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Microsoft Pledges to Play Nicer With Linux

NEW YORK -- A kinder, gentler Microsoft has come to the LinuxWorld Expo and Conference with a pledge to bury at least some of the hatchet with the open source community.

"We know customers want to deploy Linux and we need to provide interoperability," said Martin Taylor, Microsoft's general manager for platform strategies. Taylor made his comments during a Q&A session on the exhibition floor at the LinuxWorld Expo Thursday.

"I hope we've priced our products fairly so customers don't have to throw Linux in our face to get a discount," he said, adding he believes the customer's buy decision is "really not about acquisition cost."

The session followed a recent marketing campaign by Microsoft, called "Get the Facts on Windows and Linux" that contends Linux isn't as cost-effective just because it is essentially free software.

But during a wide-ranging discussion that touched on security, protocols, and patches, Taylor took pains to stress Microsoft's commitment to a future of heterogeneous computing environments.

During the session, a questioner in the audience asked why Microsoft hasn't moved its Office suite to Linux. Taylor answered: "Because it's not easy to take the experience of office on Windows and drop it on top of Linux."

Taylor was pressed on whether Microsoft would open up its proprietary formats, which would enable developers to fold into Linux improved support for Office Word and Excel files formats and for Microsoft's unique method of handling XML schema within Office. Not immediately, Taylor said, but then added: "It's something we're continuing to look at."

Taylor continued: "If to get interoperability means we have to expose our IP broadly, that's where we have to think if that's the right thing to do for us."

Eschewing comments on what some in the community call a "religious" war over free software, Taylor said he sees the open-source versus Microsoft battle in commercial terms. "The business model of Linux has put pressure on us to think about our business model up and down," he said. "It's really not a technical issue."

Regarding Windows' newest upcoming Linux competitor, Taylor claimed technology was not a big driver. "What you're seeing with the [Linux] 2.6 kernel is not necessarily innovation," he said. "It's making what they already have better."

When asked why Microsoft doesn't just sell a Microsoft-branded Linux distribution, Taylor said, "because is some ways, that says we don't want to sell Windows Server to somebody.

The LinuxWorld talk comes as Microsoft is expected to announce loosened licensing terms for its communications protocol software. Although the announcement is related to the terms of its 2001 anti-trust settlement with the U.S. government, some analysts also saw the news as a possible response to Samba, the open-source implementation of the SMP file-and-print sharing protocol.

In addition, the latest Linux 2.6 kernel, called test9, incorporates the ability to connect to "defines" that support the Windows file system.

Microsoft's licensing news follows last week's announcement in which it said it would make available free of charge its Windows Services for Unix (SFU) version 3.5 interoperability product. NFS 3.5, which was being given away at LinuxWorld, enables Unix applications to connect to a Microsoft .NET web-services environment.

Turning to security, Taylor touted Microsoft's recently unveiled program to roll out software patches on a monthly basis. "We know we need to get better with patch management solutions," he said. "We're getting better; we have a long way to go."

Later, Taylor reprised his promise to be a better Linux neighbor. "Our partners are driving integration scenarios," he said. "Is it [Linux] a threat? Yes. We know we have to work in a heterogeneous environment. I'd love you to buy Windows 100 percent of the time, but part of our job is to help you interoperate where appropriate."