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Microsoft May Be Targeting the Ubuntu Desktop 583

mjasay writes "Microsoft is advertising for a new director of open source strategy, but this one has a specific purpose: fight the Linux desktop. 'The Windows Competitive Strategy team is looking for a strong team member to lead Microsoft's global desktop competitive strategy as it relates to open source competitors.' For a variety of reasons, this move is almost certainly targeted at Ubuntu Linux's desktop success. With the Mac, not Linux, apparently eating into Microsoft's Windows market share, what is it about desktop Linux, and specifically Ubuntu, that has Microsoft spooked?" Reader christian.einfeldt notes Microsoft's acknowledgment of the FOSS threat to their business model within SEC filings, and suggests that this job posting could instead be about maintaining Internet Explorer's market share lead against Firefox.
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Microsoft May Be Targeting the Ubuntu Desktop

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  • Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:30PM (#26764361) Journal

    The reason for targeting Ubuntu is simple. Its getting attention as a credible desktop alternative by the main stream. If one Linux destop is a credible alternative than its only a short leap for the public to make that any Linux desktop solution might be a credible alternative. At that point products start getting evaluated on the merrits and how well they suit a the purchasers organization or individual needs. Windows may or may not come out on top if subjected to any rigor in the decision process.

    Apple is one company and the sole provider of a Mac OS solution. They can be controled; there is a specific target to go after if they become more of a problem. Microsoft can deal Apple a good deal of hurt buy just shutting down their own Mac Business unit. Ubuntu on the other hand if allowed to become to popular can't be stopped so easily. If that popularity speads to Linux desktop distributions more generally then Microsoft no longer has a specific entity to go after. The want to make sure desktop a meaningful desktop Linux business remains something that is going to be still born so to speak.

  • by Zakabog ( 603757 ) <john@@@jmaug...com> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:30PM (#26764365)

    With the Mac, not Linux, apparently eating into Microsoft's Windows market share, what is it about desktop Linux, and specifically Ubuntu, that has Microsoft spooked?"

    Mac OS X doesn't run natively on all PCs, so Microsoft doesn't have anything to be afraid of. Plus Microsoft has software already developed for the Mac, so they could still make money even if Macs dominate PC sales.

    Microsoft doesn't have that with Ubuntu, not only does it run on the same hardware as Windows, but it's being offered as an alternative to Windows by a major player in the PC market.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by camperslo ( 704715 )

      With the Mac, not Linux, apparently eating into Microsoft's Windows market share, what is it about desktop Linux, and specifically Ubuntu, that has Microsoft spooked?,/i>

      Mac OS X doesn't run natively on all PCs, so Microsoft doesn't have anything to be afraid of. Plus Microsoft has software already developed for the Mac, so they could still make money even if Macs dominate PC sales.

      Yes, and it's Linux, not OS X, that is the current most-viable legal option to Windows for both OEM customers (new machine b

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bondsbw ( 888959 )

      I wish everyone who cried "Apple is stupid for not allowing OS X to run on PCs!" would read your post.

      Why in the world would Apple set themselves up as a direct market competitor to a company known to squash competition?

      Maybe later, when they reach a point that even Microsoft gets worried... then, and only then, would I expect Apple to consider licensing OS X to run on all PCs.

  • Alternate summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EdZ ( 755139 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:33PM (#26764385)
    We'll arbitarily assume Microsft is targeting Ubuntu specifically, then post the question: what is it about Ubuntu that's making Microsoft target them specifically?
    • by LingNoi ( 1066278 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:35PM (#26764399)

      Probably the over 10 million desktop user base is my guess..

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:40PM (#26764447)

      ...what is it about Ubuntu that's making Microsoft target them specifically?

      Somebody showed Steve Ballmer this bug report [launchpad.net]?

      Bug #1 (liberation):
      Microsoft has a majority market share

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mysticgoat ( 582871 )

      We'll arbitarily assume Microsft is targeting Ubuntu specifically...

      Hardly an arbitrary assumption. Erosion to Apple has been on-going for a decade or more, and I'm sure that Microsoft has that fully analyzed and has a multitude of strategies and tactics all ready to roll out to counter any conceivable move from Apple. But Ubuntu has arrived by a comet's orbit out of what had looked like empty space: there really was not much in the other Linux distros to attract Microsoft's core markets. Creation of this position is more likely a response to Ubuntu than to any of the known

    • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @01:03PM (#26764641) Homepage

      There are several other goofy things about the summary.

      For a variety of reasons, this move is almost certainly targeted at Ubuntu Linux's desktop success.

      As you pointed out, there's no evidence that this is specifically about Ubuntu. The other goofy thing in this sentence is the reference to "desktop success," which makes it sound as though Ubuntu is already a successful competitor, and MS is responding to that. Now I use Ubuntu, love Ubuntu, and I think it's great that companies like Asus and HP are shipping machines with Ubuntu preinstalled, but as far as anyone can tell, Linux's share of the desktop is still stalled at about 1%. Asus and OLPC are actually no longer exclusively tied to Linux. I think it's much more reasonable to interpret this as a move to fight against a competitor that is currently not successful at all in any quantitative sense, but threatens to become successful (i.e., start growing beyond 1% market share) in the future.

      With the Mac, not Linux, apparently eating into Microsoft's Windows market share, what is it about desktop Linux, and specifically Ubuntu, that has Microsoft spooked?

      There's no evidence to back up the part about "specifically Ubuntu."

      Reader christian.einfeldt notes Microsoft's acknowledgment of the FOSS threat to their business model within SEC filings, and suggests that this job posting could instead be about maintaining Internet Explorer's market share lead against Firefox.

      Uh, except that that MS job announcement specifically refers to desktop Windows. They're clearly advertising for a position for someone to be a cheerleader for Windows versus Linux, to head off any hypothetical future erosion of their market share to Linux.

      We continue to watch the evolution of open source software development and distribution, and continue to differentiate our products from competitive products including those based on open source software. We believe that Microsoft's share of server units grew modestly in fiscal 2004, while Linux distributions rose slightly faster on an absolute basis.

      The SEC filing refers only to servers when it comes to competition from OSS. That's because the server market, not the desktop market, is where MS currently has to compete with Linux and BSD on relatively even terms. So the final paragraph of the summary brings up two points that are unrelated to each other (browser versus OS) and unrelated to the job position (which is about desktop, not server).

  • Ummm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DrugCheese ( 266151 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:36PM (#26764419)

    Maybe it's the point that linux has been doing things on the desktop for 10+ years that microsoft is just barely starting to implement. And most of that is just the eye candy, they still need to copy all the extra functionality.

  • Netbooks, anyone? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stanleypane ( 729903 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:37PM (#26764421)
    I bet the netbook market has their attention. I can walk into a Target, Best Buy, or Wal-Mart and purchase a sub $300 netbook loaded with Linux. That's damn near the cost of Vista Ultimate -- sans computer.
  • by transporter_ii ( 986545 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:37PM (#26764425) Homepage

    That Ubuntu is not only well supported, but secure...something they themselves have not been able to manage.

    A friend is bringing his system over today for me to install Ubuntu on. Why? Because he is just sick to death of the malware.

    You know what? Sick to death is one thing, but sick to death with a good alternative...Microsoft can't have that now, can they?

    • When you install Windows, you have to dig around for a key. When you install Linux, you just install it.

      Terrifying, isn't it...

      • Gasp! It's so hard to find the key that is STAMPED ON every OEM computer preloaded with windows.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by PastaLover ( 704500 )

          Try finding the windows install cd for your laptop. Oh right it isn't there, and microsoft won't let you download it. So now when you find a copy of a retail cd, you install it, enter the key and what is the very next thing you need to do? That's right, call tech support in Mumbai. All this for an operating system you legally purchased. If that isn't user-hostile, I don't know what is.

      • It's also EASIER TO INSTALL. The Desktop is even almost 100% usable while it installs!

        Barring Wubi, the only hurdle is figuring out how to boot to a CD.

  • lol... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by joocemann ( 1273720 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:40PM (#26764453)

    just a day or two ago I was reading right here on slashdot about how MS will be adopting OSS; that the main OS was a loss and they would focus on making all their software for OSS.... ... and now MS is gonna strategize against it. Seems to me like people writing these articles actually have no effin idea what is going on.

  • by Ritz_Just_Ritz ( 883997 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:42PM (#26764465)


    But seriously, I installed Ubuntu last night. I've been a diehard RHEL/CentOS user for years. It just plain worked out of the box for me on a relatively new laptop. It found the Wifi,sound, my bluetooth mouse, asked me if I wanted the "non free" binary accelerated Radeon X1600 video driver, etc. Pretty slick.

    I realize that I'm not a typical clueless windows user, but I think this is downright easy to migrate to for a Windows user, especially when Firefox 3.x and Openoffice are bundled along with it. That's enough to satisfy a huge swath of userbase and it's completely free. The entire install only took about 10 minutes too.

    Kudos to the Ubuntu team.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by apoc.famine ( 621563 )
      I just posted a semi-rant to some friends about a woman I work with who was charged by Dell $350 to wipe her virus-ridden machine. She lost all her photos and documents, because $350 isn't enough to save them, apparently. I do wonder how it would have gone if she had instead been instructed to install Ubuntu on the free space of the drive, and been shown how to find her pictures.

      My second point was that Apple did the linux world a ton of good with the misleading "I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC" commercials. That
  • by onefriedrice ( 1171917 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:42PM (#26764471)
    Microsoft is indeed in danger of losing some marketshare to Apple in the U.S. and I would say that's mostly due to college students. Microsoft is not doing nothing to counter this like the summary suggests, it's just that they haven't been very successful yet. They realize by now that they're screwed up with Vista and even their marketing efforts haven't been great, but they should be able to get back on track if Windows 7 actually turns out to be good.

    As for Linux (on the desktop), that is a serious threat to Microsoft from abroad, not so much in the U.S. Face it, most (by far) Americans are not going to fiddle with Linux, even if they're told it's free and superior, merely because they don't want to relearn anything that was hard enough to learn the first time, and they just want to use whatever is on their computer (Windows). Abroad, developing countries choosing Linux for school and government is a threat because it raises generations of non-Microsoft users who they will have less control over.
    • by ultrabot ( 200914 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @01:40PM (#26764961)

      Face it, most (by far) Americans are not going to fiddle with Linux, even if they're told it's free and superior, merely because they don't want to relearn anything that was hard enough to learn the first time, and they just want to use whatever is on their computer (Windows).

      Microsoft's problems start when

      - Windows is not what is on people's computer by default
      - People click on the firefox icon, notice that it firefox works just like on windows, and their wlan works. And there is nothing else they need to care about.

      Basic consumer desktop is a commodity and the "added value" microsoft is providing is meaningless.

  • Why not Apple? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by argent ( 18001 ) <.peter. .at. .slashdot.2006.taronga.com.> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:51PM (#26764567) Homepage Journal

    Why not Apple? Because Apple isn't selling generic OS X that competes head to head against Windows on generic PCs.

    If Apple changed that, you can bet Microsoft would be on to them in a flash.

  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:55PM (#26764595)

    This is because there is trouble in the Linux space. We can't agree on a way forward. Look, the other day, our benevolent leader Linus stated: "Multiple Distributions "Absolutely Required..," as if that would help in stemming Microsoft's progress.

    Let me say this: There will always be multiple distributions of "Linux" but what we need is a fully functional desktop with a single supported desktop environment. Nobody...I repeat, nobody is saying there should be *one* Linux desktop or server. Nobody! Other distros can continue to exist but this particular desktop should get the bulk of resources to succeed.

    On the desktop now, KDE 4.2 is good and it has always shown promise. By the way, I am a die hard GNOME user who contributes to the project from time to time, but I must say the truth. What troubles me is that folks sing "Linux is great" and so on then they go ahead to dedicate resources to other projects. This approach does not help.

    Then we have those who I would say are almost bigots. Why? Because users tell them "...we need a single accepted API so that apps will install across Linux distros..." What happens is that these folks' ideas are shot down but these bigots.

    Microsoft need not worry for now. Look at what Apple did. They broke compatibility...took another direction but because they have a single platform with unique names at every incarnation, they own more of the desktop then all the Linux combined.

    We can beat Apple because we are open. Then we have folks that create multimedia files in Flash before putting up our very own .ogg files. These folks should at least put files up at the same time. We should at least be seen to eat our own food.

    Folks. Let's listen to what the ordinary user is saying.

    Does one ever wonder why we who use Linux still command a tiny percentage of the desktop despite having been around for almost a decade now?

    Microsoft need not worry for now.

  • by meist3r ( 1061628 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:55PM (#26764597)
    Or shut the hell up. How does one even want to compete with something that's free. Certainly not with the quality of their own products, the incredible support services or recent history in innovation.
    • My guess is they'll start handing hardware out for free... What was it that Bill gates said a few years ago? Oh yeah hardware should be almost-free [geek.com]. Let's see he said 10 years out in 1995, I guess he missed it by few years, eh?

      Funny thing is that it is almost free, if you don't have to pay for windows ;)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 07, 2009 @01:04PM (#26764651)

    Microsoft views Ubuntu migration as one way. Once someone starts using Ubuntu, chances are they'll never buy Windows again.

    This is because Linux can only get better. The idea behind open source is that quality never digresses, because if something sucks, it just gets changed or forked. So, the evolution of Linux is one way. It will always be better and better. This means it's users will always be more and more. It may be slow at times, but it's inevitable. Microsoft is beginning to realize that Linux's market share will always be increasing, and eventually that share will be larger than theirs.

    I think they can fight all they want, but unless they can figure out a way to nullify the GPL, the progress will continue.

  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @01:10PM (#26764699) Homepage

    ...what is it about desktop Linux, and specifically Ubuntu, that has Microsoft spooked?

    I can tell you exactly what has them spooked. We have Ubuntu desktops in our office and users get along on them just fine. No massive retraining costs, no one whining they can't get their work done, no software licensing to manage, we can create a custom installation image and drop it on a network drive that comes complete with productivity software, graphics software, web browsing, everything you need. Combine that with corporate Gmail, PHP and MySQL and you have an office that runs just dandy without any Microsoft products or .NET in the mix.

    That's what they're afraid of and for good reason. Because running a Ubuntu office is low-cost, low-stress and we can run twice the number of machines per admin we could with Windows. And we don't have to dance on MS's string for product activation, put up with their DRM, pay extra for anti-virus or site licensing. We don't have the virus/trojan of the day suddenly interrupting our day and we're free to focus on productive labor rather than putting so much effort into serving the software and MS.

    And my wife, the most potentially destructive computer user anywhere, a person who can trash almost any computer and almost any OS. Always by accident. Ms. I wasn't doing anything and the screen just went black...the hard drive started making a funny noise...it just died...is the screen supposed to be all blue like that? A person who couldn't tell you what a command line was, let alone type anything into one. She gets along just fine on Ubuntu. I haven't had to work on that machine since installing 8.04.

    MS should be worried. Ubuntu is a great product.

  • by Bralkein ( 685733 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @01:14PM (#26764745)
    If Microsoft are more worried about Linux/FOSS/etc than the popularity of the Mac platform then in my opinion it wouldn't be that surprising.

    Regardless of how big a slice of the pie Apple might be taking, they ultimately work in more or less the same way as Microsoft. OSX and Windows are both traditional proprietary software which are written and sold on a per-license basis. I doubt that Microsoft appreciate the competition exactly, but at least they are both playing by the same set of rules.

    Free Software is different, because obviously anyone can have the source code and fiddle about with it and you don't generally need to purchase licenses or whatever. The nature of Free Software is such that if its use ever becomes truly widespread in the consumer market, it is going to change what people (both end users and computer retailers) expect from software as a whole. Since the current way has obviously been very lucrative for Microsoft, that would explain why they would be so worried about Linux etc.

    P.S. I'm trying not to make a value judgement on FOSS vs. proprietary software here, this is all Just What I Reckons TM.
  • by dcavanaugh ( 248349 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @01:16PM (#26764769) Homepage

    The threat from Apple is somewhat contained because OS X only runs on premium-priced Apple hardware. Windows is still the OS of choice for the corporate sector and [ironically] the computer illiterate people who call upon their MS-based colleagues, friends and relatives for free tech support. I always found it amazing that the platform that needs the most tech support was so popular with the people who need the most assistance.

    Ubuntu is a big threat, and it goes way beyond price. Nobody is going to take their existing Dell or HP machine and reformat it for OS X. But they can certainly do it with Linux. Ubuntu has the slickest packaging of the various Linux options, making it a "Poor man's OS X that can run on the hardware I already have." Historically, only a small percentage of users have abandoned Win2K or XP in favor of Linux. But Vista is another matter entirely.

    Microsoft is a company built on the principle of Moore's law. Exponential increases in hardware capability means unlimited new possibilities for new features and a fresh desires from the user community (sometimes fueled by marketing hype but desires nonetheless). Each version of Windows was more bloated than the one before, but nothing stopped the users from merging a new version of Windows into their upgrade cycle.

    Three events changed everything:
    1. Vista "jumped the shark" on bloat while the rest of the market moved the other way.
    2. Cheapie Ubuntu netbooks can do almost everything people really need to do.
    3. The iPhone is threatening to turn itself into a hand-held OS X machine.

    Running Windows XP on a netbook is like fitting a 350 pound driver into a golf cart. You can do it, but you won't carry many golf clubs. Running Vista on a netbook won't even pass the giggle test.

    Windows Mobile was their only lightweight option but it never picked up enough traction to seriously compete with a "real" operating system. Apple had more apps running on the iPhone in the first six months than MS ever had for Windows Mobile.

    Microsoft needs to slow down the adoption rate of Ubuntu netbooks while they figure out how to exist in the small, light, low-powered world of ultra-portable hardware. They will need a community of people other than themselves to provide a robust portfolio of applications.

    MS is one of the few companies that tries to win a race by slowing the other guy down. In this case, they need to speed themselves up and get in the game.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @01:23PM (#26764819) Homepage Journal

    It demonstrates one simple, incontrovertable fact that is absolute poision to Microsoft's business model: operating systems aren't all that important.

    Oh,back in the day, when you couldn't shoehorn a real operating system onto a machine with a sixteen bit address bus, it was a given that operating systems for personal computers were horribly inadequate. Every time a new version of the operating system came out, it'd take advantage of something that was now affordable on a desktop that never had been before. So you looked forward to an OS release as a release from some piece of pain or another. So an operating system release was a big deal.

    We are in the era of diminishing returns when it comes to new OS releases. Oh, they maybe handle new version of hardware that are marginally better than they old hardware, like Sata vs. ATA, or going back farther in time, more convenient support for things like wifi. And, of course, the OS developers fix mistakes they made way back in the old days.

    The problem for MS is trying to drum up the old excitement (with its influx of cash), like when we went from Windows 2 to Windows 3, which made it easy to run more than one application at a time (which was not a concern back when you'd only had 256K of RAM). You've got to add features and treat them like they're revolutionary.

    Ubuntu is not without its problems, the biggest of which is getting to work on notebook hardware whose manufacturers consider getting the BIOS to work with Windows getting the job "done". But, once you get it running, you don't sit down to work at your computer and say, "gee I'm working on Ubuntu." Good Linux distros fade into the background, where they belong. Operating systems are just packages of functionality which make it easy for you to get at your data and manipulate it with your preferred tools.

    What's scary about a distro like Ubuntu is that it doesn't compete against Windows. That's how Microsoft has won for years, when competitors look at MS products and decide they have to follow Microsoft's lead, even if they were first. With each new Linux distro release, you don't get an attempt to revolutionize the desktop experience. What you you do get the same experience you had yesterday, with a few problems sorted out and a couple of modest refinements. In contrast, with each new version of Windows, MS seems to scrape the bottom of the change barrel a bit deeper, down to renaming and shifting around control panel applets so there's absolutely no way you could mistakenly think you didn't get an upgrade.

    Of course, MS has a great deal of opportunity for just fixing the mistakes of the past, which is a good thing. Vista could have been the best Windows ever, except it had too many competing agendas. Windows 7 is shaping up to be the kind of incremental release on Vista that we're used to in the Linux world, and by contrast it will seem wonderful with the XP to Vista transition.

  • by Britz ( 170620 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @01:28PM (#26764857)

    I do believe Apple and Microsoft are not direct competitors, because Apple is selling computers and Microsoft is selling software. And many people even run Microsoft Windows on Apple computers. The only thing Apple does not do is sell computers preinstalled with Microsoft Windows like the other companies that build PCs.

    Since Apple is not planning on licensing their os to other computer manufacturers (they did this and the company almost went bancrupt, but was saved by Microsoft) the only os that does compete with Microsoft for coming preinstalled is Linux. If you think of all the companies that sell PCs.

  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @01:42PM (#26764981) Homepage Journal

    Once anything gets on their radar, its a target. Its how they do business.

    Nothing new here.

  • by rs232 ( 849320 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @02:28PM (#26765373)
    Open source commonly refers to software whose source code is subject to a license allowing it to be modified, combined with other software and redistributed, subject to restrictions set forth in the license.

    A number of commercial firms compete with us using an open source business model by modifying and then distributing open source software to end users at nominal cost and earning revenue on complementary services and products.

    These firms do not bear the full costs of research and development for the software. Some of these firms may build upon Microsoft ideas that we provide to them free or at low royalties in connection with our interoperability initiatives [sec.gov]. To the extent open source software gains increasing market acceptance, our sales, revenue and operating margins may decline.

    Open source software vendors are devoting considerable efforts to developing software that mimics the features and functionality of our products, in some cases on the basis of technical specifications for Microsoft technologies that we make available ..
  • by Cannelloni ( 969195 ) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @03:05PM (#26765741)
    Linux' share of the market is in the 0.1 region, whereas Mac OS X has 9.9 percent. Windows has nothing to fear from Linux.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      Excuse me...

      30+ million is NOT 0.1 percent of the market.

      Novell pinned it at that back three years ago at BrainShare.

      If you go off of the web stats line, you're missing that many sites that are covered aren't of interest to Linux people or that if they are, there's very much a bunch of us out there with altered browser idents (You CAN alter that, you know...) so that they look like an XP box so that the sites out there that're stupidly coded won't block them out because only "Windows" machines are supported

  • Cost... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert@slashdot.fi ... NBSDom minus bsd> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @04:59PM (#26766687) Homepage

    What has MS spooked about Linux and not Apple, is that Apple is a traditional competitor who they know how to deal with...
    Linux on the other hand, represents an evolution which renders their business model obsolete. If linux attains sufficient market share, then it will entirely break their lockin and show users that they don't need to pay for software.

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"