Steven J. Vaughan Nichols (SJVN) has debunked the Office for Linux rumor. He is one of the better reporters covering Linux, with a solid technical background that most just don’t have. What he doesn’t have is an understanding of the numbers, and I think he’s missing a couple of salient points.
Microsoft is a Business
Since Microsoft is a business, they will operate to maximize profits. Microsoft Windows has fallen from a one time Operating System Market Share high of about 95% of the total market to about 24% in 2012.
If you follow the link above you’ll find an article titled ‘World’s Biggest Computer Makers when PCs, Tablets AND Smartphones Are Included’, and I know a lot of people are going to scream that tablets and smartphones aren’t computers. Sorry folks, I have word processing software installed on my tablet and on my smartphone. I don’t use the smartphone version very often, but the tablet version gets used a lot. These days I never take the laptop with me when I leave the house.
You’ll note that Mac OSX isn’t even listed above, yet Microsoft supports it. That’s because there’s a solid market for Office Suite software on OSX. I started carrying a Mac to business meetings five or six years ago, as a replacement for the Linux laptop which my sixty pound German Shepherd/Husky/Wolf cross had danced on. Both computers aroused questions at the time, which was good. A salesman wants to be noticed 🙂
Is there a big enough market on Linux for Microsoft to be interested? That’s a question only Microsoft can answer, we just don’t have access to enough information to know for certain.
Microsoft Told SJVN That They Aren’t Going To Do This
Well, yes. And Apple was denying rumours that they were migrating to Intel processors until Steve Jobs made the official announcement. I’ll also point out that he doesn’t quote anyone directly, so it is impossible do confirm exactly what was said. It isn’t that I don’t believe him, but I’m old enough to remember Kremlinology…
While historically Microsoft hasn’t been as secretive as Apple, recently that has changed. Microsoft has good reason not to announce something like this early. While Office is really what the company is about, an announcement could possibly hurt Windows sales.
So it would be a balancing act. Would producing a Linux version of Office be a net benefit to Microsoft?
That’s a question that only Microsoft can answer, and even they probably don’t know for certain. A lot of people won’t consider leaving Windows on the desktop. Fear of change can be a huge barrier to migration.
Other users might welcome the change. This is the sort of thing that in depth consumer studies are designed to measure, and we can assume that Microsoft has carried them out. If they didn’t, they’d be guilty of corporate malfeasance.
Rumours and Facts
SJVN did some research, and I’m going to quote him directly.
I did some digging to see where this rumor came from and I discovered that the stories all spring from a single Phoronix report, which stated, “From a source in Brussels, Belgium during the Free Open-Source Developers’ European Meeting (FOSDEM) this past weekend, I was informed that Microsoft is having a ‘meaningful look’ at a full Linux port of Office thanks to Linux showing signs of commercial viability on the desktop.”
Note the exact wording which he quoted from the report. Microsoft is having a meaningful look. Of course Microsoft is having a ‘meaningful look’, this is standard operating procedure for any company. You have to consider all of your options, however unpalatable. Microsoft has been running the numbers on doing different Operating System specific versions of Office for years. Consider the Mac for example.
The above is taken from the History of Office entry on Wikipedia. During the time Microsoft has been supporting the Apple Mac, the Processor Architecture has changed twice, and the Operating System has changed once. Each one of those changes would have required a lot of work to update Office. Microsoft had to evaluate the value of continuing to support the Mac Platform each time.
So we have a rumor that Microsoft might do something, and the fact, as demonstrated above that the company is perfectly capable of doing it.
What we don’t have is internal knowledge of the company’s projections and plans.
I have no doubt that SJVN believes what he was told. I have no doubt he was told it.
The problem is that things just aren’t that simple. It all comes down to dollars and cents, and whether or not it makes financial sense for Microsoft to add support for another operating system to Office. It also matters whether or not the project is a corporate secret.
There’s just too many things that we don’t know.
Sunday February 24, 2013