US states want MS Office ported to Linux

The nine US states that want tougher remedies imposed on Microsoft are attempting to weaken the software giant's desktop monopoly...

The nine US states that want tougher remedies imposed on Microsoft are attempting to weaken the software giant's desktop monopoly by giving the Linux operating system something it can really use: Office.

Microsoft's Office application has a market share as large as the Windows operating system - more than 90% - and analysts have long seen Office as one of the pillars supporting Windows' dominance.

"[Porting Office to Linux] would propel Linux on the desktop", said Bill Claybrook, an analyst at Aberdeen Group. The absence of Office "is the one thing that keeps me from using Linux as my desktop machine", he added.

However, some end-users are not so sure that a Linux version of Office would make a big impact.

"I think everybody in the world is probably looking for some competitive desktop operating system, but I don't think that anybody wants to switch," said Robert Hacker, a systems manager at Binney & Smith, which manufactures Crayola crayons.

While Hacker said the idea of moving to Linux is intriguing, he would have to see a "critical mass" of adoption before he considers it.

One reason many companies might have trouble moving to a Linux desktop is because of other Windows-based applications.

"We have lots of applications that are Windows-based," said Dan Orr, an IT manager at Kokosing Construction. His company has about 700 desktops PCs, a quarter of which run other critical Windows-based applications.

Moving only some desktops to Linux would increase costs, said Orr. "I would have two different operating systems to maintain. That would be tougher than maintaining just one," he said.

The remedy proposal, filed in a US District Court on 7 December, is an alternative to the settlement reached by the Department of Justice (DoJ) and half of the 18 US states originally involved.

The dissenting states - California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, West Virginia and Utah, plus the District of Columbia - rejected the settlement and are continuing the court case.

Other remedies sought by the states include requirements that Microsoft make Internet Explorer open source and provide a stripped-down version of its operating system free of middleware products, such as media players and instant messaging tools.

Microsoft would also have to submit to the oversight of a "special master", a court-appointed official with more power then the three-member technical committee called for in the DoJ settlement reached in November.

The states' proposal does include some of the same stipulations called for in the earlier settlement, including provisions that Microsoft fully disclose its operating system interfaces and set uniform pricing for Windows with PC makers.

Microsoft already ports Office to Apple's Macintosh operating system, and MIT management professor Michael Cusumano believes it should be up to the company, not the government, to decide whether Office is ever ported to Linux.

"If [porting to Linux] ends up being a losing proposition economically, does the government end up reimbursing Microsoft?" said Cusumano.

Citing Microsoft's decision to port to Macintosh, Cusumano added: "If Microsoft thinks the application market is large enough and profitable enough, they will port applications to that market. [But] it should be a business decision, and I don't think the business case is there yet."

David Smith, an analyst at Gartner, said the availability of Office on the Mac platform has not spurred corporate adoption. "You've already got Office on the Macintosh - has it really made the Macintosh?" asked Smith. "I don't know of many corporations that want to get rid of Microsoft."

Experts also see a problem with the states' proposal to require a stripped-down version of Windows. "What features would you take out?" asked Smith.

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