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In the beginning, even Microsoft was starlted
 In the beginning, even Microsoft was starlted   

How Lindows Lost Wine

The idea was excellent - an operating system that would combine Windows and Linux. The beginning was promising - the forecast was high, the development was prompt and even Microsoft was startled. But after a short while, developer rivalries, inter-organizational ego wars, and the prime reason -- money -- have caused a release of an OS that almost bears no resemblance to the big promises



 
Age of innocense. A Lindows ad during the beginning of the campaign
 Age of innocense. A Lindows ad during the beginning of the campaign   

It was supposed to be the next big thing in the PC world: a revolutionary operating system combining the comfort of use of Windows and the stability of Linux. For a short time, it seemed the dream was about to come true. LindowsOS, the operating system that even managed to startle Microsoft, was supposed to be launched by the end of the year with an official version, which provides full support for Windows software.

But it's not going to happen. The company that beat Microsoft's lawyers, lost on its own turf -- the open source community. Developer rivalries, inter-organizational ego wars, and the prime reason -- money -- turned out to be stronger than all the big dreams and revolutionary ideologies.

"PCs running LindowsOS have the unique ability to run Linux and Windows software," reads the press release announcing LindowsOS. A completely different picture is drawn from what Lindows.com's Public Relations Director, Cheryl Schwarzman, told Nana.


In short, Schwarzman said that contrary to the initial promises, the Windows software support will be partial, especially the support for Microsoft Office software. From the next big thing in the PC world, LindowsOS became just another one of the numerous Linux clones.
 
The technical groundwork. Wine platform
 The technical groundwork. Wine platform   

The price was right

Lindows.com's founder and CEO, Michael Robertson, just happened to stumble upon Linux. In 1997, he founded MP3.com, whose file server was Linux based. "I made the Linux choice based on the fact that I had little money to spare", wrote Robertson in July in his column on Lindows.com's website. "It was purely a decision based on cost - I soon learned that I had employed the most stable technology available."

Robertson fell for Linux, and found a potential clientele: Windows users. Windows is an expensive, bug infested OS, but Microsoft managed to get it installed on about 90% of PCs worldwide. Its popularity also made developing software for Linux less worthwhile commercially. Robertson realized that the way to get Linux more widely used is creating a version that "understands" Windows software, and especially Microsoft Office software.

The next step was finding someone who could quickly and efficiently develop Windows support for Linux. In August 2001, Robertson hired CodeWeavers, a software company that already had experience in that field, and in October, LindowsOS was announced. According to the press release, LindowsOS would cost less than $100, work on Pentium based PCs, and, most importantly, Robertson promised an OS that's "full featured and consumer friendly."

 
 
The opportunity is too tempting. White
 The opportunity is too tempting. White   

The Linux-Windows combination raised a lot of interest. So much of it, that on December 2001, Microsoft filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming its name, and its software's name, are in violation of Microsoft's Windows trademark (the name Lindows is comprised of the names of both OSs, Windows and Linux). In mid-May, a Seattle district judge ruled that "windows" was a generic term, and rejected Microsoft's request for an injunction. A full trial is due April 2003.


Licenses and registration, please
Robertson claims to have paid over $500,000 to companies developing the Windows support for him, based on CodeWeavers' Wine platform. The money was a significant catalyst: Wine was established in 1993, and CodeWeavers has been working on it since 1999, but late January 2002, a few months after LindowsOS was declared, a beta version was launched. Robertson took a group of geeks, and turned them into businessmen. No wonder that problems soon ensued.

In February, CodeWeavers' founder and CEO, Jeremy White, called for a switch in Wine's license to an open source license, under which many programs, including Linux, are being developed.

"With some recent events I cannot disclose, it is clear to me that the opportunity for Wine to be used in a proprietary product is too tempting and has caused some harm to the Wine project," wrote White on wine-devel, the Wine developers discussion group. He called for a switch to LGPL, a restricted open source license, which would allow using Wine in proprietary software, and only require the return of the developments on Wine to the open source community.
 
But we`ve paid the bills. Robertson
 But we`ve paid the bills. Robertson   

In an email interview with Nana, White explained his call was meant to protect the open source community's rights: "Almost every company I have negotiated a service contract with has demanded ownership of the changes we made to Wine, which has never been acceptable to me -- making Wine grow and succeed is the reason I am here talking to you. I had to fight that demand tooth and nail with every company, Lindows included. With the change to LGPL, I no longer fight that battle -- it makes my life much simpler."

Lindows was one of the companies demanding ownership of the changes to Wine. If those were available to everyone, LindowsOS has no advantage in the market. Who would buy it, if he could download a free version of Linux and apply the Wine support to it?


Open Source won't pay the bills, y'know
"I think a license change would make it more difficult to generate revenue through traditional software selling models," Robertson wrote in the discussion group. He explained that Linux already does 95% of what users today expect, so the focus should move from developing the software to activities that will lure users to switch to Linux: "We need Lindows.com and 10 more thriving companies to help with the expense of educating, lobbying, marketing, etc. [...] It's expensive to do those things and a burden that needs to be shared by several companies because the job is so enormous and the competitor so strong."

Robertson explained his demand for ownership of the changes in the fact that his company paid for many of the Wine developments: " From our initial funds, we've paid the salaries of many on this list for the last few months with most of the code going back to the main tree [which is open to everybody]." White disagreed: "In our work with Lindows, we built upon an accumulated 9 years of work, including 3 years of effort by CodeWeavers. Lindows certainly did pay for a lot of the effort in the 'last mile' on MS Office, but we carried the effort for the first 999 miles."

 
All what`s left. ``Bridge application``
 All what`s left. ``Bridge application``   


Devious Maneuver
The CodeWeavers people left Lindows.com in January, due to the license-change dispute, as well as other more mundane reasons, says White without elaborating. Schwarzman, Lindows.com's Public Relations Officer, elaborated: "CodeWeavers is one of many consultants that have provided code to Lindows.com, Inc. We had our needs met by CodeWeavers and now we work with them in less of a contractual manner and more in an open-source manner".

White said very close to their parting with Lindows.com, the idea came about for CrossOver Office, an application that allows running Microsoft Office on Linux, and which is based on the Wine developments done for Lindows.com. In early March, the Wine license was switched to LGPL, and on May 27th, CodeWeavers announced the launch of CrossOver Office version 1.0.

White admits that CrossOver Office may have not been developed, had CodeWeavers continued working with Lindows.com. Was the switch to LGPL a maneuver, meant to terminate the relationship between the companies and allow CodeWeavers to sell CrossOver Office independently? White said he was considering the well being of the open source community, and said that "actually, we could have done all of that without moving to the LGPL; in fact, not moving to the LGPL would have made our product strategy simpler," because it requires him to expose CrossOver Office's Wine developments to potential competitors. Those two reasons would have been correct, if it hadn't been for one little fact: White made sure his contract with Lindows.com included a clause that would require them to return the code to the development community, so the source code was open, anyway.

With all due respect to White's struggle for open source, it seems the money opened CodeWeavers' people's eyes, and they used the enormous public relations Robertson has brought to leverage their independent product. Robertson's dream had collapsed.


We said Lindows is Windows compatible, so?
"No additional software is required for owners of LindowsOS to run popular Windows or Linux programs", read Lindows.com's initial announcement of LindowsOS. The company was quick to make big promises, but in her response to Nana's questions, Schwarzman admitted that the OS will only have partial support for Windows software, and Microsoft Office in particular.

"We are focusing on 'bridge' applications", said Schwarzman. "Lindows believes the real value savings come to consumers who, using the [Lindows.com's software warehouse] Click-N-Run Warehouse have access to hundreds of programs. Our product does not target the user who wants to save a few dollars on the operating system, but them still run out and spend thousands of dollars on Microsoft Office, Photoshop, etc. For this reason, we spend much of our time and energies in making the applications in the Click-N-Run Warehouse as robust and useful as possible".

 

"However", she continued, "today we live in a Microsoft world, so there needs to be a bridge from the legacy world to the broadband LindowsOS world. This means we need to support some 'bridge' programs, file types and network devices to help people interact with the legacy Microsoft world. LindowsOS computers come with software to view, print and copy MS Word files, MS PowerPoint files and MS Excel documents".

LindowsOS' initial intent was to allow Windows users a smooth migration path to Linux. But Schwarzman said that one doesn't always have to use Microsoft software: "Where there's [sic] great Linux based alternatives, we'll guide people to those alternatives (they're better than most people realize). To edit Microsoft files, we'd highly recommend one of the office suites in our Warehouse such as OpenOffice or star office [sic]. Many of these programs are very high quality and a great value since they're included in the Warehouse. But sometimes there are no viable alternatives. For those programs, we're investing some time to support some Microsoft Windows based programs".


CrossOver Office, Now only $54.95
Lindows.com was left without Wine developers. According to a CNET article from late June, shortly after a line of LindowsOS-based PCs was launched on Wal-Mart's website, a claim that the OS could run most Windows applications was removed from Wal-Mart's website. No information on Windows compatibility appeared on the main description page of LindowsOS on Lindows.com's website, either.

A few days after Nana contacted Lindows.com for response, the main description page was changed. Now it claims that LindowsOS is "Compatible with files and data from older operating systems and applications (.doc, .xls, .ppt, .mp3, etc.)", "Compatible with a few 'bridge' Microsoft Windows compatible applications to help users migrate to the new world", and has a "Friendly Install for users wishing to experience LindowsOS side-by-side with Microsoft Windows 98".

It's not clear what happened that made Lindows.com shift from a Windows compatible alternative OS to an alternative OS which is like any other Linux OS in the market. Did it encounter difficulties developing Wine on its own? Did it decide to look for an alternative platform for Windows support? Schwarzman said the company keeps using Wine updates, published in the main tree. If so, why did it pay CodeWeavers and other companies so much, for code it now gets for free?

What is clear is that while an official version of LindowsOS is yet to be launched, CrossOver Office is already on for sale on CodeWeavers' website for $54.95. Although Robertson does get good press, the little company did to him what he had tried to do to Microsoft: provide an alternative. But Codeweavers' triumph - the triumph of the technology over the marketing, using marketing methods - could turn out as the great loss of the entire Open Source movement. After Robertson's loss, no investor would follow his footsteps, and it's quite hard to believe that CrossoverOffice sails could generate enough revenues, that could finance the necessary massive marketing efforts. Wine could still be developed at low cost, under various open-source license, but given the linux example, that sure won't be enough.

And perhaps, as Robertson had envisioned, the Linux market will soon grow enough to fit them all.



Copyright 2002 Netivision ltd., Israel. All rights reserved.
For licensing information please email editor@nana.co.il

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