August 13, 2004

What exactly are Microsoft's plans for Linux on Windows?

Author: Joe Barr

A Linux developer -- he prefers to remain anonymous -- has told NewsForge he was recently contacted by Microsoft and invited to a job interview. He accepted, and during the interview he asked the obvious question: Why was Microsoft interested in hiring someone with strong Linux skills? The reply was that Microsoft is working on an emulator that will allow Windows users to run Unix.

Considering that Microsoft already has an emulator that will do just that, it's not
crystal clear exactly what the monopoly has in mind for Linux on its desktop and/or
server products. Microsoft purchased its Virtual PC product from Connectix early
last year.

At that time, Connectix Virtual PC came in both a Mac and a Windows version, and both versions supported a number of different operating systems.

Apple users already running Virtual PC were concerned that the purchase by Microsoft
might mean the end of the line for them, or at least the end of being able to run
Linux and other non-Windows platforms on their Macs. That concern was reported in
The Mac Observer in late February of last year, in a story which
included the following: "Tim McDonough, director of marketing and business development for Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit, told us point blank that 'Microsoft has no current plans to remove Linux support within Virtual PC for Mac.' "

Just prior to the first release of a Microsoft version of Virtual PC last November, Microsoft announced what apparently was a slightly different approach. eWeek's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols reported being told that "the new version will no longer offer official support for BSD Unix, Linux, NetWare, or Solaris on Intel."

Given the initial uproar over the purchase, this move further agitated Connectix's
previous customers. So much so, in fact, that Microsoft's Virtual PC product manager -- Carla Huffman -- told eWeek's Peter Galli one week later that "the technology will run almost any x86 operating system in a Virtual PC environment." She continued by saying "So Linux can be installed on a virtual machine on Virtual PC. There has been some misunderstanding about this: You absolutely can run Linux in Virtual PC." What she was attempting to make clear was that Microsoft had simply withdrawn support for those operating systems, not the actual ability to run them.

But Huffman could say nothing to dispel the clouds of uncertainty around Microsoft's
future plans for Linux and Unix emulation, whether provided by Virtual PC or folded
into the kernel right next to those infamous "browser bits." Galli wrote:

Asked whether Microsoft is considering integrating the virtual technology into the core Windows kernel, Huffman skirted the issue, saying Microsoft is committed to developing virtualization solutions for the Windows platform. "It's too early to say how we will deliver these solutions going forward," Huffman said.

Which brings us back to the original question: Why is Microsoft interviewing Linux developers? Are they needed to work on the Virtual PC product, or on Longhorn? I called Microsoft public relations -- actually, it was Waggoner Edstrom's Rapid Response Team, which handles MS public relations -- and put the developer's question to them.

The first response I received said "After speaking with my colleagues, I can confirm that Microsoft has no plans to port to Linux at this time." Since that was an answer to a question I hadn't asked, I asked again. The second response was unequivocal: "Unfortunately, we do not have further comment on your question."

So we just don't know. But maybe you can shed some light on the subject. If you are a Linux developer and have recently been contacted by Microsoft about a job, drop us a note and tell us about it. Maybe together we can piece together the answer.


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