Linux needs MS Office to make breakthrough – report

Ah, but does it? Linus Torvalds doesn't seem to think so, and nor do we

A forthcoming IDC report on the future of the European Linux market says that by 2003 Linux will have either 4 million "mainstream" users - or 40,000. The research outfit is hedging its bets because of the Microsoft Office factor; MS, IDC reckons, has the ability to decide whether or not Linux will start to challenge Windows on the desktop. This isn't what Linus Torvalds himself was reckoning at his Comdex Prenote yesterday, of course, but if it's what Microsoft reckons then the chances of MS Office for Linux are surely nil. In Torvalds' view Linux will make the breakthrough so long as productivity software offering at least equivalent features to MS Office is available. But he also thinks that it will be another three years before Linux starts going mainstream, and being used on a wide scale by non-technical customers. IDC's projected numbers, incidentally, seem a little on the guesstimate side to us. With an Office port (or at least a commitment to one), Linux will get 50,000 mainstream users in Europe this year, and then we'll just see a compound tripling up to 2003, where we arrive at 4,050,000. If the port doesn't happen, there will be 10,000, and a further 10k extra will arrive each year to achieve 40,000 by 2003. Dubious? Don't tell us... The Register's two cents worth is that Linus is absolutely right to throw sand on the Office for Linux rumours. Microsoft won't do it if it will help Linux, and won't have a commercial justification to do it if it won't help Linux (no sales, right?). Plus Microsoft can't do it - too many huge resource commitments elsewhere, not enough knowledge. And actually, although MS Office is currently the best seller and the corporate standard, there's no reason for that to be so forever. Microsoft has succeeded with Office so far on the back of intensive integration (translation - you need it to read other people's MS Office files) and ruthlessly effective distribution. But the more of the former Microsoft puts in, the more likely the products are to collapse because of their own internal contradictions. And although Office didn't make it into the DoJ case in the end, MS is going to have to go carefully with more of the latter. But you want that report, don't you? Bad news - it's not out yet. We hear IDC is still reviewing it. ®

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