Analyst Prediction: Microsoft Will Develop For Linux - InformationWeek

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Analyst Prediction: Microsoft Will Develop For Linux

Meta Group advisory strikes some as unrealistic; Microsoft denies plans to develop for open-source operating system.

Meta Group's prediction that Microsoft will introduce software for the Linux operating system in 2004 strikes many as outlandish, but some logic resonates in the bold forecast.

Meta, which released its advisory to clients on Monday, predicted that Linux will be used on nearly half of all new servers by 2006-2007, more than double its estimated 15% to 20% share today. With those numbers, Meta made the jump to the prediction that Microsoft can't afford to ignore Linux as a platform for database, Web services, and E-mail server applications.

"We believe that, beginning in late 2004, Microsoft will begin moving some of its proprietary application enablers to the Linux environment; this will gradually include the major Microsoft back-office products, such as SQL Server, IIS Internet Information Server, and Exchange," the consulting firm said.

Microsoft flatly denied any plans to develop for Linux.

"Microsoft will not be engineering server software expressly for Linux, and continues to make its strategic bets on the Windows platform," said Peter Houston, senior director of Microsoft's server group.

"It's purely economics," said Dale Kutnick, Meta's chief research officer and the editor of the advisory. "Our belief is that Microsoft is more of an economic animal than a religious zealot." He pointed out that such characterizations mean that when faced with realities, Microsoft will do everything possible to maintain its revenue streams, including staffing the open-source Linux with its software.

"If you buy into our prediction that Intel-based Linux servers will have 40% to 45% of the market in the next four years--and all of us here are convinced of that--then you have to think that Microsoft has to do something," he added. "There's simply too much money to leave on the table."

Additionally, Meta believes that Microsoft will re-price or separate its Windows server operating system into kernel and "add-on" components "so it can be favorably compared against 'free' Linux."

"This will be a pre-emptive strike by Microsoft," Kutnick said. As Linux hits its stride--Meta Group figures that will be in the second half of 2003 and the first half of 2004--Microsoft will have to react to Linux's perceived lower cost by making such moves.

But other analysts aren't buying any of this. Michael Cherry, analyst with Directions on Microsoft, an independent firm that tracks all things from Redmond, was amused by the prediction. "I see no evidence that this is even being considered at Microsoft," he said.

"People think that Microsoft has unlimited resources, but that's simply not true," Cherry said. He sees the whole idea of Microsoft moving server software to Linux as "such a can of worms I'm not sure that they can even do it."

But Cherry's reasoning is based strictly on economics.

"I don't see any return for Microsoft's shareholders," he said. He's not convinced that Linux users will pay, or pay enough to make it commercially viable. "If Meta is proposing that commercial companies such as Microsoft or IBM or HP will sell Linux software as a retail package, I just don't see a community that will let this happen."

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