The Globalization Threat (aka The Linux Threat)This summer I have been taking a wildland firefighting class. One of the things Ive learned is that an easy way to be burned-over (killed) is to lose your anchor point and let the fire come around and get you from the side or behind. I am telling this story because Microsoft is under a similar threatwith Linux and open source playing the role of fire.But if the fire line isnt properly anchored, all the bulldozer lines in the world wont keep the blaze from sliding around the end of the line and hooking back to get you. Linux could do that to Microsoft, simply by going around Microsofts "anchor point" in the U.S. and European markets. In those places, Linux is a self-limiting phenomenon that Microsoft can hold indefinitely at bay. But in the rest of the world, Microsoft is relatively weak and the allure of free software is strong. Heck, most software in developing nations isnt properly licensed and paid for anyway. If Linux and other open-source products become popularized in developing nations, I predict they will eventually improve enough and create a big enough market to threaten Microsoft in the developed world. There is a very real prospect that the rise of "free" software outside the United States will eventually change the world market for operating systems and commodity applications. This wont drive Microsoft out of the market, but it will create significant pricing pressure on the companys cash cows. Like the other two scenarios, this wont threaten Microsoft immediately, but the notion that software developed atop Linux in places like India, Thailand and China could someday end up on U.S. desktops shouldnt be taken lightly if Microsoft is planning a long, happy life for itself. Of course, all this is speculation, hopefully informed speculation, but nevertheless entirely speculative. For one thing, Microsoft could afford to hemorrhage money for many years before real trouble would set in. Second, Microsoft could use this money>as it has in the past>to make acquisitions and buy its way out of trouble. Third, Microsoft isnt above playing hardball when it has to. There are other threats to Microsoft, of course, but there are the long-term issues I am watching today, each of which is probably worthy of a future column of its own. Check out eWEEK.coms Windows Center at http://windows.eweek.com for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.
In firefighting, you begin building the fire control line (a wide line devoid of fuel, often cleared by a bulldozer) at a road or other fixed point the fire will have trouble crossing. The anchor point provides a fixed end to where the fire can goat least thats how its supposed to work.