Microsoft appears set to make a .Net Linux overture

Microsoft appears set to announce a Linux dimension to its .Net initiative this week, but analysts voiced skepticism about how strongly the software giant would support an open-source operating system that competes with its own.

"Do we have a way for people who host Web sites on Linux to build on [.Net]? Yes, we do," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at a dinner hosted by The Churchill Club in Campbell, California, last week. "That's not to say our overall strategy is not to get those Web sites over to Windows, but we will provide a way for those Linux servers to use .Net."

Launched last summer, .Net is a massive technology overhaul that Microsoft claims will make it easier for applications to share functionality over the Internet and to support a variety of computers and devices in the form of Web services.

Whether the traditionally anti-Microsoft Linux user community would use Microsoft software is another question.

"Just because Microsoft creates modules for Linux, it doesn't mean that the open-source community will use them," said Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at IDC. But, he added, support for Unix and Linux is crucial, as those are the dominant operating systems for Web sites.

"If Microsoft wants to make sure anyone on the Web could be enticed to use their Web services, then they have to make it compatible with what's out there," he said.

Microsoft's Linux support would likely be developed in part through its collaboration with Corel, the maker of the WordPerfect desktop productivity suite and a Linux operating system. Microsoft invested US$135 million in Corel in October, and company officials said the deal called for cooperation by Corel on the .Net framework.

"It remains difficult to assess the effect of .Net on a non-Microsoft platform," said John Enck, an analyst at Gartner Group. "Linux is the operating system that keeps them up most at night. For North America, the play for Linux is small, but globally, it's much more critical."

"Microsoft has a vested interest in propping up the Windows 2000 server market," so it's hard to imagine that the company would truly support Linux, said Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Giga Information Group.

James Niccoai of the IDG News Service contributed to this story.

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