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By NATHAN COCHRANE
LINUS TORVALDS, the creator of upstart operating system Linux, will head a new division within Microsoft to develop a version of Linux to replace Windows2000.
Information contained in a Microsoft memo leaked to The Age indicated that the third Beta version of Windows 2000 had been held back pending a decision to scrap the operating system entirely.
Coming just after it announced a massive reorganisation into new business groups, the decision marks the most significant about-face the company has engaged in since it adopted the Internet. Insiders say Microsoft will move rapidly to an open source business model, possibly by the end of the year.
Torvalds, who has been working for the last year for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen on a top-secret processor chip, has reportedly also been paid $US357 million in stock and cash for the rights to use the Linux trademark.
Although company officials would not comment on Torvalds' duties, The Age understands it will include advising on open source business opportunities and developing a version of Linux to replace the now abandoned Windows2000.
Windows2000, the successor to WindowsNT, was mired in a series of delays due to its complexity, forcing Microsoft's founder, Bill Gates, to look to alternatives. To be codenamed Minux Milennium Edition, it's a play on the conjunction of the words ``Microsoft'' and ``Linux'' and harkens back to the original Minix system on which Linux was based.
A Microsoft source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the company was scared of the speed at which Linux was spreading through business and the rate at which vendors were jumping on the bandwagon. He said Microsoft President Steve Ballmer had adopted an ``if you can't beat `em, join `em approach'' to Linux, similar to the one ``we used when we embraced the Internet''.
``The operating system (Windows2000) is a basketcase,'' a Microsoft Windows2000 team developer.
``We can't compete with the millions of Linux developers out there, and after Melissa (e-mail virus) we sure as hell can't rely on people buying our Office products any more.''
Torvalds was tight-lipped when contacted, but said Microsoft had ``made him an offer he can't refuse''.
``Anyway, it's time to make some dough from this open source thing. Here I am, the elected ruler of the known universe, and I can't pay off my Rav-4. Where's the justice in that?'' Torvalds said.
``Microsoft isn't all that bad. At least they give hackers something to do with their Saturday nights.''
Open source advocates contacted by The Age expressed shock at Torvalds sudden change of heart.
``I can't believe it. I'm shocked,'' a Melbourne Linux developer said.
``Don't do it, Linus,'' another urged.
``First it was (Open Source evangelist) Eric Raymond and now Linus. Who next, (Free Software Foundation founder) Richard Stallman?''
``I knew it as soon as I heard he (Torvalds) had gone to work for (Paul Allen's company) Transmeta,'' a poster to alt.microsoft.sucks said.
``They couldn't develop it, so they're going to buy it, just like they did with DOS.''
International Data Corporation Emerging Markets program director, Charles Looless, said it was a case of ``keep your friends near and your enemies even nearer''.
He said it was an ``end-run'' around mounting pressure on the company brough about by the US Government case against it.
``By embracing Linux and open source, Gates effectively short circuits the (Department of Justice) case, rendering it obsolete.
``This is a smart business decision that will set Microsoft up for the next Millennium.''
Published: Thu Apr 1 18:14:07 EST 1999
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