Microsoft recently announced that its next Office suite will have a free online counterpart. It also just released Silverlight 3.0, which competes directly with Adobe Flash. While each of these products is competitive in its own right, they're collectively part of a strategy by Microsoft to protect the future of Windows.
Silverlight 3.0 competes strongly with Adobe Flash for rich media content on the web. Microsoft is pushing it aggressively, and has already converted sites such as Netflix.com, which uses it for its "Watch Instantly" streaming TV and Movie service.
One notable difference between Flash and Silverlight is that Silverlight is only supported on Windows and OS X. It you want rich media content on sites that eschew Flash for Silverlight, you'd better not be on Linux.
While not many details are available yet regarding Office online, I'd bet my next paycheck on one thing. It will use Silverlight. That's right, by keeping you hooked on Office, even a free version of it, Microsoft is discouraging people from using Linux based operating systems like Android, Chrome and Ubuntu.
Office has been an enormous cash cow for Microsoft, so it's a big deal that it's going to give away an online version for free. While it makes sense as a strategy to keep people using Office rather than other free tools such as Google Docs or Acrobat.com, it's more important for Microsoft to keep people off Linux.
Apple's OS X doesn't pose as serious of a threat to Windows as Linux does. Apple and Microsoft can happily exist as long as Apple is content to skim the cream off the top and let Microsoft have the rest. Heck, Microsoft NEEDS Apple to not appear like a monopoly. Steve Ballmer and Steve Jobs probably play golf together and laugh at how people think they're competitors.
While Linux might currently have a smaller piece of the OS pie than Apple, its growth potential is enormously greater. This is especially true when a powerhouse like Google uses it for products like the Android and Chrome operating systems. While the growth of OS X is limited by the pricy hardware it's bundled with, Linux has no such constraints.
Google has become a serious sparring partner for Microsoft. While they might be playing it cool, the Redmond giant is nervous, and their newest moves show it.
Michael Scalisi is an IT manager based in Alameda, California.