Shocker from Redmond: Microsoft turns to Linux

Based on Ubuntu, the company's homegrown 'Winux' distribution will run native Windows applications through emulation

Microsoft has ceased development of the Windows operating system and will be releasing its own Linux distribution, the company revealed in an SEC filing yesterday.

The annual 10-K report disclosed plans for the development of the "Winux" operating system and detailed special costs related to terminating the Windows business -- including costs associated with supporting current versions of Windows through 2020.

The move signals that Windows -- once the world's most popular operating systems -- is no longer strategically important to Microsoft. Company officials acknowledged that switching to Linux will result in significant cost savings without compromising performance, scalability, reliability, or security. Further, compatibility with most Windows applications will be maintained, the officials said.

In a call with reporters, Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live division at Microsoft, downplayed the significance to customers.

"It's not a big deal," Sinofsky said. "Most Windows users won't even know the difference."

Sinofsky explained that, although Winux is based on Linux, it would run native Windows applications using an emulation layer that Microsoft is developing. Although emulation introduces additional software overhead, Sinofsky said any performance differences would be "imperceptible" on today's hardware.

"The user experience will be nearly identical [to running Windows] today," Sinofsky emphasized. "The GUI will be the same. Performance will be the same. Security will be better."

Sinofsky declined to provide a timeframe for the Winux release or indicate what the licensing terms would be. He confirmed that Microsoft would continue to maintain Windows at least through 2020.

Departing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer [link to Ted's Ballmer bumped story ] said in an interview with CNBC earlier today that the switch to Linux would deliver huge cost savings and put Microsoft in a better position to compete against Apple and Google in consumer and mobile technologies, as well as Oracle and IBM in business computing.

"The operating system is no longer the key to winning in the technology business," Ballmer said. At the same time, Ballmer noted that the demise of Windows saddened him personally. Ballmer said he planned to devote much of his time during retirement to helping Windows users. He had created a weblog of Windows tips and technical advice, called My Windows Pony, that will soon be re-introduced as My Winux Pony.