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Open-Source Détente?

Matusow’s conciliatory message is lost on Raymond, who says that he’s convinced the software giant’s real agenda is to crush Linux. But while his anti-Microsoft belligerence is widely shared in the open-source community, others in the movement foresee an eventual accommodation between the two sides, especially as Linux wins major customers in government, education, and developing countries. Microsoft is “too well run, too smart a company,” says Cohen of the Open Source Development Labs. “They will look at the market-share data, and at some point the needle will hit a number where they’ll say, ‘This is big enough that we are not going to fight it; we are going to participate.’ Exactly how, I think they are still trying to figure out.”

Might Microsoft produce versions of Office that run on Linux, as it did for Apple’s Macintosh OS X? Will it suddenly open-source the code for major portions of its operating system and office applications and fall back on income from its server software, its home entertainment products, its online services, and the network-based services in which it has been investing heavily? The company says it has no such plans, and outcomes like these are hard to imagine, given Microsoft’s heavy financial dependence on Windows and Office. But the company’s current course – staking much of its future on the next version of Windows, when some of the improvements being discussed are already part of free open-source programs such as Dashboard – has its own risks. “I don’t think people will wait forever for Longhorn,” says Andrew Aitken, managing partner at the Olliance Group, an open-source consulting firm in Palo Alto, CA.

Especially not when they can get adequate power from inexpensive, non-Windows machines like my Wal-Mart box. The reality is that there is finally a viable alternative to Windows and Office, and that’s guaranteed to reshape the landscape of personal computing. The only questions, at this point, are how far and how fast the open-source desktop will spread – and how much Microsoft will have to change to keep up.

Wade Roush is a TR senior editor based in San Francisco.

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