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Musing: Microsoft to offer its software on Linux – A theoretical consideration.

Microsoft has a new CEO, Microsoft doesn't have as much a hold on tech as it did.  What would happen if it moved its flagship product to Linux?

Microsoft has a new CEO, Microsoft doesn’t have as much a hold on tech as it did. What would happen if it moved its flagship product to Linux?

This musing comes as a result of a topic brought up over on Usenet.

The crux of this article is around a fictitious headline of:

BREAKING NEWS: MICROSOFT RELEASES ITS OFFICE SUITE FOR LINUX

Take a few seconds to consider how you would feel, then maybe be kind enough to hear my view.

So it’s great? Microsoft’s flagship product now available to those who in the past had only LO, Abiword etc to chose from.  Now you can run natively on your Linux box that which Windows users have been for years.

Bad idea? Yes completely, here’s why.  Let me just add before someone mentions it, yes I know Microsoft produces code for the Kernel.  Have I an issue? No, because in that respect it is as part of a team of developers who all have various quality checks and testing – kernel devs don’t mindlessly accept all code and say “cheers mate” as they paste it in with a text editor.  The process I’d suggest is more complex and even if Microsoft wanted to (which I’m sure it wouldn’t) there’s little chance of anything “naughty” going on there.  So for me, Microsoft contributions are welcomed, if with a little surprise at myself saying that.

Microsoft moving its products to Linux? Different matter.  I should say that my feelings about Microsoft having its product on Linux would be similar with any large corp, Adobe or anyone else.  This article isn’t so much a critical piece on Microsoft in that respect because this is only a theoretical question and to my knowledge Microsoft have not discussed or made moves to bring say Office to Desktop Linux.

Microsoft, like any large corp can afford losses much easier than most.  They can sell or provide at a loss for a long period in order to recoup the amount later.  Bill Gates (to use an example) was quoted as saying:

About 3 million computers get sold every year in China, but people don’t pay for the software. Someday they will, though. As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They’ll get sort of addicted, and then we’ll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade.

And to be fair, large corps can have long term strategies where small ones cannot. Its smaller ones that we are going to consider.  I’m not going to use the name of a real Linux distro because its unfair to second guess what they would do, so for the purposes here, lets say the most popular distro is Really Good Goblin Linux (or RGGL)

So RGGL gets in its flashy app store Microsoft Office.  Do you think its beyond the realms of possibility that Microsoft would want people (and the store) to favour its product?  I think its very reasonable.  Large firms don’t make money by giving it to competition.  Large firms don’t give a swift handshake and a “Jolly good show” to a competitor when they lose a sale.  So could it be reasonably considered that Microsoft could offer the Distro maker incentives for sales of their product over the other alternatives in the store? A sort of commission? I’d say yes.

Is that fair? Well its possible, if Microsoft spend money on development, bring it to Linux, they are going to want a return.  They are not going to say “Before you buy our product, check out Libre Office first”.  How could Libre Office compete with a Microsoft marketing machine on Linux?  What if Microsoft gave it away with a view to charge later?  When we look to the past allegations against Microsoft, that doesn’t seem too unrealistic.

And we know Microsoft deals in huge amounts of money, we know that Microsoft can and does market aggressively.  So here is our RGGL and their app store.  Here is Microsoft with their investment and wallet full of money.  What do you think will happen?  I’m not necessarily suggesting anything underhanded, I’m suggesting business – big business from a firm who in the past has been to court and been accused of quite a few dodgy practices.  It may not happen, but I think its reasonable to suggest and certainly cause enough for concern for me to say that out of choice I’d not like to see Office on Linux.

We don’t have to cast our minds back far when Canonical and Amazon news was released.   Now whilst then it wasn’t anything like Microsoft bringing Office to Linux, we can see that when you have partnerships, people can get upset.

One of the general arguments for Office on Linux is that it would bring more users to desktop Linux.  I’d say no because peoples need (either imagined or real) for Windows is far more than just Microsoft products, products which they would be needing to look at using Wine as an alternative.  Wine is excellent but for a new Linux user straight from Windows trying Wine to get other binaries working? I’d say that’s not ideal and I don’t think on the strength of Microsoft’s Office suite alone you’d get users moving from Windows to Linux.

And what of the Linux users now? What of the FOSS advocates? Will they warm to the idea? Would they be buying the Microsoft products that until now have not been native to Linux?  I’d say no in the main, I’d say the Microsoft of the past and the fact its a proprietary office suite would stop purchase.

So would this be bad for Microsoft? Well I thnk so.  If I think Windows users have more than Office in their Windows needs in the main, then I can’t see either home or business turning around and saying “Right, pack the bags, Office is on Linux, we’re leaving”

Moving outside of Microsoft and looking at the general picture, we need get away from the circle of proprietary file formats.  We have fantastic packages here promoting the use of open formats and providing a great end user experience.  Libre Office and what its dev team provides to millions of people around the planet is outstanding and its not there to keep you in any ecosystem, its merely providing great software and accessibility for all. This is but one example – but its relevant to the subject at hand.

We are slowly moving towards less of a locally based application ecosystem.  In the cloud, software as a service, web based – all words thrown about and used to show that we are moving away from the idea of having apps and working “traditionally”.  There are users with concerns here and unfortunately for those they will ultimately end up wherever the mainstream masses decide.   And the mainstream masses in my view have very little concern.  If they did then all the allegations about Facebook et al would have seen a mass exodus overnight. – This further reinforces that this musing is merely theoretical and in the future it will be all about services rather than OS’s for users and its this reason why I think Microsoft’s future plans will not be looking at other platforms for their software, but rather web-based services/apps that can be sold to anyone with a browser.

If you believe that Office coming to Linux would be a good thing, I’d love for you to have your say.  Maybe there is facet of this view missing? Maybe you can offer another outcome to my views about Office on Linux? – This article was written on the back of some disagreement in Usenet.

As always though, thanks for reading.

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About Tim Sparrow

Online tech writer, novelist/author of sci-fi literature and co-host of the TechBytes Show! I believe in multi-culturalism & diversity. Luton Town FC supporter.

Discussion

16 thoughts on “Musing: Microsoft to offer its software on Linux – A theoretical consideration.

  1. No Microsoft shuldn’t be on Linux and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near it. Only softies want that.

    Posted by MalignedKnight | July 19, 2014, 2:57 pm
    • I think thats a little unfair, though the conflict between aggressive marketing and people not wanting to buy (with the established FOSS world, some of them?) could cause issues. Issues for Microsoft making a return and issues to the user where we would have Microsoft PR campaigns in the Linux ecosystem.

      Posted by openbytes | July 19, 2014, 3:00 pm
  2. Microsoft has better stuff to place on Linux than an Office suite (from what I have used in the past, LO or Latex were largely enough for 90% of my need, as personal or professional !).

    I would say : the whole games series they have (age of empire for ex) would be really appreciated on Linux.

    Posted by 22decembre | July 19, 2014, 8:17 pm
    • The Office suite was just an example for the purposes of the discussion both over there and here.

      I think LO is what I require for my needs. Although my writing (outside of here) requires realtime collaboration for which gdocs is the choice. My LO on my other rig has all the templates for forms which I use so every 4 or so months I’m still using that and also if an idea hits me when I’m near the machine I’ll use LO to type it up.

      Never got into Age of Empires but people rave about it and the last game of Microsoft’s that I played (and actually loved) was their Flightsim.

      Have you checked for Wine compliance in respect of these?

      Posted by openbytes | July 19, 2014, 8:25 pm
  3. It’s not about the “who” (Microsoft versus some other corporation). It’s about the “how” — whether they released it under GPL or left it proprietary. If it’s free-licensed, it’s a non-issue. The issues being raised here apply to any non-free software on Linux.

    Posted by Terry Hancock | July 19, 2014, 11:21 pm
    • “It’s about the “how” — whether they released it under GPL or left it proprietary.”

      Absolutely and I only took the musing as far as the original discussion theorized. If it was released under the GPL and we saw none of the tactics of the past with marketing et al, I certainly would welcome that. And since users can make their own calls then, Word offered on the app store of a distro I used would have been not an issue to me.

      “The issues being raised here apply to any non-free software on Linux.”

      I agree to a certain extent however we have seen proprietary gaming offered for Linux (for example) and from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t steer people away from the great stuff being offered under the GPL. Gaming is nice because its very transient. Unlike an application where a dependency builds over the years, games come in and out of favour and whilst it would be unusual I’d suggest for a user to have 4 or 5 office suites thinking to themselves “I fancy using LO today” in the gaming world people have more than one game and will play as the mood takes them. Of course theres also the question of “whats in it” if its closed src and the ethical views of closed source but that may be a question on a title per title basis.

      Thats my opinion of proprietary in general and I won’t dismiss something just because its proprietary. What I would say though is that in too many cases to mention, FOSS alternatives have proved far superior to a proprietary offering. In my experience no so much gaming and I’ve views on why which would take this off topic, but certainly in the world of functionality I would feel hobbled if I had to use a proprietary alternative of the FOSS package I already use.

      Whilst though it is about the how, I personally can’t see Microsoft releasing their office suite and flagship product (for the purposes of this piece) under the GPL.

      EDIT: And I forgot to say, thank you very much for taking the time to respond.

      Posted by openbytes | July 19, 2014, 11:50 pm
  4. Hi Tim,

    Good article, but I don’t entirely agree (or disagree). See: http://techpoli.org/?p=101 for my 1600+ word response that includes harbingers of Microsoft’s possible doom, as well as application of game theory to the ethics of Microsoft.

    But to summarize: I don’t think MSFT would put Office in a distro’s software manager unless they had control of the distro. (I.e., they start selling & supporting Linux).

    Indeed, they already sell access to Linux — on Azure.

    So they would either have their own software downloader (think: something like Steam), or they would have some other method of distribution, much like other commercial software available for Linux. (Why should MSFT be any different than them?)

    The pro to Office being available on Linux? Some market managers might be more willing to run Linux instead of Windows if Office were available. This is a pragmatic and moderate approach to getting more Linux on the enterprise desktop, where it would really shine.

    Incidentally, I’m also a huge fan of games for Linux, and even prefer to play a few on Linux exclusively. One example is Fallout 3, which I can’t even get to run on Win7 — but it runs in Wine with a few tweaks, and I’m happy with the results. Another example is Kerbal Space Program, and I play that on Linux exclusively — it gives me better control over my twitch streaming, and I’m on my familiar primary desktop instead of (ew) “booting to winderz”.

    Posted by vallor | July 20, 2014, 1:43 am
    • Its late so I apologize for only a quick response. Thanks for taking the time.

      “I don’t think MSFT would put Office in a distro’s software manager unless they had control of the distro.”

      Reasonable suggestion and the idea of a Linux distro (any linux distro) getting Office, I’ve said I believe won’t happen. Interesting idea about the distro though..

      ” (Why should MSFT be any different than them?)”
      Well we can’t say they would be. However we can look at the past behaviour of Microsoft, the court cases and allegations. Would Microsoft behave again like that? Who knows, but its a concern at the least.

      “Incidentally, I’m also a huge fan of games for Linux, and even prefer to play a few on Linux exclusively. One example is Fallout 3, which I can’t even get to run on Win7″

      2008 I had a World of Warcraft phase….performance through Wine was fantastic. Not sure the state of play today with it, but then I was running it at well above the settings I should have been and getting a frame rate of about 40fps – if memory serves.

      I’ll read your article about Microsoft tomorrow, but if its regarding Microsofts doom I think if it happens it will be a long time coming…..warchests of cash.

      As I say though, I’ll read tomorrow.

      EDIT FOR READERS: I misunderstood what the link was (but didn’t find out until the following day when I read it), thinking it was about doomed Microsoft, its not its actually a response to this article and Vallor has put time into it with a detailed post. I thought it only polite to answer there and I encourage people to visit in order to see a very detailed breakdown on what I wrote in my article.

      Posted by openbytes | July 20, 2014, 1:53 am
      • Well, regarding MSFT’s doom — it’s basically down to this:

        Either they learn to be a good actor in the current software ecology, or they are doomed to a “Market Death Penalty”.

        Reasons given in my post.

        Have a good evening. :)

        Posted by vallor | July 20, 2014, 2:04 am
  5. Don’t think so. Users who are in GNU/Linux are in it to escape from Microsoft and all its locks. If MS comes to GNU/Linux, I think they won’t make waves. Much like what happened to Nero Linux. Nero provided a crippled Linux version of its CD burning software for 2 years. And then, killed it. Guess MS office will be the same. Just my 2 cents.

    Posted by Agent Smith | July 20, 2014, 2:28 am
    • I’d agree but then sense there are people believing that it would entice users and it is a good thing, I feel the need to give my views on the damage to choice and the Linux ecosystem itself that I think it would do.

      Its difficult though because its all theoretical and nobody knows what would really happen. It does make for an interesting debate for this reason alone and the nice thing is, until it actually did happen, nobody is right or wrong, we can only give our views and justifications for them.

      Posted by openbytes | July 20, 2014, 9:43 am
  6. Come now when is a choice bad thing? I sometimes consider dropping my Ubuntu box & going to Mac because of Office & sick of dual booting. Oh, Chinese are not going to MS Office – they have King’s Office. Chinese govt restricts ALL Microsoft product purchase in the govt.
    Office 365 will improve in the future + internet connection everywhere in the future = Linux users will be able to choose between Office 365, Kings Office, Libre Office, or whatever. Think 3 million Chinese might be the main reason MS is going this route.

    Posted by Another Pt | July 21, 2014, 8:33 am
    • Oh, BTW: I would rather prefer if Chinese made MS Office illegal in China – unless the file format became completely open. That would really make my day! MS Office open file format varies…

      Posted by Another Pt | July 21, 2014, 8:41 am
      • But then what of choice as you mentioned earlier?

        With the features that LO boasts (and many other FOSS packages) its more an issue now of file formats to concentrate on. Linux won’t be getting MS office, I’d stake money on it and the strides LO and similar have made to promote open file formats needs to be encouraged, then choice really would exist.

        If people want word they can use Wine (I’ve no idea how functional it is with that).

        If they need Word so much they and they can’t get LO to do what they need they can go to Windows.

        I’d suggest those people don’t exist though, otherwise why on earth would they be using Linux in the first place?

        That’s like buying a car and having no engine in it. If it won’t perform how you want in the first place, why chose it?

        Posted by openbytes | July 21, 2014, 9:57 am
    • Thanks for commenting.

      I think you misunderstood the point of the quote. Its not if China uses Office or not, its to do with a long term strategy that Microsoft has the cash to do. The quote was to show the type of attitude big business can have.

      Choice is not a bad thing. Word does not play as big a part in peoples perception of an Office utility. I’ve said that corps would be unlikely to have that as the only thing keeping them to Windows.

      And existing Linux users? Have they been settling for second best waiting for MS office on Linux? I’d say no. It would be pretty silly to move over to any OS if the software you require to get jobs done isn’t available and you are merely biding your time until it is.

      Linux, its advantages and FOSS in general have blossomed into the great packages they are today because they’ve done so on their own merits. If Microsoft has behaved badly with desktops and the OS causing competition to suffer (theres plenty of articles on that), then can we expect them to act any differently when their package is in a distro ecosystem?

      Microsoft had to impliment the browser ballot because of IE…you think they will play nicely over on Linux? – Its hypothetical so in reality they may well play nicely, but the past history gives concern, the nature of Microsoft acting like any large corp gives concern and for that reason (especially when we already have packages like LO) are the reasons for not wanting things over here.

      Posted by openbytes | July 21, 2014, 9:53 am

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Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson

Writer/Novelist of many facets both in the world of technology and fantasy/sci-fi. Co-host of the TechBytes audiocast and writer for both OpenBytes and Goblin's Domain. Supporter of free and open source software.

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