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Microsoft Will Help Deliver a "Better" Linux

by Kevin Carmony

June 14th, 2007

"...the era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over as far as I'm concerned. This is about getting Apple healthy, and this is about Apple being able to make incredibly great contributions to the industry, to get healthy and prosper..."
~ Steve Jobs - 1997 - Macworld Expo - Boston, MA.

The title of this week's Linspire Letter will perhaps surprise many of you, but I can assure you, it's quite true. Let me explain...

As most of you know, Linspire has a long tradition of working with hundreds of software developers and vendors, both open source and commercial, in order to bring as many choices as possible to our users. For example, in our efforts to provide a "better" Linux, earlier this year we announced our partnership with Ubuntu, leveraging their exceptional work with open source Linux. We have also entered into agreements with dozens of commercial companies to offer our users choices with proprietary software, codecs and drivers. Linspire has always offered as many choices as possible, and then we let the user decide which software options are right for them.

Today, Linspire announced our latest partnership, one with Microsoft, to bring even more choices to desktop Linux users, and together, offer a "better" Linux experience. Just as Steve Jobs announced in 1997 that "the era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over," I too believe it's time for Linux to do the same. Rather than isolating Linux, I believe we need to understand, as Apple did in 1997, that Linux exists in an ecosystem and must work with and interoperate within that ecosystem. As unpopular as it may appear to some, Linspire is willing to take a lead in this effort. Some people booed Steve Jobs back in 1997, but if you trace the history of his announcement, I think it was an incredibly smart move for both Microsoft and Apple, issuing in a new era for both.

I believe we can learn a lot from history. Here is a bit more from Steve Jobs comments in 1997, "Apple lives in an ecosystem, and it needs help from other partners. It needs to help other partners. And relationships that are destructive don't help anybody in this industry as it is today. So during the last several weeks, we have looked at some of the relationships, and one has stood out as a relationship that hasn't been going so well but had the potential, I think, to be great for both companies. And I'd like to announce one of our first partnerships today, a very, very meaningful one. And that is one with Microsoft. The discussions actually began because there were some patent disputes. And, rather than...repeating history, I'm extremely proud of both companies that they have resolved these differences in a very, very professional way. And this has led, I think, to an overall relationship that we're announcing today that...and we're extremely excited about." (Watch the video of this address.)

I know that many traditional Linux users who view Microsoft as "the enemy," will view any partnership with Microsoft with a great deal of skepticism. Therefore, I wanted to use this week's Linspire Letter to answer some of the questions you might have about our new partnership with Microsoft.

How did this partnership get started?

As I said, Linspire has always believed in working with partners to integrate Linux into the desktop computing ecosystem. It became obvious to me that we were missing a partnership with one of the most important participants in that ecosystem, Microsoft. So, about a year and a half ago, I contacted Microsoft and asked for a meeting to discuss how we could work together to make a "better" Linux. I was confident Microsoft would welcome my invitation, because I knew there could be an economic incentive for them to do so. As I had expected, they welcomed my call, and I immediately flew to Redmond for the first of many meetings over the following months, taking place in both Redmond and San Diego, culminating in this week's announced partnership.

But why would Microsoft want to help offer a better Linux experience?

For the same reason they sell Microsoft Office and other software to Mac's a worthwhile market for their wares. I'm sure most Mac users would agree, having the option to use Microsoft technology with their Apple computer can make for a better Mac experience. Conversely, being able to use Apple's iTunes software and iPods with Microsoft Windows adds to the options on a PC. Over the years, Apple and Microsoft have learned how to compete within the same ecosystem, yet still cooperate and work together in expanding that ecosystem. Linspire and Microsoft want to encourage this same cooperation in the PC ecosystem.

As good as Microsoft believes Microsoft Windows is, some people will in fact choose Linux. If Microsoft can contribute in a win-win way towards a "better" Linux experience, some people might be willing to pay a little extra for that. After years in the prominent position of desktop computer operating systems and applications, Microsoft certainly has many assets, which can be brought to bear to improve Linux (technology, interoperability, intellectual property, distribution channels, marketing, etc.). Every day, Linspire sells dozens of different commercial add-on products, that our users purchase to enhance their Linux experience (DVD players, games, fonts, virtualization software, etc.). Therefore, it only made sense to see if Microsoft, with so many available resources, might also be interested in offering solutions to Linux users.

In what ways will this agreement offer a "better" Linux experience?

Our collaboration with Microsoft will enable Linspire to bring strong, interoperable solutions to the market, as well as advance office document compatibility, instant messaging, and existing digital media programs. This agreement will offer several advantages to Linspire Linux users not found anywhere else, such as Windows Media 10 support, genuine Microsoft TrueType fonts, Microsoft patent coverage, improved interoperability with Microsoft Windows computers, and so on. (See the press release for more specifics.) My hope is that this is just the beginning, and in the future we'll see even more collaboration and interoperability between Linux and Microsoft.

How is this Microsoft agreement good for Linspire?

Today, many OEMs (the computer manufacturers) choose Linspire over our competition because they can get Linux with a DVD Player, Java, Flash, Windows Media, Quick Time, MP3 support, ATI and nVidia drivers, and so on. This will be yet another set of options OEMs can now choose from to add to their Linux PC offerings. Basically, it allows Linspire's distribution of Linux to more effectively compete in today's desktop computing world by doing many of the things people expect and currently get from Apple and Microsoft today.

How much more will I have to pay for this "better" Linux?

Nothing actually. Linspire has decided to cover the cost of these enhancements without raising the retail price of Linspire. Freespire will remain free, and the retail version of Linspire will remain at $59.95.

Will this new option be available in Freespire?

No, for the most part, this new agreement doesn't affect Freespire, only Linspire. Like the DVD player and other software options Linspire offers, Linspire must pay a per-unit fee when distributing this new option. Since Freespire is a free distribution, we are not able to include it with Freespire. If Freespire users want these new features (TrueType Fonts, Windows Media 10, etc.), they always have the option of moving to Linspire. It should be pointed out, however, that this agreement does include some things, that will be included with Freespire, such as better interoperability with OpenOffice and Microsoft Office.

When will we see this "better" Linux?

Starting with Linspire 6.0, due out in early July.

Do I have to use this "better" Linux?

No. As you know, Linspire has always advocated choice, and this is certainly no different. Freespire will remain a viable option for those who do not wish to have these new features, and since it doesn't cost anything additional and we do include it with all copies of Linspire sold, the features can be easily removed if you so desire.

Does this agreement comply with the GPL?

Yes, the way this new option is licensed and distributed, it complies with current GPL and other open source licensing. (As I mentioned last week, hopefully the drafters of the new GPLv3 will take such options into consideration as they finish their work. It's important that Linux not be relegated to a 3rd-class player behind Microsoft's and Apple's operating systems, which do provide for this type of interoperability with the legacy desktop computer ecosystem.)

Is this agreement similar to the collaboration agreements Novell, Xandros, and others have entered into with Microsoft?

Yes, but each has had different areas of emphasis. For example, Linspire's collaboration with Microsoft focuses more on desktop and laptop computing, as opposed to servers. I think it's encouraging to see a stronger bridge being built between Linux and the broader ecosystem.

But isn't Microsoft the enemy of Linux?

They certainly compete, just like Ubuntu, Red Hat, and Novell compete with each other, but we all have to live in the same desktop computing ecosystem. I'd prefer to use diplomacy and cooperation, than go to war. Linspire plans on working with Microsoft, just like we have with dozens of other partners, to build a better Linux. We will never force anyone to use what we produce. The choice to use, or not to use, the "better" Linux we strive to produce will always be up to you, but I like the idea of finding a mutually advantageous way for Microsoft and Linspire to work together.

I'm sure some people who feel strongly about this will turn to other distributions, and I respect that. I do, however, think many more will end up coming to Linspire Linux for the enhanced experience they find from a distribution that works with as many partners as possible in an effort to make Linux work better. This announcement doesn't take any choices away from anyone; it just adds one more option. Choice is a good thing. I'm glad we have lots of them today as we choose a desktop OS.

- Kevin

To discuss this topic with others, click here!

The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Linspire, Inc.


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