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Microsoft: Linux looks cheap at first, but the costs come later

SAN FRANCISCO -- Ostensibly, Microsoft Corp. made its first official appearance at LinuxWorld this week to demonstrate developer tools and the interoperability features of Windows Services for Unix 3.0. Listening to Microsoft officials take a few jabs at Linux's low-cost reputation, however, gives the impression that Microsoft is also there to draw a line in the sand.

Once the operating system is installed, the real costs of using Linux begin to materialize, said Peter Houston, Microsoft's Windows platform senior director, on the LinuxWorld exhibit floor. Above the OS stack, Microsoft Office's integrated applications begin to outperform Linux in the total cost of ownership (TCO) arena, he said. In this interview with SearchWindowsManageability Site Editor Jan Stafford, Houston elaborates on the TCO issue and Microsoft's message for Linux developers and administrators.

What is Microsoft doing to help IT administrators manage mixed Windows-Linux environments?
The primary efforts have been in the product Windows Services for Unix. We recently released version 3. There are a collection of things in that product that work with both Linux and Unix. For example, the product contains file gateways, so that if you're running NFS in your Linux or Unix environment, you can interoperate with that from Windows clients. It looks like any other file system to a Windows client.

We've got a lot of scripting and command line administration features in that product. They enable someone who's familiar with Linux or Unix administration to manage a Windows box without having to be retrained. That's proven to be very interesting to people here because they're being asked to manage more mixed environments. For someone who's been working with Unix or Linux, this lets him or her get in and start managing without figuring out Windows all at once. It helps Windows adoption in Unix and Windows environments, too. Are Linux users here at the show talking with Microsoft about products, such as Netravere, that enable them to run Windows applications on Linux?
I haven't seen a lot of interest from people I've talked to about that type of product. I've taken a look at a couple. There are enough issues with compatibility and so forth that they haven't taken off. It's more of a curiosity than a pragmatic business solution. What is the primary message Microsoft is bringing to LinuxWorld?
The number one message is that we would like attendees to stop by and talk to us. We want to hear their points of view. If they want to talk to us about the technologies we're showing in the booth, that's great. If they'd just like to come by and tell us what they think we could be doing better, that's great too. You've mentioned that Microsoft's upcoming study about TCO will show that Linux only edges Windows out in the Web server space, not in file servers, firewall servers or network infrastructure. Can you elaborate on the findings of that study?
We're still working with our partner in this, and we're not ready to say who that is. To be very specific, we're finding that there's a slight margin in TCO for Linux in very simple Web serving. In super-Web serving, things like hosting environments that don't have anything to do with Web-centric applications, there's a larger advantage to better TCO in file systems, network infrastructure and security infrastructure. We're not trying to say that Windows is the clear winner in total cost of ownership. It is close enough that customers ought to look at it as a wash.

Then, we'd like people to compare the comprehensiveness and the integrated nature of our platform versus Linux. We think a lot of people see the perceived cost savings of Linux but don't consider the extra work that they have to do to make Linux work in their environment. If the cost is the same, why wouldn't you pick the platform that is richer, easier to use and more integrated? IT managers tell SearchWin2000 that they'd like to use non-Microsoft applications in their Windows environment. Is Microsoft moving toward more integratable components in its software?
There are other browsers that do work on Windows. Netscape and RealPlayer run on Windows. The Windows Services for Unix 3.0 product has technologies that make it easier to port over applications. Are you talking about Microsoft's Shared Source Software Program here?
Probably a year or so ago, customers began to tell us that it was a value to them to have more access to our code. It became clear that it didn't have to be the ability to update the code. The ability to look at the code was sufficient for the vast majority of those customers. So we developed programs like the Shared Source Program that enables customers to get views of the majority of the Windows' code base and find things out to their satisfaction. What's your overall take on your first LinuxWorld experience?
This show to me is a transition point in the lifecycle of Linux, a transition from the Linux community phenomenon to Linux as a commercial phenomenon. [Sun Microsystems CEO] Scott McNealy said today that Sun was becoming a "capitalistic" provider of Linux. IBM is trying to make money on Linux. The result could be that there will be less opportunity to differentiate at the kernel level, the root of the operating system.

Vendors are really going to compete for commercial business around what's above the operating system. I call that "the stack." The kernel is just one part of that stack. The Windows platform delivers a lot of the stack within the platform, things like wireless support and full-featured Web and applications frameworks. Those are the things that IBM sells you with WebSphere and Sun with SunONE. What comes in the Microsoft box is something that you have to buy from these other vendors and integrate yourself. We're going to see this model that we've pioneered proven in spades over the next year or so.


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