The Open-Source Challenge
Microsoft, Oracle and other conventional vendors must reinvent themselves to vie in the global marketplace where open source contends.In August 1991, a 21-year-old student posted a newsgroup message introducing a "free operating system" that he described as "just a hobby, wont be big and professional like gnu." Barely into its adolescence, Linux has changed the software industryto the point that we must ask how much longer traditional software vendors can compete against "free" without substantially changing their business models, tactics and tone. Competitive pressure intensifies when whole countries move toward open-source platforms and applications. Brazil is following the example of China in embracing Linux both for government workers and citizens. This year, Brazil plans to subsidize the purchase by lower-income individuals of PCs running Linux and 25 other open-source programs. Last year, Microsoft sued Sergio Amadeu, the head of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silvas National Institute of Technology, when he compared Microsoft to a drug pusher; in 2003, the Brazilian government signed a letter of intent with IBM to boost Brazils use of Linux. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates reportedly was seeking a meeting with President da Silva at the World Economic Forum last week in Davos, Switzerland.
We agree with Gates argument that the case for "free" should not be oversimplified. Software costs only begin with the acquisition of a license, free or otherwise. Software configuration, the linchpin of both security and performance, is not an off-the-shelf product; it is a site-specific process, requiring a lengthening list of skills that is only partially offset by continuing improvements in management tools. Application development, the gateway to IT value, is a laborious process on platforms lacking rich and mature APIs or portfolios of code libraries and development aids.