The rumors pop up occasionally, but this time it turns out they're true: Microsoft is working closely with a company called Mainsoft to port its Windows applications to open source operating system Linux and, possibly, other versions of UNIX. The complicated undertaking, which has been a work in progress for over a year, requires the companies to map native Win32 API calls to the Linux equivalents so that Windows applications will run normally in that environment. But the process is even more complex than it sounds, since most Microsoft applications--especially those in the Office suite--use a number of proprietary interfaces, and each application requires specific workarounds. The results, so far, have been disappointing.

"What they're doing, basically, is porting Microsoft's Windows applications to Linux," said an Israeli software developer I spoke with last week. "Mainsoft's research and development team, located in Lod, Israeli, is working with Microsoft employees from Redmond and a small group of developers from France, \[where Mainsoft originated\]. The goal is for Microsoft's applications to run on Linux."

Mainsoft has been working on Windows-to-UNIX solutions for some time, and the company has worked with Microsoft in the past, porting Microsoft's DCOM technology to UNIX. Mainsoft has access to the Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 source code, a necessity for the work it is doing. When queried about Mainsoft's work with Microsoft, the developer I spoke with said that the company's plans were not intended as an "emergency escape plan" in the event that Linux overtakes Windows on the desktop. Instead, Microsoft will leverage Linux as an entry point to Windows, "in the same way it does with the Macintosh version of Office." Microsoft's plans notwithstanding, the consensus is that still have a ways to go before they realize the dream of running Windows applications on Linux. But make no mistake: This work is happening, and it's happening now