It seems Microsoft has contributed some money to the Apache Foundation. Unbelievable? See here. This, of course, naturally sets people thinking. About what Microsoft is up to. "Microsoft is putting a wide range of protocols that were formerly in the Communications Protocol Program under the Open Specification Promise (OSP). This guarantees their freedom from any patent claims from Microsoft now or in the future, and includes both Microsoft-developed and industry-developed protocols." says Groklaw. Things are getting curiouser and curiouser. What is Microsoft really up to?
Of course, we cannot expect M$ to have suddenly decided to support Free Software. Or can we? Look at it this way. GNU/Linux is eating into the desktop market of Microsoft. Distributions like Ubunutu and Mandriva are becoming very popular. And, though I don't have any statistics, I wouldn't be surprised if GNU/Linux has become the second most popular OS on the desktop. Some time back, Apple's OS X was the second most popular OS. And Microsoft had ported many of their applications to OS X. If that place has been taken by GNU/Linux, what prevents Microsoft from doing a similar thing? In fact why should they not? So I have a vague feeling that we may soon find "Microsoft Office for Linux" being marketed by M$. After all, their aim is to make money. And they will tell people that they can continue to use their "favourite" Office applications even if they migrate to GNU/Linux. I am pretty sure that there will be takers.
OK. Then where can they go from there? I guess they will make Firefox the default browser on Windows. In any case, Firefox is becoming increasingly popular even on Windows, and I remember having read somewhere that M$ is spending a lot of $ on IE development and getting nothing out of it. By putting Firefox, they save that money and can claim to have a very popular (or the most popular by that time?) browser by default. And they wind up the IE group in their company. And save money.
And, finally? Of course, they transform into a Free Software company. Which they will have to do, in any case. And with the money and user base they have, they can easily drive the others, such as Red Hat and SuSE out of business or at least become the dominant FS company. Not likely? Who can say? I feel that if they don't do that, then the chances are that the company would have to wind up. I don't see any other way in which they can survive the onslaught from Free Software.