Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Microsoft may bring Office to Linux in 2014

+Michael Larabel from +Phoronix brings odd tidings to the Linux world from last years +FOSDEM . In 2013 +Microsoft delivered on their announced plan to bring their Office suite to the +Linux based +Android platform. Mr. Larabel has said that his source indicates that Microsoft is taking a serious look at bringing Office to Linux, and has a full native port (not delivered via a WINE wrapper or some such means) in an unknown degree of completion that they have already in development internally. Now that 2014 is in swing, will we actually see this rumor come true? Frankly, if it were a less reputable source I wouldn't bother with this article.

How likely is it? I think considering that they have already made a version for Android, that means at the least that much of the development effort is already spent since Android runs on the Linux kernel. Also, as I understand it Android and its apps are mostly Java simply running via a mobile optimized runtime. Java in case you are not aware (you probably are) is a cross platform language that is designed to make efficient programs that can be deployed on any operating system that supports the Java virtual machine with none or very little modification to the application code itself. Considering how small a market the desktop Linux userbase is still, I wouldn't think Microsoft would be taking this porting effort seriously were it not for the above mentioned facts which drastically reduce any effort they'd spend specifically and exclusively on desktop Linux.

For me at least, the bigger question is whether this is a good thing or not. I'm always excited to see more software become available for Linux since it increases the chance that we may get a new user whom was holding out for that application. But, of the many companies who would participate in this Microsoft is among the least trusted seeing as they are the very image of proprietary software and shady dealings; and are thus not prone to getting the support of myself or others in the Free Software movement. But also, will the Linux userbase even embrace it? Will it damage the +Apache OpenOffice or +LibreOffice projects?

Very often from people I have heard something along the following, "I really like Linux, it works so well but it doesn't have this program I use most!" The most common barriers to entry I've heard has been a lack of games, and the lack of Microsoft Office applications, usually Word. Thanks to +Valve Linux and various indie game studios affiliated and not, serious gaming is swiftly coming to Linux and thus the argument of needing a "Wintendo" is becoming far less true every day. With LibreOffice we have a powerful and familiar office suite, but most business users are either set in their ways or run into various anomalies and thus find that Linux is not a viable option for their productivity. For the latter group, the option of Microsoft Office on Linux would almost entirely eliminate that barrier to entry.

Ultimately I think if Microsoft delivers, this will be a good thing. Part of their dominance in the PC sector has been due to their ability to assure trials of their software is shipped from the OEM on any machine running their Windows operating systems (the other part being that they make much better office suites than they do operating systems). Since in the Linux world we don't have OEM deals this is not an issue and Microsoft has next to no ability to squeeze anybody into adoption of Office, and most major Linux distributions ship LibreOffice by default. So I think, rather than seeing a situation where LibreOffice dies we will see those smaller subset of users actually purchase Microsoft Office for Linux while those of us who don't need all that or aren't as picky will stick to Free Software. As a side note, Microsoft Office has been supporting Open Document formats and have been backporting that support to older versions of their Office applications.