Microsofts next partners: Mandriva and TurboLinux
Microsoft is on the march. Novell, Xandros, Linspire, hiring Tom Hanrahan straight from the Open Source Development Labs. There should be no doubt that Microsoft has a strategy to….. Yes, to do what to Linux? Did the Redmond Mogul finally realize that Linux is a worthy partner for the future and is it now investing in strategic partners to guarantee a slice of the future market? Or is this a repetition of the old browser wars with the embrace, extend and make extinct strategy and will the Linux world end up empty handed?
The first agreement with Novell was met with mixed feelings. Novell will have the honor of being embedded in the GPL 3 with it’s own clause. The agreement with Microsoft provided mutual protection against patent violations, coÃ¶peration in order to improve interoperability and it gives Microsoft the opportunity for Windows 2003/Suse Linux package deals to it’s own customers. Not a few expected Microsoft to use this agreement to repeat it’s own patent claims against all the other Linux distributions, which it did. The agreements with both Xandros and Linspire are quite similar, albeit that Microsoft won’t be offering the two distributions to the longing desktop users. Maybe I am wrong but it does feel that the uproar has become a lot less. Xandros and Linspire are distributions that are the most focused on current Windows users and they use a graphical interface that resembles the Windows desktop as close as possible. Linspire was also one of the first distributions to pay license fees in order to ship with MP3 playback on board. Linspire and Xandros can be considered very pragmatic distributions from commercial companies that focus more on user experience than on philosophical purity and have no qualms on adding proprietary and closed source software if that benefitted their market shares. Two other distributions that fit this profile are TurboLinux and Mandriva. So it wouldn’t surprise if one or both of these companies are next on the list of Microsoft’s Linux partners.
In the last few years I have become impressed with Microsoft. The company, not the operating system. Not everyone might have noticed, but Microsoft has really made some effort to become a friendly and strong communicator. Most of it’s products have been made available as public beta’s. I am about to start some tests on the third release of Windows Home Server, the release candidate. If you want to get your feet wet in coding you can download and use the Visual Studio Express products for free. Both the Technet and MSDN websites are packed with high quality and sound information that are really educational. The CD/DVD trial packages are free or cheap and often come with surprise goodies, like free versions of Outlook and Frontpage with the Windows 2003 Small Business Suite trial package. What I am trying to say is this: Microsoft is changing into a company with more coÃ¶peration, more transparency and more community development that ever before. Of course it didn’t invent it. To call Microsoft the most innovative company would be way to much honor, but it has been and still is a company that could learn from it’s mistakes and rectify them with a vengeance.
If you look back and see what has happened in the last couple of years you can see a strong strategy. Microsoft settled with Novell and Sun and build new strategic partnerships in return. It still has some problems in Europa, but those are simply a matter of time. Suppose Microsoft does partner with Mandriva. That would give it the support of the French government that can flex it’s muscle and make sure that the EU’s stand will be more pallatable. Redmond pays it’s dues and from then on Microsoft can do what it wants in Europa. Bill and Steve are also getting more buddy buddy, which means that already now Microsoft has solid footing in three operating systems (Windows, Linux and Mac OS X) with clear agreements and partners to improve the interoperability.
Meanwhile the other side of the arena is way too quiet. Where are the initiatives of Red Hat and it’s strategic partners like IBM, HP and Oracle. The strongest initiative for Linux interoperability seems to come from Linspire and the CNR warehouse. Dell is carefully testing the waters with a few meagre Ubuntu PC’s. It’s writers are trying to position the GPL 3 as the first and last line of defence against the proliferation of Microsoft-Linux partnerships. Well, I seriously doubt whether the so-called Novell clause with it’s historical date as a judicial watershed holds up in court, especially since no software has been released under the GPL 3 as yet. But will the GPL 3 get any teeth at all? Since we are looking into a crystall ball anyway, let us suppose that the Samba team decided to migrate all of it’s code to GPL 3 and that GPL 3 would prohibit Microsoft and it’s Linux partners from using Samba because it would force Microsoft to open source Windows at the same time. Victory! Yes, but a Pyrrhic victory at most. What would prevent Microsoft and it’s partners to develop an alternative under their current agreements? Nothing. And what would prevent Microsoft to release that alternative under an open source license or a “promise not to sue” license? Nothing! And how long will it take for other distributions to embed that alternative in it’s own releases? Well, Ubuntu won’t be the first but certainly not the last. Red Hat will refuse and Debian will do what it does best, ignore the whole thing. But there will be plenty of other distributions that won’t shed a tear and remove Samba. Besides it would do miracles for the case against Microsoft in the EU and shift the blame of frustrating Windows Linux interoperability to GPL 3 and it’s supporters.
If and when Microsoft allies itself with Mandriva and TurboLinux it will also get serious other benefits. At that point it will have strategic Linux partners whose key markets will encompass various important continents: the USA, Latin America, Europe and Asia. Mandriva is cash strapped -again- and can definitely use a multimillion infusion with Microsoft dollars. Suppose it would take $ 500 million to get Mandriva into the fold. It’s petty cash for Microsoft and a small price to get a solid foothold in the European and Latin American Linux markets.
Red Hat has some very rich supporters. IBM, HP and Oracle may be among the few companies that have the resources to come up with an effective strategy against the march of Microsoft. Sad to say, but these companies haven’t succeeded in doing exaclty that in the past. If history is to be used as a yard stick I would put my money on the Microsoft strategy, for better or for worse.
Tags: Microsoft, Linux, Mandriva, TurboLinux, patents