Stop the presses: Jack Wallen supports an alliance between Microsoft and Linux. Find out why he believes both camps could work together for the benefit of all concerned.

I confess, I never thought I would write such a title. Microsoft helping Linux? No way. I was always of the mind that Microsoft and Linux would forever be mortal enemies and one, hopefully Linux, would rise above the other in absolute world domination. Well, that hasn’t happened. In fact it seems as if the two operating systems are determined to coexist in the IT world.

With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to list the ways in which Microsoft could help Linux solidify itself as a viable enterprise and end user solution.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Standards

I have, of late, become a champion of standards. Without standards, it’s becoming harder and harder for Linux to get beyond the plateau it currently resides on. Obviously, Microsoft is good at standards because it has been the de facto provider of standards for such a long time. Microsoft could help Linux by joining the Linux Standards Base so that some semblance of standards could be agreed upon.

But why would Microsoft’s involvement help? Simple. If Microsoft helped create a Linux standard that worked alongside the current (and future) Windows’ standard, the LSB (and Linux community) would gladly accept it. Think about it. No more having to reverse engineer Office document formats or media file formats. And maybe Microsoft could help Linux arrive at a standard that would be better suited for the average user. And with Microsoft backing a Linux standard, the Linux operating system would certainly gain more acceptance (once that standard was adopted).

2: Code sharing

Within the last year, it came to the attention of the Linux community that Microsoft does in fact use code from open source software. And why not? Apache code could only make the Windows Server code better. I’m sure there’s also code within the millions upon millions of lines of Windows code that could help Linux. But ultimately, shared code would allow these two operating systems to work better together. And that would give them the edge. Instead of fighting against one another, they could work together.

For the longest time, Linux fans have had a problem adopting Windows. It just seems to go against their nature. But if Microsoft and Linux worked together on code, that animosity would dissipate. Microsoft could also capitalize on this collaboration in many ways. More on that later.

3: Microsoft Linux

Yes, I am advocating a Microsoft Linux. Why? If Microsoft put its weight behind a Linux distribution, there is no way the enterprise could deny its validity and value. The general public considers anything produced by Microsoft to be synonymous with computing. If Microsoft created its own Linux, then Linux would become a household name. Hardware companies would start creating drivers, and quite possibly, vendors would start pre-installing Linux in serious quantity.

How is this a win-win situation? Microsoft would be able to SELL its version of Linux. It probably couldn’t get the same dollar value it gets out of Windows, but it would get some. And by selling the operating system, Microsoft would be selling support for said operating system. Win-win.

4: Applications

This is where Microsoft could seriously capitalize on Linux. If Microsoft really wanted to help both itself and Linux, it would port its applications to Linux. This would bolster Microsoft sales (all those Linux users would be prompted to purchase Microsoft software), and it would bolster Linux because more people would have final hurdles to adoption removed. If Office, Outlook, Publisher, Money, etc., were ported to Linux, then Linux adoption would soar! And all those copies of Microsoft software aren’t given away for free. That’s revenue for Microsoft.

This could also play out in another way: Microsoft porting open source applications to Windows. How does that benefit Linux? More people becoming familiar with open source applications means more people familiar with the tools of the Linux trade. Again, a win-win situation.

5: Marketing

This one should go without saying. One of the biggest problems the Linux operating system has faced is visibility. Ask IT professionals what they know about Linux and you will most likely get a litany of information. Ask average users, and you’re lucky if they even know it exists. Why? Marketing. Everyone knows about Windows because it has the marketing juggernaut Microsoft behind it. If Microsoft decided to become bedfellows with Linux, it could bolster the Linux IQ of the average user simply by making people aware of its existence.

Here’s another idea. If Microsoft was serious about supporting the penguin, it could ship free (or trial) versions of its own Linux distribution with every version of Windows. I realize that most people would look at this and say, “Why would Microsoft want to market its competition?” They wouldn’t. But if Microsoft positioned itself in such a way that the marketing of Linux would bolster its own sales (see number 4 above), the benefit becomes obvious.

6: Development

There are countless open source Linux applications out there. Many are outstanding solutions that may never gain much traction because they lack funding or resources. Imagine if Apache couldn’t come to fruition because of this. Imagine if MySQL or PHP never saw the light of day. What if there was a way to submit your application for Microsoft to review, so that it might be adopted by the “Microsoft Open Source Initiative”? If your application was selected, it would gain funding from Microsoft and possibly be ported to Windows or shipped on the Microsoft Linux distribution.

7: Universality

How many times has a Linux user attempted to log on to a site only to find that site didn’t support a Linux-based version of Firefox? I have had it happen far too often, and most of the time, I didn’t have a Windows-based machine to use. If Microsoft began supporting Linux, this sort of issue would be a thing of the past. This would also apply to document formats. A move toward universality would open the door for a true open document format. This is a win-win all around. Not only would Linux and Microsoft benefit, but so would end users because they wouldn’t have to worry about converting documents or having the same application as vendors, clients, and colleagues.

8: Hardware support

This is HUGE for the Linux community. With the backing of Microsoft, it would be far easier for hardware vendors to support the Linux operating system. No more worries about having to jump through hoops to get a piece of hardware to work with Linux. And from the vendors’ perspective, it would make writing Linux drivers a no-brainer. With such a dominant force as Microsoft behind Linux, hardware vendors wouldn’t be as skeptical about supporting the operating system. The credibility of Linux would ease their minds enough that they would produce more and better drivers — especially if Microsoft created its own Linux distribution.

9: Enterprise-level support

One of the biggest reasons why more enterprises do not adopt Linux is support. As of now, only two companies offer this level of support for their distributions: Red Hat and SuSE. But not everyone wants to use one of those distributions. What about a much more user-friendly Linux, like Ubuntu? This is where Microsoft comes in. Microsoft could easily offer enterprise-level Linux support. And by offering its own distribution (and making it a very user-friendly version), having enterprise-level support would be a natural fit. This would benefit all involved. Microsoft would get paid, enterprise-level customers would get the support they require, and Linux would gain enterprise-level users.

10: FUD-free

This is what hurts Linux the most. Over the last decade, Microsoft has continually pumped out FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) to tarnish the name of Linux. This FUD has prevented more users (from home users to enterprise users) from adopting Linux than any other reason. If Microsoft came out to support Linux, FUD would finally stop. The cease and desist of all FUD (and FUD-based marketing) would do more for Linux than most people realize. No more Halloween Papers. No more Microsoft-funded reports indicating how much more secure Windows is than Linux. No more bellowing Balmer drumming up his army in an attempt to besmirch the name of Linux and all things open source.

Meant to be together?

You may never have thought you would read these words from my fingertips, but I do see a positive outcome if Microsoft would finally open its arms in celebration of Linux. Of course, I am not attempting to start or spread any rumors. I am just posing the possibilities. And these are certainly tantalizing possibilities. What do you think? Is there a positive outcome to a Linux/Microsoft mating? Let us know.