Great news out of Microsoft

Great news out of Microsoft today* (am I really saying this? I shock myself sometimes...)! Microsoft has teamed up with Xensource to support Linux installations running as virtual machines on Xen virtualization software when it runs on top of a Windows server. I know that's a mouthful but it's significant in several important ways documented today on The Register.

The interesting thing I see is that the cracks in The Beast have started to widen and competition is finally having it inevitable effect. First there was the way Steve Ballmer accurately predicted that Microsoft wouldn't be able to compete with an operating system that was the equal of Windows and was also free. Linux costs zilch, nichts, nada. How do you compete with that?

After throwing a few chairs around (Oh wait, sorry that was about Google; nevermind...), getting SCO funded for battle, spreading all sorts of ridiculous FUD about Linux and even insinuated they'll launch their own IP case against Linux they've brazenly come out with a new business model supporting Linux on Windows.

This is surprising to us from two standpoints:

  1. Firstly it's a good tactic for what it means--taking on VMWare in the virtualisation market where Microsoft is woefully behind the curve. Xensource gives it a leap forward of a couple of light years from where it was (and where it would have been if it's virtualisation vapour-ware had ever been launched. actually worked acceptably well, and had still been what the market wanted in the aeon of time that it would take; namely till next year). Unfortunately for Microsoft it's a fundamental strategic error because of the fact that it gives Linux credibility and equanimity with Windows. Microsoft actively supporting Linux (Redhat and Novell SuSE, thus by extension CENTos, Mandriva and many other RPM based distros!), rather than simply working with Xensource to make it work better is a clear marketing message that Linux isn't the scrawny little upstart wannabe Ballmer wants to portray it as. Too late, though. The crack has reached critical width such that it can't be shut back now.
  2. The second reason this is surprising is that, in the same way that Intelligent Design concedes everything that Christian evangelicals stood for with regards to biblical creation, Microsoft has conceded the fundamental shift away from its old embrace, extend and extinguish model to new, inevitable business model, but one they won't be able to control in the way they used to. The funny thing is rocket scientists like Gates and Ballmer probably haven't realised it yet. It's all about the GPL, they can't take over Linux because Linux doesn't belong to anyone; it belongs to itself and the community through the GNU Public License. There's nothing Microsoft can do about that but co-exist.

In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, "D'oh!" But in reality it should be cause for happy faces all round though. In a supreme example of eschatological irony, it will probably be the resurrection of Microsoft's fast growth of yesteryear. Why? Developments at SuSE will accelerate the inevitable move to widespread adoption of the Linux desktop everywhere, not just in the developing world. There are almost certainly 3-4 times as many Linux workstation/desktop users out there as Mac users and this will only accelerate sharply. Given this I predict we will see a Linux version of Microsoft Office by the end of 2007, or 2008 at the very latest and that only because Microsoft is more of a Brontosaurus than most people think (I mean, just look at Longhorn/Vista. Shorn of it's best features it's still almost half a decade late! Pathetic.). Office will almost certainly be followed by a host of Microsoft stuff that have yet to be cloned by the FOSS community in the way .NET and Outlook have been as well as IE/Outlook Express. These are much more profitable than Windows, the OS, and a thriving growth market in applications is just what MS needs to rescue its forlorn share price.

Now that they've seen the elephant and survived the encounter perhaps Microsoft will realise (as IBM did in the 80's) you can keep shareholders loving you, keep sales up AND not have to dominate markets with an immoral and unwieldy monopoly to do so. Listen to the thin, white Duke, Bill and Steve, cuz he's right: "ch-ch-ch-ch-changes/time to face the change..." It'll only do you good!

(*from an article originally written in April 2006)