Linux, Microsoft and the Juicy Office Rumor

Rumors are not exactly an uncommon phenomenon here in the Linux community, but every once in a while one comes along that is so compelling, such a deliciously tantalizing prospect, that bloggers just can’t leave it alone, no matter how far-fetched it may be.

Case in point? Oh, it’s a juicy one: “Microsoft is having a ‘meaningful look’ at a full Linux port of Office thanks to Linux showing signs of commercial viability on the desktop,” in the words of Phoronix writer Michael Larabel, who claimed to have it on good (but unnamed) authority.

It’s one of those times when your immediate reaction is to say “yeah, right,” but then you remember Valve and Steam and all the other traction Linux has shown this past year, and you end up hoping and wondering if maybe, just maybe, it might be true — not so much for the software itself, but for all it would say about Linux, Microsoft and the state of the industry as a whole.

Could it, might it possibly be true? That’s just what bloggers across the land have been wondering — on PCWorld and beyond.

‘I’d Be Dumbstruck’

Linux Girl

“I don’t think Linux has backed Microsoft into that corner yet,” Slashdot blogger yagu told Linux Girl over a frosty Peppermint Penguin down at the blogosphere’s Broken Windows Lounge. “Linux is great, but until its ‘year of the desktop’ truly arrives, I think the size of a Linux market remains too small.

“Plus, I can’t imagine that behind closed doors at Microsoft there could be consensus that they make that big a concession to Linux’s presence…. yet,” yagu added.

Meanwhile, “it seems to me that Microsoft these days is making lots of spaghetti, throwing it on the wall and seeing if anything sticks,” he mused. “Deep pockets will keep them going for a long time, but there are lots of trends they should see as disturbing: Chrome OS, Android phones and ultimately the irrelevance of an Office Suite.”

After all, “how many people care much beyond the functionality available in Google Docs?” yagu wondered. “By the time MS decides Office for Linux, it’s possible no one may care anymore.”

Bottom line: “I’d be dumbstruck if Microsoft created Office for Linux,” yagu concluded.

‘Their Only Real Solution’

“It’s not going to happen,” asserted Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone. “What will happen is Office will come to Android.”

Microsoft is in a dangerous position in which it could lose its office suite dominance “purely due to so many people moving off of traditional PCs,” Stone explained. “People want to be able to edit on mobile devices like tablets or phones, but Microsoft hasn’t got an Office presence there.”

So, “short of Windows 8 phones and tablets suddenly becoming dominant in the mobile market like in Ballmer’s dreams, Microsoft is going to need a way to keep people roped into their own version of Office,” he concluded. “Microsoft Office for Android and iOS is their only real solution.

“Office for Linux would be great for Linux, I think, but Linux just doesn’t have the desktop position to make Microsoft move on it,” he added.

‘Profits Could Be Significant’

Mobile Raptor blogger Robin Lim actually checked that out for himself.

“I logged into Statcounter’s Global Stats service, and Linux usage is reportedly 0.89 percent from November 2012 til today,” Lim told Linux Girl. “I really do not see Microsoft porting Office to an operating system with a 1 to 2 percent market share.”

Moreover, “if Microsoft Office for Linux were released, Microsoft would only get a fraction of the Linux user base,” Lim predicted. “I can imagine many Linux users will stick with LibreOffice and OpenOffice.”

Of course, “with the number of PCs in the world, 1 to 2 percent is several million PCs per year, so profits could still be significant,” he pointed out. “However, such a move would make Linux a more viable solution for more users and ironically would cannibalize Windows operating system sales.”

Office for Android and iOS, on the other hand, “would be something that Microsoft should do,” Lim agreed. “With the number of users on iOS and Android tablets growing every year, the absence of Microsoft Office on Android and iOS will result in more and more persons realizing that there is life beyond Microsoft Office.”

‘They Are Too Stuck on Windows’

Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien was also “very skeptical,” he told Linux Girl.

“Microsoft’s strategy is all about ‘lock-in,’ and they use Office to help maintain their Windows market share,” O’Brien explained. “I just don’t see why this would be in their interest.

“As for me, I think LibreOffice is the best suite available, and I am sticking with it,”he added.

And again: “I can’t imagine Microsoft doing this, even though it’s probably a good idea,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack opined. “They are too stuck on Windows to ever bother.”

‘I Remain Skeptical’

Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, was last employed by Microsoft a decade ago, he told Linux Girl.

“The culture is likely to have changed since then, but when I was there the whole goal was to move more stuff onto Windows exclusively rather than away,” he noted. “When I was there, for example, Hotmail was moved from Qmail and BSD onto Windows.”

At the same time, “when I was there, there would have been absolutely no chance of Microsoft contributions to the Linux kernel (which are now happening) or to Samba (also occurring now) and the like,” Travers pointed out. “Microsoft has been moving in positive directions here.”

Nonetheless, “I remain a bit skeptical that even if Microsoft is discussing this internally, that it will result in an Office port at this time,” Travers opined. “Such a move would have significant strategic costs for Microsoft in terms of lowering the barrier of adoption of Linux, and so I don’t think it would happen.”

‘Another Product to Sell’

Still, “there are a few reasons they might consider it,” Travers admitted:

  1. “Office may be a significant driver of improvements to Wine and Crossover Office,” he noted. “A native port might slow down further erosion of the general barriers to adoption.”
  2. “This gives them another product to sell, and there are influential governments and companies that have gone to Linux on the desktop, although they are still rare,” he added.

In the end, though, “I will believe it when I see it,” Travers concluded.

‘Keep the Cash Cow Delivering’

Indeed, “M$’s OS is having a shrinking share, possibly actually losing seats very soon because old PCs may not be replaced with Wintel,” blogger Robert Pogson pointed out. “M$ has lock-in with businesses who may well go to GNU/Linux.”

So, “by porting the office suite, M$ hopes to keep the cash cow delivering,” he explained. “The office suite makes much more money for them than the OS. ‘8’ is a tragic failure, so the move to ARM is not there for the OS.”

In short, “M$’s only room to expand or to hold share is to port the office suite,”Pogson concluded.

‘Of Course They Must’

“The fact that micro$oft would eventually be thinking of coming to Linux is nothing more than a proof that Linux is everything they have been denying, i.e. GROWING STEADILY in all segments: desktops, portables and smartphones,” agreed Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C.

“So, as a market issue, of course they must do such a move, eventually,” he added. “M$ Office is not only their most famous product, but also the one that gives them the higher revenue.”

Last but never least, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet wondered how much it really matters.

‘The Uptake Hasn’t Been There’

“Who cares?” hairyfeet asked Linux Girl. “Is there anybody having trouble running it now? Last I checked Crossover was as simple as ‘clicky clicky next next next,’ and all but the latest version IIRC runs great. So, if they do, fine; if not, who cares?

“When I was running xandros, I ran both MS Office 2K and 2K3 and it ran great,” hairyfeet recalled. “I was told Office 2K7 ran even better, and I honestly haven’t seen any real selling points for 2K10 and later — the uptake just hasn’t been there, at least with my customers.”

Bottom line: “If you are an average home user, LibreOffice works fine, and if you are a business that needs MS Office you are probably either running Windows or Crossover, so it won’t affect you there, either,” hairyfeet concluded.

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • I’ll believe just about anything right now when it comes to Microsoft. They have got to be hearing the tolling of the bells. Even they can’t be blind enough to realize that they dominate in a market that is shrinking, and may soon reach the tipping point beyond which serious commercial software developers will no longer see developing products for the Windows operating system to be a financially sound allocation of resources.

    The one thing I can say, with dead certainty, is that the future of the GNU Linux operating system, and all of it’s derivatives, is far brighter than that of the Windows operating system, in virtually every segment of the market for computing devices, from servers, to smart phones, to refrigerators, televisions, and even desktops.

    Now if we could just get the US military to wake up and smell the coffee… 😉

  • Microsoft is in business to make money, pure and simple. They are not going to do anything that they do not think will lead to a profit. They sold Novell/SUSE Linux even to system software customers who wanted it. They sold so much of that that they have reordered a couple of times.

    If there is enough of a profit to be made from selling MS Office to Linux users, they will do so, just like they sell it on Macs.

  • M$ will impact Android and Linux like the meteor over Siberia; few will actually (personally) experience the event while the world looks at all the broken windows.

  • … are NOT the same thing. I don’t believe Ballmer would allow a full Linux port, no way, no how, even if he’s allowing the ranks to discuss it.

    Office 365, ported to Linux … that might be interesting, and it’s vaguely possible, it seems to me. Providing a gateway drug to Linux users to woo them toward Windows seems like just Ballmer’s style.

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