MS to tout Unix, Web development tools at LinuxWorld

Microsoft has no plans to make any big announcements during its debut as an exhibitor at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo next week in San Francisco, a company official said this week.

Peter Houston, senior director of Microsoft's Windows server product management group, said the company plans to showcase its Services for Unix (SFU) product and Windows Embedded and CE operating system offerings, and it will spotlight a Web development tool built with the help of its beta-tester "community."

Houston said Microsoft knows that lots of conference attendees are potential Microsoft customers, and the software maker "wants to dispel this perspective that we're myopic about Linux."

"It's a heterogeneous world, and we have to be perceived as not having our heads in the sand," Houston said. Microsoft will simply "be there and not cause a fuss," he added.

The software maker will not, for instance, surprise the technology world with pledges to run its Office business productivity application or any of its other software products on the Linux operating system, according to Houston.

Perhaps the biggest news that Microsoft will make at LinuxWorld will be generated by its mere presence at an event in which it may not be the most welcome exhibitor. The company announced that it would attend the event last month.

"It's daring," said George Weiss, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "It's an endeavor by Microsoft, obviously, to attempt a bit of bridge-building to this community."

Weiss predicted that reaction to Microsoft's "very small steps" to test the waters with its offerings will be varied, ranging from curiosity from those who are interested to hear Microsoft's strategy to hostility from those who believe in the open-source community development process and freely available software.

"Linux is a major competitive threat to Microsoft. This is not something to be taken lightly. They have a lot of work cut out for them," Weiss said. "It's probably the biggest threat to Microsoft since its inception, because we're dealing with a phenomenon that has roots now in many enterprises."

Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said he's pleased that Microsoft will be showcasing SFU Version 3.0. Since Linux is highly compatible with Unix, the SFU product will allow the majority of Linux applications, such as the Apache Web server, to run on top of Windows, he noted.

Kusnetzky said the code will run at full speed with no performance penalty, because the Interix technology Microsoft acquired from Softway Systems Inc. in September 1999 was implemented as "just another Windows subsystem," not as an emulation environment.

"It's one of those things that Microsoft has that is an enormous strength that they seldom talk about," Kusnetzky said. "The reason they don't speak about it often is because Microsoft would want to rehost applications on Windows. Microsoft really is not interested in coexistence. They're interested in migrations away from Unix and Linux."

Houston said showcasing the SFU product, which sells for $99, will "show a good message" about how the Windows and Linux worlds can coexist. "A lot of things in that box will work with Linux," he said, adding that he doesn't want the Linux community "to feel Microsoft and Linux are incapable of being in the same environment."

Houston said he hopes that touting a Microsoft tool developed with "more of a community element" in the process will show LinuxWorld attendees that "Microsoft is getting the message of a community model."

A spokesman said Microsoft plans to spotlight its freely available ASP.Net Web Matrix Project, a lightweight tool that aims to help developers build applications that use Active Server Pages (ASP) to dynamically retrieve data. Microsoft built the tool with feedback from 200 beta testers, he said.

Applications written with the tool, which was released June 16, must run on a version of the Windows operating system equipped with Microsoft's .Net Framework, the company spokesman acknowledged.

Also at LinuxWorld, Microsoft plans to showcase its offerings in the embedded space, where Linux has been a consideration for some enterprise users. Houston said that retailer Target Corp. originally looked at Linux before settling on Microsoft's Windows XP Embedded operating system for its retail point-of-sale devices.

LinuxWorld, also held in January in New York, is produced by IDG World Expo, a business unit of IDG, the parent company of Computerworld.

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