Microsoft will not release a version of its Office suite software for open-source rival Linux, though the company is actively studying how Linux works and how it can integrate with the platform, a Microsoft representative says.
"The simplest way I can answer the question is that Microsoft is 100 percent focused on Windows," said Nick McGrath, director of platform strategy for Microsoft in the United Kingdom. "We have no plans at this present moment in time to deploy or build a version of Microsoft Office on Linux."
McGrath participated in a roundtable debate on whether free software development leads to proprietary software or if the flow works in reverse, at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo that started Wednesday in London. The lone representative from Microsoft, McGrath handled a fair amount of ribbing from emotional open-source advocates who used the forum to question how Microsoft plans to deal with what advocates say is increasing market share of the Linux platform.
Open-source software allows anybody who has a great idea to "stand on the shoulders of giants," whereas in the commercial world the software innovation has to be patented, the underlying infrastructure has to be licensed, and the idea has to be tried, said Mark Shuttleworth of the Ubuntu Foundation.
"From an innovation point of view, they [a company] have to have every bright idea, they have to get it right every time, and it costs them a lot to do it," Shuttleworth said. "Whereas in the free software world, we do take an evolutionary approach, and we know over time that evolution beats intelligent design, right?"
Shuttleworth wasn't the only one who forecast hard times for commercial software developers. But Matt Asay, director of open-source strategy at Novell, said that rather than focusing on why Microsoft isn't developing programs for Linux, developers should focus on customer value.
"It is precisely that customer-pleasing trajectory that ends up killing companies over time as they move up and up," Asay said. "When was the last time Microsoft Office became appreciably better for you to use? Ten years ago. The market will take care of Microsoft."
Linux has taken market share from Unix, but is gaining on Microsoft, Asay said.
"If you look at what's happening on the server, finally for the first time Linux is starting to take Windows market share," Asay said.
The Future of Software
Rather than fighting to match the desktop environment of today, Linux developers are "really trying to define the future of this digital operating environment," Shuttleworth said. As such, hardware problems with Linux should dissipate as it becomes more common.
"I happen to believe that Linux will become a substantial part of the desktop market and...that the hardware vendors themselves will take care of all of those tricky issues as soon as they see it becoming a reality," Shuttleworth said.
Patent conflicts pose a formidable barrier to anyone involved in software development, and the murky legal ramifications of such controversies tend to stymie creativity, panel participants said. Though patents are broadly meant to be open source, software patents are not subject to disclosure.
"It is crippling to us right now," said Rasmus Lerdorf, an infrastructure engineer for Yahoo. "You cannot sit down over the weekend and write 30 lines of code without infringing on some patent. It just doesn't make any sense."
Microsoft will continue to protect its work, McGrath said.
"We build software," McGrath said. "We sell software. It's only fit and proper that we protect our most important asset, which is our source code."
When panelists were asked what they would like to see as the next major step in the next year for open source, McGrath said Microsoft would continue to listen to its customers about what it can do for integration. Shuttleworth responded to McGrath next: "What is the sound of market share receding into the distance?"