Last week Microsoft held a meeting in Berlin with European industry analysts to discuss Linux and other Open Source Software (OSS), writes Tony Lock, of Bloor Research. The day concluded with CEO Steve Ballmer discussing Microsoft's position in the world.
The discussions began with Microsoft noting that Linux and OSS is appearing in a number of different segments. To kick things off the company acknowledged that it lost credibility in the past by criticising the Linux core (kernel and web server stack). It accepts that this core now possesses credibility in the commercial world.
Broadly speaking, Microsoft sees the areas where an impact has been felt as "Community" software (simple file and print services, e-mail and firewall / cache), "Commercial quality Community" based software (Linux kernel, networking, web serving) and true "Commercial" software (ISV applications and databases such as Oracle and DB2).
The company believes that Linux solutions appeal to different organisations for different reasons. For some, especially price-sensitive SMB organisations, the low cost of purchase and its ability to function on comparatively low cost hardware platforms appear to be major attractions. For others it may be the ability to configure OSS in a bespoke fashion that is the prime attraction.
When discussion turned to which platforms Linux is currently gaining share from, opinions were divided. Microsoft believes that the major movers behind Linux (in its opinion IBM and Intel) are using the OSS movement as a means to disrupt the Unix market and that Unix systems comprise the major source of movement. Others present proposed that organisations are migrating from both Unix and Windows to Linux.
Ballmer was candid when he was asked about the current attention that the company is now paying to Linux when compared to its former stance of apparent unconcern. He simply smiled and responded that "we were neither unconcerned nor unaware of Linux; we just tried not to show it!"
According to Ballmer it is obvious that the advent of Linux and OSS means that Microsoft can no longer rely on the "we are cheaper to acquire" message to win and retain customers. In recognising this the company is now focusing much attention on its belief that its solutions provide a much better TCO case than those currently available using Linux-based tools.
He also stressed that "Innovation" and the creation of complete solutions rather than simple software functionality would hold the key to future success.
Ballmer once again made it clear that Microsoft had absolutely no plans to port any of its substantial software library to Linux. Apart from concerns centred on the possible impact that any accidental inclusion of GPL code could have on the integrity of Microsoft's own intellectual property, he argued that it could be counterproductive to the development of its products.
Overall the day indicated that Microsoft is now happy to recognise that the influence of Linux is growing. It is clear that we can now expect Microsoft to attempt to build its case for Windows as an operating system based on rational arguments rather than a simple dismissal.
It will be interesting to see how the company sets about promoting its qualities versus those of open source. It will be even more fascinating to monitor the response of customers, OSS advocates and the world at large.