of any other product on the market."


Well, weíll see. At the time, if someone is making mile-steps forward, it certainly is Linux. But we canít forget Microsoft has already been considered not keeping up with competition before, back in í95, and I probably donít have to remind you of what happened then...