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Microsoft’s ‘Linux Threat Level’: Down to Green or Redder Than Ever?

Now that Microsoft wants to be Linux’s new best friend, there’s bound to be no end of sweet nothings and touching gestures emanating out of Redmond.

After all, we’re pals now, right?

Lo and behold! For all you skeptics who doubted the software behemoth’s amorous words, consider a few phrasing changes it recently made in its last two annual financial filings.

‘So Much for All Those Predictions’

Whereas said documents used to include Linux as a primary threat to Windows — alongside Apple and Google — Redmond’s documents now reportedly don’t mention any competitive threat from desktop Linux at all, according to a recent article on Business Insider, which cites a tweet by Directions on Microsoft’s Wes Miller.

Rather, the documents list only Apple and Google as Windows’ primary threats on the desktop.

Of course, embedded Linux is still acknowledged as a problem in that arena — not to mention servers, of course — but author Matt Rosoff (formerly with Directions on Microsoft as well, it most certainly should be noted) comes to a very happy conclusion anyway: “So much for all those predictions that Linux would kill Windows,” he writes.

Awww, isn’t that nice? We really *are* friends now!

‘MS Is Very Afraid of Linux’

Then again, maybe not.

“The actions ‘speak’ louder than the words,” wrote SAL-e in the comments on Business Insider.

“Microsoft is acting like patent troll and filing law-suits left and right,” SAL-e explained. “MS is very afraid of Linux, especially in the mobile arena.”

Similar sentiments could be heard down at the blogosphere’s Broken Windows Lounge.

“They only downgraded Linux as a threat on the desktop, so the underhanded FUD and legal attacks are likely to continue,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl.

‘The Reality Distortion Field’

Indeed, “the last time I looked, the threats Google represents to both Microsoft and Apple all carried ‘Powered by Linux’ stickers,” noted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“Those tablets and smartphones and web-based apps and ChromeOS laptops with their Google DNA and Linux underpinnings are all direct threats to the Windows OS, so I wouldn’t say this is a downgrading of Linux, but an acceptance that Google is going to be the primary way that most people will adopt Linux without realizing it,” Hudson explained.

“Of course, it would take a Microsoftie to tweet that this means ‘Linux isn’t a threat to the Windows desktop any longer,’ she added, quoting Miller’s words. “This proves two things: Apple and Steve Jobs don’t have a monopoly on the Reality Distortion Field, and Twitter — with its 140-character limit — is never going to be the source of any serious analysis.”

‘Threat Level Is Red’

Linux is “not an operating system but a component of many operating systems, all of which are taking a slice of M$’s pie: GNU/Linux, Android/Linux, Meego and WebOS,” agreed blogger Robert Pogson. “Whereas M$ used to have weak competition from GNU/Linux and MacOS, they are now surrounded and holed at the water-line.”

Microsoft is “still dishonest,” Pogson added. “A ‘PC’ is a personal computer and not necessarily one with M$’s OS. There is not much indication that demand for PCs will reduce, but PCs running M$’s OS certainly are being replaced with more functional units at lower prices.

“M$, after decades, is now having to compete on price/performance,” he concluded.

Bottom line? “Threat level is Red,” Pogson added.

‘The Year the Desktop All But Goes Away’

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza took a similar view.

“It looks like there won’t be any year of the Linux desktop, mostly because it’s going to be the year the desktop all but goes away,” Espinoza told Linux Girl.

“Pundits have long predicted the virtual disappearance of the computer as we know it, and the broad acceptance of powerful smartphones seems to be putting the truth to that once seemingly ridiculous proclamation,” he added.

‘Filled to the Brim with Zealots’

Slashdot blogger and Windows fan hairyfeet saw it differently.

In fact, Linux really isn’t a threat to Microsoft, hairyfeet told Linux Girl.

“For little shops like mine it would be really nice if it was, but it really isn’t,” hairyfeet said.

Linux also hasn’t improved in the past two years, he added: “Drivers are just as buggy, upgrades still kill hardware, waaaay too many things are tied to what kernel version you have, and the whole thing is filled to the brim with zealots that act like you kicked a puppy if you dare to point out what is wrong.

“It has been 20 years since Linus released the Linux kernel, and it still hasn’t gotten above the margin of error,” he concluded. “Why? Simple — Linux is BY geeks and FOR geeks, and not a single one with any power will listen to the users.”

‘Linux Will Continue to Make Inroads’

Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, wasn’t convinced that Microsoft’s changed wording had much significance.

“It does represent a developing understanding that Windows is deeply entrenched in some markets and Linux as a general operating system is not really able to unseat it at the present moment,” Travers said. “I think that Linux will continue to make inroads into these areas slowly, however.”

In the long run, though, the real threats to Microsoft and Windows may have nothing to do with operating systems, Hudson suggested.

‘The Tech Elephant Graveyard’

“It’s become an ingrained truth that Microsoft cannot take the initiative; its actions are knee-jerk responses to products and services from Apple and Google,” she explained.

“Nobody believes that Microsoft is capable of planning and executing anything really new and innovative, or even buying successful technology and integrating it,” Hudson added. “Rather, it is the tech Elephant Graveyard, the place where other companies (Danger, Nokia, etc.) go to die.

“Of course, a more up-front appraisal would have listed Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as the biggest threat to Microsoft,” she added. “But that’s a whole other story.”

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.

12 Comments

  • M$, *nix, iOS? Are you sure there is that big of a diffrence? M$ is worried about *nix, As well as google, and even Apple. Take the Android, it has done to Linux what Apple did to Unix, put a new face on it and make it so simple any maroon could use it. If linux gets its GPL settled then Google wont make as much money off of it.Why? Because then it wont have to be open, they can close it off and people wont even know its there, just like Apple. M$ is worried because of Novels Mono, and Java’s JavaFX, That basicly makes silverlight, WPF, and .NET worthless. Honestly, Linux is much stronger backend and Windows is a better frontend. But Google has opened doors, as well as Sony, because now Android powered by Linux is becoming a powerhouse, giving a simple frontend UI that you dont need much smarts in order to use. I design custom systems from a 300 desk office to a simple 5 man operation. Most of the time what people see is Windows, but what really does their work is Linux. Simply it goes, Linux Server, Windows Desktop, Android/Linux mobil. To me it looks like windows is surrounded by Linux. But who AM I to judge the threat…

    • I take VERY seriously my position as "the voice of the common man" which I deal with 6 days a week and which apparently most of the community has never even met!

      They think being forced to use a term because their OS simply can’t function without it gives them magical gonad powers? it makes them a bad joke! Its 2011 and everyone else abandoned terminals a LONG time ago!

      You think they would get hit with the clue bat when the ONLY thing that has even the teeniest tiniest bit of Linux making ANY headway with consumers is Android which….surprise surprise….is all GUI and NO TERMINAL! What? gasp? Linux without a terminal? why Linux without a terminal makes RMS cry!

      That is why I see the future as Google simply taking the toys away from them. if Google forks the kernel? the developers WILL follow because Android rules mobile. Then all Google has to do is use code signing and eFuses and its bye bye four freedoms, hello walled garden. And you know what? the community deserves it. guys like me have been pointing out the giant writing on the wall that screams CONSUMERS but did anybody listen? Nope they gave us terminals on the desktop!

      But if you ignore the truck you deserve to get hit. The future is consumers and the Linux community won’t be seeing a dime of it, it’ll all be the big three, Google, Apple, and MSFT. Linux could have gotten out in front and took the market, made everything from ARM netbooks to cell phones, all easy peasy friendly, but instead they just copped an attitude and expected the world to do things their way.

      Well the world has spoken an Linux is STILL at 1%, same as it was last year, same as it was four years ago. If that cluestick don’t hit them upside the head frankly nothing will.

      • Hairyfeet, that’s the best analysis I’ve read in a long while. As a "common man" — but one who is nonetheless technically inclined — I’ve played around with Linux for years. I can use Linux as my primary desktop, if I want … but why would I want to?

        It’s not that all Linux distros are terrible, but they are a bit of a mess. Importantly, there’s no critical mass building, for all the reasons hairyfeet has outlined. Which means that essential software and drivers will not be ported. Basic things like hooking up to a wireless printer, or getting your camera recognized — the stuff that has to "just work" if us "common men" (and women) are going to embrace a platform — are ridiculously complicated. Yes, your grandmother can use Linux, but only if her granddaughter does a turnkey installation AND grandma doesn’t decide to get a new printer and her children don’t suddenly want to do that Skype thing!

        I’m totally on board with the four freedoms. I’d even contribute cash to my favorite projects (if I had any — favorite projects, that is). But there’s no comprehensive vision of a computer platform beyond the four freedoms, and even that is sneered at by a growing number of geeks in the open source community. Only Google has articulated a vision — and I don’t expect that the four freedoms are of any interest to them.

        If I had to pick a bad guy, beyond the usual big three, I’d blame Canonical, who, for about ten minutes, actually had some buzz going with lots of ordinary people, but who then failed to capitalize on that rare opportunity and dropped the ball big time.

        So now we’re stuck with a future of the usual dog-eat-dog competition, of patent trolling, where the "common man" is nothing but a wallet who will march to the tune of whatever walled garden they choose. Some choice.

        • It is like reality and the Linux community are these two complete opposites that like matter and antimatter can’t get together without an explosion!

          I mean do you see ANY consumer device that pushes a terminal BESIDES Linux? Of course not, that junk died out in 1994, yet what does the community do? "Terms are leet! they make you have gonad powerz! Put it on the desktop!"

          There is NO vision, NO common sense, not even the slightest thought for the common man/woman and what they might want/need, none at all. The entire planet is supposed to throw away nearly 2 decades of GUIs to embrace…terminals? Bash? Recompiling? Do they get a free neckbeard with purchase as well?

          The sad part is there are plenty of guys like me that have been holding up flaming signs for YEARS saying what i posted, making it as simple as one possibly could "Here is where the road is heading, here is what you need to gain share" and what do we get? We get called filthy names, we get told to program our own OS (yeah like I want to waste a dozen years on a Masters in CS so i can DIY. Can you imagine how long a company would last if they told their customers that?) and get told we must be "noobs" who aren’t "leet" enough for their OS, just like in the post above yours wher he basically calls users idiots for wanting an easy to use OS.

          Lord only knows how much money has been flushed down a toilet thanks to the community having a raging case of nostalgia for the days of the PDP11 and when only neckbeards used PCs. as a retailer I actually tried selling Linux, tried multiple flavors and found it to be a trainwreck. Drivers breaking every 6 months shot my support costs off the charts, even simple little things requiring flaming terminal jumps, code never getting fixed and instead being tossed for "new hotness" that broke more than it fixed, I could go on all day.

          So until I see Google or some other corp actually embrace common sense and KISS principles with regards to Linux I’m not about to ever let it in my shop again. my time is a minimum of $35 an hour and at that rate? It only takes ONE forum dance and terminal driver hoop jump to cost me MORE than a copy of Windows 7 HP.

          There is a HUGE market out there Linux guys, you COULD take this market. WinXP is DOA in less than 3 years, that is hundreds of MILLIONS of desktops and laptops that will have NO support. Heck I’m looking at 4 laptops with XP right as we speak that I got as part of a school’s upgrade cycle. Nice machines too, P4 mobile 3GHz with 1Gb of RAM. They COULD run Linux real sweet, and most of my customers go to FB, they listen to music, they check their webmail, all things Linux could do easily. But until I can actually let a Linux box out of my shop and not have it come back constantly for me to fiddle with it simply isn’t worth it.

  • Hairyfeet always cast Microsoft in the best light, and Linux in the worst. How would you define such a position?

    Face it – Microsoft is the biggest threat to computing, while Linux IS computing!

    • Can you slurp the koolaid a little harder? Just like a Linux zealot, fighting the last battle while a big old train called Google is bearing right down on you! Notice that Google REFUSES to allow ANY GPL V3? Why do you think that is? It is because as one of the developers said "Android is free FOR OEMS" and the rest of that sentence unspoken is "And NOT for you silly user!"

      And you want to hear what I think is wrong with MSFT? Okay here goes: The mobile strategy is flinging poo at a wall and hoping something sticks, Ballmer has ZERO direction as a CEO, instead of heavily promoting Windows 7 he appears to be cooking up an Apple ripoff for Win 8 that will go down in flames (but at least we get 8 YEARS of support for Win 7, something Linux doesn’t come close on), he got rid of the biggest and best tool to wipe out piracy in the west I had EVER seen in all my years, the Win 7 HP $50 upgrade, and he has all these great parts in winPhone, X360, Win 7, and Skype and has NO clue on how to make it all run seamlessly!

      You see I’m not a shill, I’m something worse, I’m your worst nightmare…a retailer that still believes. I believe that the community doesn’t have to take Torvalds torching drivers with his kernel fiddling, I believe that things can be made better, I believe Linux can be something for more than zealots like you that will happily take lame excuses for why you can’t have an ABI like EVERYONE ELSE from Linus as long as you can say you are sticking to "teh man". I believe that there can be Linux boxes on actual shelves and penguins on boxes.

      But as long as the "community" is filled with zealots like you that act like everyone is a shill if there one and ONLY statement with regards to Linux isn’t "Gee Biff isn’t Linux swell? it sure is Skip, and RMS smells like cotton candy!" then it will stay EXACTLY where it is now….below the margin for error. you’ve had TWENTY YEARS yet retailers like me as well as Walmart, staples, Best Buy, etc, won’t touch your OS. It has been twenty long years now and yet you are lower than the combo of Win98 and Win2K, two abandoned OSes.

      That should tell you something, but instead you’ll blame it on conspiracies and shills, like retailers like me are getting secret Swiss bank accounts. Nope what is reality is the simple fact your OS drives support costs THROUGH THE ROOF and at $35 an hour minimum one single broken driver and forum dance after the 6 month upgrade death march means it is CHEAPER to use Windows 7. Like it or lump it, your choice.

      • Google is bearing down on me – oh my.

        "The seasons don’t fear the Google, nor do the wind, the rain, and the sun! We can be like they are – don’t fear the Google!"

        Yeah – it’s cheaper to use Windows, today. That being the result of a decade and more of "exclusivity" agreements between Microsoft and vendors. Come on – we KNOW where MS is, and how they got there. It’s an old refrain – "If Linux were any good, hardware manufacturers would be making drivers for Linux" blah blah blah.

        Fortunately for Microsoft, and unfortunately for the world, George Bush’s administration halted the monopoly proceedings against Microsoft. The landscape would be drastically different today, had those proceedings proceeded.

        But, whatever – I just get tired of hearing you harp on how freaking HARD it is to install drivers. The average DUMMY can do it, if someone just holds his hand the first time!

        equo search nvidia

        equo install nvidia-blah-blah

        Dang, that’s hard.

        Oh – the average newcomer uses Ubuntu? Got it covered.

        apt-cache search radeon

        apt-get install radeon-blah-blah

        Yes, even dummies can install drivers – if the "experts" stop telling them how damned hard it is, and that it can’t be done until you have 20 years of experience.

        In short, you over exaggerate the difficulties, as well as the differences, of *nix operating systems. Often times, just to hear yourself talk, I think.

        If you’re half as competent as you make yourself out to be, then you know that few hardware devices aren’t supported today. And, you know that it’s easy to determine WHICH devices have no support. If a device has no support – sell the customer something that IS supported! FFS, a new video card is cheaper than the license for Windows!

        • Or maybe YOU are a shill for Red Hat? Because if you think ANY HOME USERS are gonna play your little CLI games? Well I have a nice bridge you might be interested in. PROTIP: Home users will NEVER EVER in a million years touch your CLI garbage because they see it for what it is, which is a 1970s throwback that belongs in the garbage dump of history!

          You know why Linux has a term, so prominent that in a good 80%+ of distros they even have a link to the term on the desktop? it is because you HAVE NO CHOICE. You really really don’t. Anything goes wrong with an update? "Open up bash and type" Problem with the network? "Open up bash and type". Driver problem, app problem, dependency problem? "Open up bash and type".

          But I hate to break the news to ya sparky, but it ain’t 1979 anymore! Disco is dead daddy o and so is the terminal for everyone but you and the Linux zealots. Now pay attention, because this is important: As far as the user is concerned? In Windows and OSX THERE IS NO CLI because they will never ever in a million years have to use it. Sure if you are a geek it is there, buried in the bowels of the OS from disuse, and they even have the very nice Powershell if you want to get term crazy but you know what? really not needed. For Windows and OSX you could remove the terminal in every desktop on the planet and 95%+ of the people would never even notice. It is just THAT unimportant.

          But hey, you hang on to your delusions. You keep right on thinking that you can get hundreds of millions of people to do the 6 month upgrade deathmarch, get them to do the forum dance looking for "fixes" when Linus’ kernel fiddling breaks the drivers yet again, that it is all a conspiracy between MSFT and OEMs and not the fact ANY drivers written for Linux will be worthless in less than a year if the OEMs don’t maintain the things, unlike Windows where it is "write once use for years".

          You have been told what you need to change to make Linux into a workable product. The world will NOT do things your way, you have to give the people what they want. What they want is all GUI all the time, no CLI, no forum dances or broken drivers every 6 months, everything "clicky clicky" easy. You and the rest of the geeks can go geeker joy on your bash scripts, me and the rest of the planet have better things to do. How many PCs have you sold retail? How many Linux boxes? thought so, just another spaz in a basement that wouldn’t know the real world if it hit him upside the head.

          • Television was once touted as a great educational tool, in addition to a communications tool. It had such a bright future. Alas – today, it’s nothing more than the Lowest Common Denominator. It appeals to the mindless, the stupid, the braindead – and the more intelligent people are kind of stuck with it.

            And, that’s what Windows is. Windows is the moronic sitcom, the thriller, the action movie, of the computing world.

            And, here you are reveling in the fact that a moron doesn’t even have to know how to spell "computer" in order to download his p0rn, and any other of the entertainment of that infamous LCD.

            Can’t stand that CLI? Why? Is it really that hard to deal with? Really? You’re smart enough to fix and to sell computers to any of the LCD’s that walk in off the street, right? Then you’re smart enough to figure out the CLI. You probably cut your teeth on DOS.

            Oh – wait. An idea! You’re making money off of all those LCD’s that can’t defrag, or install their own OS, or anything that really matters. It’s in your interest to keep them ignorant. If those masses of ignorant people were to be educated, your primary source of income would dry up, right?

            Of course, that is true of most of the IT industry. The entire industry relies on ignorance. No one more than the anti-virus people, of course.

            You take the low road. I’ll take the high road. I’ll keep working at educating the people I know. "You don’t have to pay Microsoft to run a computer." "You don’t have to run an antivirus." "You don’t need an "expert" to partition your hard disk and reinstall your operating system." "Yes, I know Windows has hidden the DOS prompt so you can’t find it. But, Linux puts it up front, so that you can CONTROL your system!"

            Give the people what they want? The people want drugs, sex, and rock and roll. Or, rap, drugs and sex. The lowest common denominators. You cater to them. I’ll continue to appeal to people with minds, thank you very much.

          • right nobody loves me cause I’m so hip and leet, is that REALLY what you are saying? Are you HONESTLY trying to say that CLI gives you magical gonad powers? because I find that pretty darn funny. Sure making things harder just makes a man out of you skippy, now push this rock up this hill! What a vehicle? Modern technology? Piffle that ain’t the manly way to do things, you need to do things like when the PDP11 was king boy!

            Yeah enjoy your total delusional BS, the rest of the world? Will keep ignoring your worthless badly designed crapola. hey why don’t you throw away those CDs and go back to punch cards while you are at it? Real men carry their data on cardboard!

            Jeez what a bunch of total stupidity. yeah making things easy for users? Why that’s just dumbing down daddy o, you need to make them type in their own kernel on daisy wheel printers!

  • I think to understand Microsoft’s downgrading of the Linux threat level, you have to look at the Microsoft mindset. For more than a decade they have followed the strategy of instilling Microsoft dependency.

    MS has always lobbied hard with OEM’s to make sure Windows was pre-installed. MS has also given away free licenses to educational institutions, sold cheap license in developing countries and basically done everything it can to make sure that when you saw your first computer, well it had Windows on it. When Linux looked like it might have room in the netbook market, MS extended the life and lowered the price of its Windows XP licenses to make sure Linux would not get a foothold in the netbook market.

    To someone who equate a computer with Windows, well that person won’t even try Linux.

    Today, things have changed. Your first computer is not likely to be a desktop or laptop, but a Apple iOS, Google Android smartphone or MS hopes their own Windows Phone 7. Your next encounter with a computer will probably be a tablet, running iOS, Android or MS hopes, Windows 8.

    I think MS has believe that the battlefield is the hearts and minds of the next generation of computer users. That battles is now being fought by Apple and Google with Microsoft trying to get in. Where is Linux in all this, in Android, but nobody know that. Android is Google, not Linux.

    If Linux wants a future, it should create something that Android users will find familiar and friendly. If not, you will have a generation of iPhone and iPad users who will want nothing but a Mac, Android users who will be (or Google hope will) migrate to its Chrome OS, and WP7 users who will migrate to Windows.

    The world the only knew Windows is gone. Today, iOS and Android are the gateways to computing these days.

    Now where is Linux in all this? Nowhere is what Microsoft is thinking. And Microsoft may be right.

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