Microsoft sizes up the penguin

A sign that the IT industry has taken notice of Linux is that for the second year in a row the world's biggest software firm (and Linux antagonist) will have a booth at LinuxWorld.

While Microsoft's past attitude about Linux could be described as aloof or indifferent, the company has been more watchful of Linux as an enterprise competitor.

"Things have changed," over the last few years, says Peter Houston, senior director of server strategy at Microsoft. "One of the biggest changes has been IBM's emergence in the Linux space. We have to take these things more seriously than we would have before."

Houston says the uptake in Linux has come more at the expense of Unix vendors' installed bases than Microsoft's, as customers look to move from proprietary server architectures to lower-cost Intel boxes. Over the next few years the corporate data-center market will come down to Windows and Linux, Houston says.

"We'll be seeing sort of a two-horse race," he says. "We'll see Microsoft with its value proposition going up against companies like IBM and their value propositions with Linux. If you think of the Unix value proposition over the last couple of years, it's almost not interesting to people anymore." Now that the major data-center Unix players - Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems - have Linux offerings means Unix might become a growth platform in big corporations, Houston says.

Houston expects Windows to succeed in data centers, claiming that it is less expensive to support, install and maintain than Unix, and even Linux servers. He also says that Microsoft's model for developing enterprise software is more sustainable over the long run than the open source model on which Linux is based - which is unpredictable and inconsistent about its focus. But there are some things Microsoft has learned from Linux along the way, he adds.

"[T]he community model is pretty good," Houston says. This has led to more community efforts at Microsoft, where customers have had more access to Microsoft developers than before.

"On the technology side, one of the things that we'd liked to see is more componentization in our server architecture," similar to Linux, he says. "When you look at Linux, it's fairly straightforward to deploy . . . . If you want to run a Web server, you just strip it down and take out what you don't need. In the next releases of Windows Server 2003, we've done a lot of things to make it deployable with a smaller footprint, minimizing the number of services that don't need to be there."

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