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Is Microsoft Ready To Take the Gloves Off With Linux?

By Chet Dembeck
Jun 24, 1999 12:00 AM PT

Even as Microsoft fights for its corporate life at its federal antitrust trial, some say it's switching into hyper-drive in a plan to combat the threat of the Linux operating system.

Linus Torvalds, a Finnish graduate student, who based the operating system on the Unix operating system developed Linux in 1991 -- making it available for free via the Internet. Since then, Linux has been gaining ground on Microsoft every year.

According to International Data Corp., Linux shipments will grow 25 percent from 1999 through 2003 -- more than twice the 10 percent to 12 percent growth of other workstation and server systems. Last year, IDC said, Linux was the fastest-growing server system, accounting for 17 percent of all shipments, compared with 36 percent for Windows NT, 24 percent for Novell Inc. and a little more than 17 percent for all Unix-based systems.

Microsoft Prepares for Battle

This hasn't gone unnoticed. Bill Gates, during a recent interview with Business Week, said that he viewed Linux as one Microsoft's biggest threats. Since April, Microsoft Vice President Brian Valentine said the company was considering opening up its source code more widely to combat Linux, according to Bloomberg.

In addition, Microsoft is advertising a job opening for a product manager to provide a "competitive analysis of Linux -- both for providing product planning for the development team and for technical assistance to Microsoft's sales force." In fact, some analysts speculate there is already a battle-trained Linux response team within Microsoft, lead by Jim Ewel, director of marketing.

What if History Repeats Itself?

Many industry experts predict that Bill Gates and company will now take on Linux in earnest by mustering its formidable resources in an effort to poke holes in the free operating system. Some analysts say one way for Microsoft to do this is by making its next update to Windows 2000 respond to Linux's strengths. But suppose history repeats itself and Microsoft throws the competition a curve ball? Suppose that instead of fighting Linux, Microsoft decides to embrace it? What if Microsoft suddenly develops its own free brand of Linux and distributes it throughout its monster network? What if Bill Gates and company also decide to develop Linux desktop applications and flood the market with Microsoft-branded Linux software?

Most analysts agree Microsoft could give it away -- like it did its Explorer Internet browser -- and quickly become the leading provider of Linux service contracts. They point out the current lack of service for Linux is the weak link in its chain that Microsoft could easily fix and make money on.

Too far fetched? Just look how Microsoft defeated Netscape and is trying to defeat Java and you have to admit this kind of war plan is a real possibility.


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