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.