Microsoft denies UNIX Office efforts

Microsoft denies that it is working with Mainsoft to port its Office applications to any version of UNIX, including Linux. However, a report earlier this week in WinInfo, based on interviews with people intimately familiar with the project, says otherwise. As you may recall, I traveled to Israel last week and was able to talk to people in and close to Mainsoft. And though Microsoft is denying the report, as might be expected, I cannot post a simple retraction without explaining the background of the story. In time, this project may see the light of day--as Project "COOL" did, despite denials of its existence, as C# ("C sharp")--or it may simply be abandoned, as many similar programming efforts have been in the past. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

"The only things we are doing with Mainsoft is porting \[Internet Explorer\] to UNIX and some work with their runtime with our Windows Media Player," Microsoft spokesperson Jim Cullinan told me. "We have spoken with Mainsoft to try and figure out how this erroneous story was started."

This story was started when I met with developers in Israel, a hotbed of high-tech startups, sort of a Middle East Silicon Valley, if you will. Among other things, Israel offers refuge to programmers and scientists wishing to escape the clutches of the former Soviet Union. And these programmers are at the heart of many brilliant software strategies that are only now coming to light. Among these, I was told, was a plan to port "Office and other Microsoft applications" to various versions of UNIX. The Linux angle, in many ways, is my own: Given the market for desktop UNIX, it seemed to me that Linux would be the most obvious choice, so I pressed for details. "Yes, yes, Linux," I was told.

I asked whether this represented some contingency plan for Microsoft in case it was broken up or Linux was able to establish itself as the dominant desktop operating system. No, I was told, they are doing this to leverage UNIX as an entry point to Windows, as they do with the Macintosh version of Office. I don't happen to view Mac Office in this light, as it offers numerous features that are unavailable in Windows, but this is the way the plan was described to me. Given the rise in popularity of Linux, this makes sense. I should also note that I'd never even heard of Mainsoft until this trip. When I got home and investigated the company, it all made sense: Their Web site is full of information about Windows/UNIX porting projects and a Microsoft partnership. And they even mention having access to the Windows 2000/NT 4 source code, a tidbit that was also divulged to me in Israel. One might wonder why Microsoft would need to supply the jealously guarded Windows source code to a company that was simply porting old versions of IE and WMP to other operating systems. The Windows source code is Microsoft's crown jewels, its most valuable asset.

Despite Microsoft's public position on the matter, I had already planned to talk with my contacts in Israel again in the coming days. But the company's strong denial makes this all the more important, and I will definitely have more information later in the year. One way or the other, I suspect that this isn't the last we'll hear about this issue

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