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MS Office blocks Linux progress on desktop, says VA chief

Control of applications is Microsoft's real key asset

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Office, not Windows, is Microsoft's real killer asset, according to VA Linux Systems CEO Larry Augustin.

In an interview with CNBC yesterday Augustin described MS Office as "the one big application" in the desktop arena, and said Linux wouldn't make serious headway here until a strong enough rival appeared. That doesn't mean Linux use won't continue to increase; Augustin sees VA's most promising growth as being in the high-performance, workstation area, and on increased sales in Internet infrastructure, but sales of desktop systems will only be a small part of the company's business for the next few years. Is he right?

Augustin accepts that the likes of StarOffice and Aplexware are of a similar level of functionality to Office, but says they can't pose a major threat to Microsoft's dominance because of interoperability issues. In reality what this means is that it's Microsoft's control of the productivity applications standard, the file formats and - at least to some extent - distribution channels that's blocking rivals.

Augustin is, however, possibly being overly pessimistic, because although Microsoft's control of the platform and its strong grip on the OEM channel do make it difficult to shift the company off desktop machines, various flanking moves will eventually help rivals to erode its position.

Increased use of Web-based applications, for example, could allow StarOffice to grow via the Star Portal system, while increased use of non-PC devices should start making desktop-based applications suites look less relevant. ®

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