I seem to be a magnet for controversy, and my recent trip to Israel led me into yet another Nixonian Web of deception involving our favorite software company in Redmond. Not that I'm comparable to Watergate's Woodward or Bernstein—I'm more of a Berke Breathed, really—but I seem to find my share of secretive informants nonetheless. So even my otherwise unrelated trip to Israel turned up an interesting nugget of information: Microsoft, working with an Israeli company called Mainsoft, is attempting to port its Office applications to various versions of UNIX, including, I was told, Linux. While in Israel, I spoke with software developers in and near Mainsoft, took some notes, came home, and promptly forgot about it for a few days. As I said, I'm no Woodward or Bernstein.
To be perfectly honest, Mainsoft had never previously entered my consciousness, although I've discovered that I briefly mentioned them in a WinInfo Daily UPDATE article more than a year ago. When I unpacked after the trip, I set my notes aside and got back to work. The Mainsoft story might have actually withered on the vine, so to speak, had not a traveling companion called and asked me to fax copies of the notes I took during the trip. So I broke out the notebook, found the Mainsoft interview notes, and realized I had some unfinished business.
When I went to the Mainsoft Web site, I was rather amazed to see that the company corroborated many of the factoids I had uncovered in the interview. Mainsoft did indeed have access to the Windows 2000 and Windows NT source code, and the company has been involved in porting Microsoft's Win32 applications to UNIX for several years. In fact, Mainsoft ported Distributed COM (DCOM) to UNIX, and the company has been working on porting various versions of Internet Explorer (IE) to various versions of UNIX. Mainsoft had just announced successful ports of IE and Windows Media Player.
News is an interesting thing. I'm not usually the source of news per se, but in this case, I knew from the beginning that I had to be sure about what I said, especially because I had been burned by a Win2K-on-Alpha story earlier this year. But I was sure: I talked to three people in Israel who were either familiar with or literally involved in the efforts to port Microsoft Office to UNIX. So the story went out (see Hot Off the Press below), and although I knew Microsoft would probably deny it, I know in my heart of hearts that the work is happening. Whether that work sees the light of day is another matter. But Microsoft denied working on C# (originally known as Project COOL) for more than a year, and then released its Java-killer with nary a pause earlier this summer. It's amazing what time can do to memory.
The response to my story was rather interesting, and I learned a lot about people and Internet-era journalism in the process. I'm amazed at how many people wrote stories in response to mine without contacting me first. And some pretty high-profile journalists—such as the lead technical correspondent from the Boston Globe—particularly distressed me. They basically wrote dismissive "it's not happening, enough said" articles without exploring what was behind my story in the first place. If we relied on Microsoft for all our news, things would be pretty one-sided. Thankfully, journalists such as Bob Trott (InfoWorld) and Joe Wilcox (CNET) took the time to correspond and were able to dig up even more information before the Redmondian clamps came down.
Microsoft wasn't so happy with me or, as it turns out, with Mainsoft (which changed its tune dramatically after a little talk with Redmond). In fact, Microsoft demanded that I retract the story, which I didn't do, although the company told at least one major computer news agency that I had. You see, I don't know any Microsoft spokespeople personally, but I did get to know the guys in Israel. If I have to pick sides, I'm sorry, but I'll go with what I know. I can't tell you that the port is going to produce actual products. But I can tell you that Microsoft is looking into it. No, I don't think it's smart. No, it's not what I'd do. But yes, I believe it's true. So why would Microsoft try to port its desktop applications to a platform that has absolutely no desktop market share? I've no idea. But you just can't make up something this strange.