Thom blogged about Microsoft going into the offensive regarding IP and software patents against Linux and require tax money for using their technologies. I also believe that MS has legal ground to sue distros who ship with FAT32, SMB, Exchange, (winforms) Mono and what not.
But this is not the point of my blog post. Instead, I am trying to fast forward a few years in the future and visualize how the Linux scene would look like if Microsoft has made Novell-like deals with the 4-5 major Linux distros and has sued the smaller distros, or at least kindly required their IP to be removed from their distros. If that’s the case, we are left with the following: The 4-5 big distros ship their commercial versions of their distros with all MS tech in them, but for their free versions all that is removed. The completely free, hobbyist, distros are shipping with all that removed by default.
This begs the question, how useful these distros are then? Can a modern computer user live without being able to access his FAT32 mp3 player, or without having access to his SMB printer? I don’t think so. There will be some radicals who will push themselves to agree to live in this ordeal, but the majority of users will have two options: either buy a commercial Linux, or move to Win/OSX. Given how complicated package management is for normal users (even in Ubuntu), the majority of users will never find the correct libraries to install manually. Just as it happens today for other stuff, like Flash, Java and mp3. I have read countless blogs where newcomers just can’t figure out how to enable mp3 on their computers despite the also countless tutorials.
And here’s the kicker: I don’t think that this whole situation would be bad for Linux. Today, there are so many Linux distros, and much duplicated effort, that it actually hurts the Linux success in the consumer market. If MS will be the catalyst for fewer distros, and push consumers to actually buy distros rather than downloading the featureless free versions, that’s ultimately a good thing. Isn’t that what the Linux whinees always said, that the “Free” is as in freedom and not as in beer? Well, let’s see how they like it when they will have to shed $50 to get a new version of their distro every 6 months.