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There’s no denying that Microsoft is worried about Linux — and justifiably so. But, contrary to prevailing “wisdom,” this fear is not dictating Microsoft’s every move.

Wait! Before you burn me in effigy atop a pyre of flaming “Linux for Dummies” books, hear me out.

I am discounting neither the value of Linux, nor the huge impact it has had on Microsoft and its customers. Microsoft watches Linux like a hawk and has folks on the Windows Server team who are dedicated to following every open-source twist and turn. And I, for one, am ecstatic that Redmond has some real competition, thanks to Linux and its backers.

But Microsoft knows there is a whole community of folks out there who are married to the Microsoft mob. For better or for worse. Whether Microsoft makes them richer or poorer. Until bankruptcy do they part.

In many markets where Microsoft competes, Linux and open source don’t factor into the equation. Linux doesn’t show up on Microsoft’s desktop OS radar. It doesn’t figure when it comes to the market for desktop office suites. Dev tools? Gaming? Open source is just a blip.

Nonetheless, it’s become chic to use Linux as the yardstick for every move Microsoft makes. But to do so is to gloss over Microsoft’s real motivations.

Here are three examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Exhibit No. 1: “Everyone noticed Microsoft’s sudden about-face regarding support for Windows 98, making the software giant’s growing indifference toward the needs of its customers plainly obvious,” according to a recent Sun PR pitch sent to me via e-mail. “Perhaps the competitive pressure from Linux desktops such as Sun’s Java Desktop System, already the leading Linux desktop and the de facto alternative to Windows, has spurred Microsoft to re-evaluate its plan to force customers to upgrade.”

    Sorry, Sun. Not in your wildest dreams. Microsoft decided to add a measly two years of “extended” (read “paid”) support for Windows 98 and ME because its users weren’t ready to upgrade yet.

    I know some industry watchers are claiming that Microsoft extended Windows 98 and Windows ME’s life support because of THE LINUX THREAT. But I don’t buy it. It doesn’t make sense. These users are adverse to change. They are sticking with what works. They aren’t ready to jump to a whole new platform, where their apps may no longer run at all.

    Read what else is on Mary Jo Foley’s mind. Click here to read the full article.