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Q&A: Gates On Linux Interoperability

In an InformationWeek interview, Microsoft's chief software architect says Microsoft is already doing plenty to promote interoperability between UNIX/Linux and Windows.

Mindful of the past and optimistic about the future, Bill Gates opened the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas this year with an overview of Microsoft's efforts to deal with some of today's most-pressing IT problems. In his Nov. 16 speech, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect talked about anti-spam, security, and search software, and then something new: seamless computing.

This excerpt, from the larger InformationWeek Q&A with Bill Gates, titled Bill Gates Talks Seamless Computing, Security, And Linux, focuses on the parts of the conversation that addressed Linux and open-source interoperability:

InformationWeek: I'd like to switch the discussion to open source and Linux. InformationWeek recently ran a story that questioned whether Microsoft is doing enough to support compatibility between Linux and Windows. Do you feel Microsoft is doing more than people realize? Will there be more?

Gates: Tell me any area we're not doing enough. I mean seriously, what area do you think we could do more in? We run UNIX shell scripts. We run UNIX libraries. We've got this whole group in India that — we UNIX a group of customers that decided to go from expensive UNIX to Windows, and they wanted to take their shell scripts and their programs and run them. No rewriting, no changing, just compile and run. So we took on that challenge, and we have lots of customer case studies where we made that attractive. We've had UNIX as a primary element in the data center for most of the history of Microsoft. So, supporting NFS, supporting all of these things related to UNIX, we're extremely good at that.

InformationWeek: Services For UNIX has been part of your product family for years now. Understood. But will you go beyond what you've done, to make it work more closely with the open-source community in some way?

Gates: I don't know what you mean. We take Solaris, UNIX applications, and allow them to recompile and run on top of Windows. Name a UNIX protocol — we support every one of those UNIX protocols. If there's something more you think can be done, tell me what it is. I mean, this is UNIX, it's not something new and different.

InformationWeek: One thing that comes to mind, it may be tangentially related, is the Microsoft Communications Protocol Program, the licensing of communications protocols for interoperability. Some people seem to think that by now there should be more licensees.

Gates: Name a corporate customer who has some interoperability thing they want from us, because we have interoperability. At every level, we're building interoperability. And so you've got to map it back to some customer [issue]. Believe me, if people thought there was some customer demand for using our protocols, they would license our protocols. The fact is, there are lots of these things out there that create the connections.

InformationWeek: It's not just an interoperability issue. There are other things like Microsoft's management tools being able to manage a heterogeneous environment — for example, Windows and UNIX/Linux at the same time. That is something, according to our research, that your customers would like to see.

Gates: Management tools from us? It's not like there's a shortage of people who do that.

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