Bill Hilf, general manager of competitive strategy at Microsoft, said pundits have predicted for years that Linux will gain momentum on the desktop, but that won't happen because of the complexity involved in delivering a tightly integrated and tested desktop product.
"I've been a Linux desktop user for a really long time, and every year there's a collection of new stories saying this is the year of the Linux desktop, this is the year Microsoft is challenged. But the desktop is a very complicated scenario," Hilf said in an interview with CRN.
"It's not a Red Hat or IBM problem. It's a model issue," noted the former IBM executive. "The loosely coupled model of development prevents Linux from being successful on the desktop."
Hilf claimed that Linux adoption actually is slowing as customers cull the benefits of open-source community development from the Linux product. He called the "David vs. Goliath" mystique that has characterized Linux's ascension against Windows on the server "a phenomenon, but a big mountain of mythology."
"The magic of open-source software is not the software. It has nothing to do with the code at all. Most open-source code is terribly inferior to commercial software code," Hilf said. "The magic is the community and how you interact and participate in a community and make development transparent enough that the community believes in you and trusts you."
Hilf's comments come as Novell and Red Hat market more advanced, integrated server operating systems and desktop products that compare more favorably with the Microsoft desktop than in prior years.
Linux thrives on Web servers, DNS servers and single, lightweight appliances that do "one thing well," according to Hilf.
And even though Linux may appear slick on the desktop, it can't compete under the covers, Hilf said. Novell and Red Hat are trying to adopt Microsoft's integration model, but the process of integrating system components and ensuring that third-party applications and device drivers run well on the desktop--and testing all those scenarios--makes that task too cumbersome.
"Vendors come in and buy piece parts, and they try to assemble a mini Microsoft development model. But who is going to test it? It's the user," Hilf said. "The user tests and reports back bugs on the desktop. The end user doesn't want to be a tester, unless they're a developer. It's extremely hard and complex.
"There was a ton of work and engineering put into the Win32 API. Why do people want to clone the Win32 API, like the WINE project?" he added.
Hilf gave kudos to his predecessor, Martin Taylora Windows Live executive who left Microsoft this weekfor developing the Redmond, Wash., company's Get The Facts marketing campaign.
"One thing Martin did before I started [with Microsoft] was to help centralize the company around a single way of thinking about this," Hilf said. "There were a lot of different people composing theories about what to do to compete against Linux and open source. Martin brought that together and said we should be singing from the same hymnal, and that was a very important shift. He had a major impact on getting vision around that."