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The Distros Microsoft Missed

Jun 22, 2007, 22:30 (21 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Like most of you, I was more than a little surprised when Linspire decided to join the Microsoft patent protection ring.

I decided not to write about it last week because (a) I wanted to post the Tux500 wrap-up piece and (b) it would not have really been all that much different than the blog entry on the Xandros-Microsoft deal I made right when I got back from vacation. In fact, if you want my reasoned, thoughtful opinion on Linspire, just pull up that entry and substitute "Linspire" for every instance of "Xandros" and you'll get the gist.

But then, having had extra time to process the news and view the responses by others in the community, I came to realize something: it may not matter.

I wrote some scary predictions about how all of these deals were going to cast a perceptual shadow on the "non-protected" Linux distributions. I still believe that, but after the public stances by Red Hat, Canonical, and--bless 'em--Mandriva, I think the damages will be strongly mitigated.

While it might seem a bad thing that distributions are choosing sides on this issue, thus fostering division in the Linux community, I think that from a business perspective, it won't damage Linux sales in the long-term. The reason for my optimism? The very fact that Red Hat, Canonical, and Mandriva were the first three distros to take a stand.

Red Hat's defiance is most obviously a good thing, because, let's face it: they're the company that Microsoft really wants to co-opt. Getting Novell last year was a coup, don't get me wrong, but that was just a means to an end. Getting Red Hat to sign an intellectual property/patent agreement is the real goal. My only problem is, I wish Red Hat had made their public position clear earlier.

When Canonical gave the proverbial finger to Redmond, that was advantageous to the cause because, love it or hate it, Canonical's *buntu distributions are among the most popular desktop distros out there right now. Far more than Xandros, and certainly more than Linspire. In fact, it was probably Canonical's success that drove Xandros and Linspire to try this deal with Microsoft, because they needed the technical edge that such a partnership would provide.

And Mandriva? Why was its stance so important to the cause? Because right now, Mandriva is hurting too. Of all of the distribution companies that could have potentially gained something from dealing with Redmond, Mandriva certainly fit the bill. They've been through bankruptcy. They've not landed any big deployment deals lately (at least, as far as we know). And despite putting out a great product, they have had to watch as other Linux companies pass them by.

With the exception of the bankruptcy proceedings, that's very similar to situations faced by Xandros and Linspire. In fact, one could argue that the whole bankruptcy situation made the situation worse for Mandriva.

But given this hardship, did Mandriva fold?

No, they did not. They stood up for what was right. They stood up for what was true. It may not have been the easy thing to do, but they did it anyway.

And no matter what company or distribution you prefer to use, I think we should all give Mandriva a big round of applause for doing the right thing when it would have been so easy to take the deal and bolster their company's bottom line.

So yes, Microsoft landed Novell, Xandros, and Linspire. But they didn't get the biggest Linux company. Or the one that's the most popular right now. Or even the one that perhaps could have used the help more than any other distro.

That, my friends, is something to cheer about.