I can’t say I discovered this–I saw a reference to it in User Friendly this past week–but there’s now an XP-lookalike window manager for Linux called XPDE.

A quick look at the screenshots shows it’s a pretty convincing clone. But is it legal?The authors maintain its legality, because it uses no Microsoft code, mentions no Microsoft trademarks, and uses no Microsoft icons. I wish them well, but there is precedent for a copyright infringement anyway.

Some 20 years ago, the best-selling spreadsheet (and perhaps best-known piece of software in the world) was Lotus 1-2-3. It was expensive. In 1985, microcomputer pioneer Adam Osborne began predicting the emergence of Lotus 1-2-3 clones priced under $100. The theory was, if one could clone the IBM PC and undercut IBM’s price, why couldn’t the same technique be used to clone expensive software and undercut it in price as well?

Osborne had insider knowledge, being the president of his own software company. He released a Lotus 1-2-3 clone himself, and in 1987, Lotus sued him. Borland also incorporated Lotus 1-2-3’s menu structure into its own spreadsheet product, Quattro Pro. Lotus won its case against Osborne’s Paperback Software, with a court finding Paperback in violation of Lotus’ copyright, and Osborne disappeared into obscurity in disgust. Borland was more successful, winning its case against Lotus on appeal. But it took six years to do it, during which both companies’ products were eclipsed in the marketplace by Microsoft Excel.

So while XPDE may technically be legal, if I were involved in the project, I would be afraid of being litigated into oblivion.

But in the meantime, if you want or need a Windows-like interface for your Linux box, you can download XPDE.