In its annual
10-K filing dated July 30, Microsoft
noted that its "Client" (OS sales) business segment faces competition from "variants of Unix, [which] are supplied by competitors such as Apple, Canonical, and Red Hat...The Linux operating system...has gained some acceptance, especially in emerging markets, as competitive pressures lead OEMs to reduce costs and new, lower-price PC form-factors gain adoption. Partners such as Hewlett-Packard and Intel have been actively working with alternative Linux-based operating systems."
Now that might not seem like much of a much, but it's a paragraph that has the penguinista community buzzing. The same section of last year's 10-K, you see, reads
as follows: "Competing commercial software products, including variants of Unix, are supplied by competitors such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems. The Linux operating system...has gained some acceptance as competitive pressures lead PC OEMs to reduce costs and new, lower price PC form factors gain adoption."
Blink and you might miss the difference, but more than a few sites have seized upon this new acknowledgement of Canonical and Red Hat as competitors as proof that Microsoft is now "scared" of Linux. Granted, mentioning a competitor as part of its 10-K filing is a form of validation, but Microsoft's filing last week also
stated that "Apple, Google, Mozilla, and Opera Software Company offer software that competes with the Internet Explorer Web browsing capabilities of Windows products."
In 2008, that same sentence reads: "Competitors such as Mozilla offer software that competes with the Internet Explorer Web browsing capabilities of Windows products." The year-over-year change to the statements that refer to web browsing is just as significant as the Linux changes, but you won't find many stories about how Microsoft is suddenly scared of Opera.
There's No There There
None of the features that make Linux a compelling choice in emerging markets, server rooms, or netbooks are new; the last 12 months saw no fundamental breakthrough that suddenly reinvented the OS as a competitor in an area where it was formerly challenged. Stories that posit a change in Microsoft's attitude simply because the company mentioned several additional companies in an SEC filing ultimately say more about the inferiority complex of Linux users than any sort of knee-knocking over in Redmond. Linux will most likely continue to gain strength in cost-sensitive emerging markets. That growth is by no means limited to server backends, where the OS has been most successful to date, but could extend to desktops, netbooks, smartbooks, MIDs, and whatever other devices prove popular in these areas. The fact that such success has occurred and continues to occur is a perfectly good story all on its own; there's no need to dress the issue with imaginary hand-wringing from Planet Microsoft.