After years of R&D, Q&A, and plenty of pre-release anticipation, Microsoft unveiled the Vista operating system, forever changing the way we use our computers. Users flocked to get their copy, and continue to gobble up the new OS in droves. And with good reason too. For the few still clinging to XP (do you people still exist?), playing with Vista is like living out your favorite sci-fi flick, only better. The new OS reads minds, cooks you breakfast, and will eventually make world peace a reality once the first Service Pack is rolled out.
For the sarcastically impaired, the above description is a farce. Get a good chuckle out of it? I can confidently say that Microsoft sure wouldn't see the humor, as they were probably hoping Vista would somewhat resemble the above, at least in terms of consumer demand. Sales aren't bad per se, even with the questionable accounting, but despite the lure of DirectX 10 gaming, we just haven't seen this mad rush to go out and purchase the new OS. It's no coincidence that we're also seeing an increased interest in Linux distros. In fact, MaxPC Editor-in-Chief Will Smith recently commented that he'd gotten more questions from readers about Linux in the last six months than any other topic covered in the magazine, undoubtedly helping to prompt a cover story on how You Can Switch to Linux!.
If you're Microsoft, the last thing you want to see accompanying a major new release is increased interest in the alternative. That's bad for business, and in the grand scheme of things, widespread adoption of Linux could have a devastating snowball effect. First the power users get on board, then developers start to take note, hardware compatibility gets significantly better, until finally we have that 'break through' distro that even Gramps can install, and it can play games too! It all would have sounded far fetched just two years ago, but if you've tinkered with Ubuntu recently, you already know we're not far off from having a viable alternative to XP/Vista/Fiji/Vienna/Whatever.
Could 2007 be the breakthrough year for Linux?
The writing's on the wall, and no amount of sales spin can cover it. But instead of telling us all the great improvements Vista's Service Pack will bring with it to win over would-be defectors (maybe because there's not much to tell?...), Microsoft instead intends to convince you with lawsuits, or at least the threat of lawsuits. In what I'm not sure whether to describe as a publicity stunt (do they really need it?), scare tactic, or ultimately a profitable business move, MS is crying foul over what it claims are 235 patent infringements present in Linux and open source software. Over 100 of these relate to the Linux kernel and GUI, another 45 for the Open Office productivity suite, and the rest pertain to email and other open source apps. And it's not just the distributors MS is targeting, but users as well.
Don't go deleting your Linux partition in your dual-boot rig; these are not the droids MS is looking for. Like the deal with Novell last year, where MS received royalties in exchange for agreeing not to sue each other or each other's customers, Microsoft will most likely look to strike similar bargains. Looking beyond royalties, Microsoft's muckraking efforts may also be an attempt to curtail growing interest in Linux as a viable alternative. What better way to tout an inferior or otherwise disappointing product (depending on who you ask) by pointing out that using the competition breaks the law? Power users know better, but we're not the ones that account for the bulk of sales, so if you're Microsoft, who cares, right? Wrong. We're also the ones that friends and family turn to for everything from tech support to buying advice, and if patent infringements are the best reason Microsoft can muster in favor of Vista, then I see a lot more Linux based machines in my relatives' future...even the ones I pawn off to Dell.