At the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in Boston, a Microsoft executive stood on stage and made an announcement that shocked the room: his company will provide technical support for users running the Linux operating system (OS).
For the moment, the support is only for Microsoft’s server virtualisation software. The second release of Virtual Server 2005 allows users to install Linux on servers distributed across multiple machines, and Microsoft says it will provide full technical support to customers who choose to do so. “We’ve made a long-term commitment to make sure that non-Windows operating systems can be run in a supported manner, both on top of Virtual Server and our future virtualization products,” said Zane Adam, director of product marketing at Microsoft’s Windows Server Division. “The technical support piece is an important part of that commitment.”
The announcement was surprising given the lengths that Microsoft has gone to discredit the reliability of the open-source OS. Although Microsoft insists that this is not “new news” (it was originally released at last year’s IT Forum to far less fanfare), the fact that the announcement was made at LinuxWorld, before thousands of open source enthusiasts, suggests that Microsoft’s attitude may have shifted.
Has the company realised that true open-source believers are not going to be swayed by the endless ‘independent’ reliability testing that Microsoft commissions, and instead chosen to play ball?
Certainly the OS market is now just one of Microsoft’s many battlefields, and to handicap itself in all others by refusing to offer Linux support would be to cut off its nose to spite its face.
The big Linux distributors, Red Hat and Novell, stopped short of welcoming the news unreservedly. “This move demonstrates that Microsoft is acknowledging that Linux is here to stay,” Brian Green, UK technical director for Novell, told Information Age.
Nobody should expect a ceasefire anytime soon. In 2005, Information Age met with Ashim Pal, Microsoft’s EMEA director of program strategy, who admits his principal task is to persuade companies against using Linux. But is this news the first sign of an uneasy alliance?
The experts' response…
Peter Pawlak of analyst house Directions on Microsoft believes supporting Linux is key to Microsoft’s virtualisation ambitions.
“Microsoft is caught in a competitive maelstrom in the virtualisation space, where both [EMC’s] VMware and [open-source platform] Xen are threatening to take the upper hand over Windows, so it has to go after the host market very aggressively. But corporate CIOs would be very wary of using combined operating systems without the ability to call someone when it goes wrong, so that is what it is now offering.”
Frank Scavo, president of analyst group Computer Economics, says it is significant that Microsoft is giving away its server virtualisation technology.
“Some Linux fans will want to attribute some nefarious motive to Microsoft’s support for Linux. But I think it’s rather a sign that Linux is a fact of life in many data centers and that Microsoft is better off being part of the solution to Linux support rather than pretend it doesn’t exist. Whether system administrators will want to let Linux run on top of Microsoft’s Virtual Server is another issue, of course.”