The people running the Linux Foundation used to worry about Microsoft, but now they liken it to “kicking a puppy.”
That’s according to an interview with the foundation’s executive director Jim Zemlin published in NetworkWorld.
He’s right — but only because both sides have redefined the battle lines.
It’s true that Linux has a solid position in data centres — particularly huge ones run by consumer-facing Web companies like Google and Amazon — and the Linux kernel is at the core of Android, the fastest-growing mobile operating system in the world.
But Linux was also supposed to take over the desktop and destroy Microsoft. Remember?
- “The operating system market is a death-trap, a tar-pit, a slough of despond….There’s no way to predict when people will decide, en masse, to re-program their own brains” — Author Neal Stephenson in 1999, in a long and very well-written essay explaining why Microsoft (and Apple) would never last in the OS business.
- “If the easy-to-install Linuxes come out this year and actually work, then Microsoft Windows is likely to disappear within two years.” — IT “industry expert” and author Tom Worthington in 2000.
- “The next generation of product will appeal to and meet the needs of the mass computer market.” — Novell Linux VP Nat Friedman in 2005.
- “Proprietary software is eventually going to be doomed….I think we could all be running Microsoft Linux…I sent an e-mail to Steve Ballmer about this and he said he wasn’t interested…Microsoft could very easily dominate the Linux market if they wanted to.” — former Microsoft researcher Keith Curtis in 2009.
Obviously, it didn’t happen. Microsoft is on track to sell more than 350 million (probably a lot more) copies of Windows 7 in 2011 alone. In the last four quarters, it’s earned about $13 billion on $18 billion in Windows revenue.
Meanwhile, about a year ago, Linux folks started admitting that chasing Windows on the desktop was a dead end.
The truth? Microsoft isn’t that worried about Linux anymore.
In the early 2000s, the company fought hard against Linux on a lot of fronts — from alleging IP infringements to striking a revolutionary deal with Novell that had an effect of splitting the market. But that battle is more or less over and the Linux compete strategy (as they called it) doesn’t take up a lot of executive time these days.
The Windows Server team still looks at Linux and distributors like Red Hat as top competitors, but it’s more concerned with virtualization and cloud computing competitors like VMWare. The Windows desktop team has never wasted more than a moment thinking about Linux, and is laser-focused on trying to stop Apple from eating Windows share with the iPad.
If anything kills Microsoft, it won’t be Linux.