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Microsoft and Sun 'help' Linux

Nov 09, 2000, 16:35 (4 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jason Compton)

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By Jason Compton, Computing [ story from VNU Net ]

Over the last month, the big IT industry players have yet again been jostling for position in the Linux market, overshadowing any moves from the Linux Big Four - Red Hat, SuSE, Caldera and TurboLinux.

So what if TurboLinux found some additional funding ($30M, for those of you keeping score at home) and might be about to float on the stock market? So what if Red Hat 7 has arrived: what's the good in coming out with a major new version of the operating system if a new release of the kernel isn't going to appear until at least December?

Although the indirect holdings of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in companies such as Red Hat has already been noted, the software giant's $135m bailout of ailing Corel is the first and most dramatic case of it taking an interest in a company that fancies itself as a Linux player. This has sparked off all manner of speculation, largely centred around doubts that Corel will still be able to dictate its own future.

Corel has been quick to reaffirm its commitment to Linux, including a description of ongoing plans to release its own server-ready version. It also intends to continue developing and supporting WordPerfect and CorelDraw for Linux and to continue its ongoing work on the open source Wine Windows application programming interface simulator that it relies heavily on for its porting efforts.

A second bite
But this isn't the first time that Microsoft has bestowed a 'white knight' cash infusion on an apparent competitor - Apple benefited from such tactics a few years ago. It remains to be seen, however, whether Corel will change its business plan to prevent it competing with such an interested party.

After all, the make-up of Apple's product line now indicates that the company has resigned itself to operating in various niches: iMacs for first-time computer buyers; towers and Cubes for media professionals and Macintosh diehards. It killed MacOS X Server for Intel before release, and MacOS X Server for PowerPC has played only a small role in the server market.

Both Microsoft and Corel claim, on the other hand, that this particular investment will lead to a top-notch, experienced Windows application developer building packages to fit Microsoft's .Net strategy. Moreover, according to recent filings by Corel with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Linux may ultimately have a role to play because Microsoft has retained Corel to develop a Linux version of .Net.

Of course, Corel can hardly be blamed for taking something of a dim view of its future as a Linux-only firm. While its Linux OS has been a modest hit and a wildly popular download, this has not translated into success in terms of sales.

Then there is Sun Microsystems' planned acquisition of Linux server appliance company Cobalt Networks, which appears to be a steal after costing about $2bn in Sun stock. But it's a lot to pay to establish a presence in the low-end market using a company that sold just $16.2m worth of appliances during the first half of this year.

Sun has already hinted that it will migrate Cobalt's product line to run its Unix variant, Solaris, rather than Linux. One Solaris executive went on the record saying: "We don't have the energy to drive two operating systems."

And there would be very little to prevent such a change taking place, provided staff at the new business unit are able to collaborate effectively with Sun's Solaris people. After all, Cobalt has already changed chip architectures once (moving from Mips to AMD x86 processors), so a move to Sparc, or simply adopting Solaris x86, would not be an insurmountable challenge.

To be fair to Sun, any subsequent de-emphasis of the importance of Linux to Cobalt's product family would scarcely be a radical new policy. Months ago, Cobalt started doing its best to avoid being labelled as a 'Linux company', pointing out whenever possible that the OS was simply the best and cheapest means to achieve its thin-server ends.

Summary:

  • Microsoft's cash injection into Corel opens up the prospect for Linux-based .Net products.
  • The moves by Microsoft and Sun into the Linux market are already being seen by many as a tactic to either eliminate a partial Linux rival or to sustain competition.

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