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Dell to Sell Linux Computers, Microsoft Threatens War, Again

by Glen Emerson Morris
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With Dell announcing that it will begin selling computers loaded with Ubuntu, a variant of Linux, it's not surprising that Microsoft has relaunched its campaign of threatened litigation to try to scare the business community away from adopting any form of Linux.

It may seem like an overreaction on Microsoft's part, but Microsoft has two very valid reasons to be deeply troubled by the growing popularity of Linux in the business world. Unlike Microsoft Vista, Linux is a free operating system, and there are also free, open source, and highly compatible, versions of Microsoft Office and other business applications readily available for the Linux platform.

To make matters worse for Microsoft, Dell made a very good selection for its first Linux offering. The Linux variant Ubuntu has earned a reputation for stability and ease of use, and Ubuntu also has a large assortment of free business software available for it.

Another thing that will help drive Ubuntu sales is the newest version of the graphical interface KDE, which will run on Ubunta systems. Like the Mac, Linux operating systems have two main software components, the basic operating system itself, and a graphical user interface that makes running the operating system vastly easier than the original Linux/Unix command line interface. There are actually several different GUIs available for Linux systems, the most popular being Gnome and KDE. (Remember a Mac is basically a Unix operating system with an Apple developed GUI running on it called Aqua.)

The 4.0 version of KDE due this year has been widely anticipated by the Linux community as finally making Linux easy enough to run that it will make Linux systems popular for general office use by the average business computer user. While Linux has made economic sense to use for some time, it has been too difficult for the average business user to use, and especially difficult to install compared to Microsoft operating systems.

The KDE interface is not only easy to use, it is also highly efficient. According to one review the KDE interface uses about 100 megabytes of memory to run, while the Vista interface needs about 500MB. This means that Ubuntu will run on many computers that would be far too old and slow to run Vista, or possibly even XP.

KDE will also feature new drivers that will make it easier for software developers to port applications from other platforms to the Linux platform. This could mean the selection of commercial software for Linux systems will increase dramatically.

All factors considered the combination of Ubuntu and KDE could be a real problem for Microsoft. Adding to Microsoft's woes is the fact that Microsoft's Vista has not proven to be the seller Microsoft hoped it would be. The initial concerns among potential buyers are that Vista is overpriced, relatively slow, requires expensive graphics cards, and lacks any compelling reason why anyone would give up XP for it.

Rather than address the problems with Vista, Microsoft has adopted a strategy of trying to scare the business community out of buying products from Microsoft's Linux competitors. Chances are the strategy won't work any better than the last time Microsoft tried it, back in 2004 with the help of the Utah Based SCO company, which claimed to own several key patents Linux allegedly infringed on.

In its current attack on Linux, Microsoft has finally stopped being vague about the number of the patents it alleges Linux is violating. Microsoft is claiming 235 patent violations, and is even breaking the number down into the areas the patents are grouped in, like 42 kernal violations, 65 graphical user interface violations, 45 violations of the Open Office suite of programs, and the list goes on.

Some in the Linux community agree that Microsoft may have some grounds to base these claims on. However, it's not the open and shut case that Microsoft claims it is, especially since the US Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that questions the validity of many software patents.

In fact, given the hundreds of thousands of lines of code involved, and the fact there are only so many ways of doing certain things with a computer, it's quite possible that the violations of Microsoft's patent are a matter of chance, not idea piracy. It's hard to be sure, because Microsoft is still unwilling to reveal exactly what lines of code in Linux violate Microsoft's patents, which makes it impossible for the Linux community to rewrite the code so no Microsoft patents are violated.

Of course, that would be exactly what Microsoft doesn't want. Microsoft isn't threatening legal action to protect its patents, it's threatening legal action to protect its business. Microsoft's real goal is to make businesses choose computers not on the basis of what is the best, most cost efficient operating system to buy, but on what purchase is least likely to get them sued by Microsoft.

Microsoft may have mastered the use of the FUD factor (fear uncertainty and doubt) but the trick isn't working on its intended market that well any more. Dell is not about to stop selling computers loaded with Ubuntu instead of Vista. The Linux world is not about to stop developing Linux applications, either. Microsoft's only real hope is that it will scare away enough potential Linux buyers to give it breathing room.

Glen Emerson Morris has worked as a technology consultant for Network Associates, Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius, and is the developer of the Advertising & Marketing Review Data CD.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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