Microsoft wants to get its next operating system in shipping shape by taking away one of the legs of the three-legged stool upon which the system would be built. Intel wants to boost processor sales by including attributes—compatibility with past systems, for one—that the company once seemed ready to abandon. Its telling when two companies that enjoyed monopolies of almost-unprecedented scope react to competitive pressure. The response by these two industry giants is good news for IT professionals.
Having only one supplier for a critical component has never been a good deal for a customer. Whether it is automobiles, television networks or beer, one of the better aspects of capitalism is competition. If you dont like the choice from one vendor, you can go down the aisle to make another choice. That universe of choice so familiar in most industries was in serious danger of disappearing in the technology business. When your computer operating system choices consist of deciding when to upgrade to the next version of Windows or deciding which Intel processor speed is best, youre not really living in an unfettered technology marketplace.
Consider the sudden shifts in offerings from Microsoft and Intel.
In an effort to get its next-generation operating system, "Longhorn," in shape for shipping, Microsoft has started tossing out (decoupling, in Redmond lingo) some key features, most notably WinFS. The file system is one of those big thoughts in data storage and retrieval that would have made Longhorn a strong contender for inclusion in corporate data networks drowning in structured and unstructured data.
The "Avalon" user interface and the "Indigo" middleware infrastructure appear to be the two remaining intact legs.
And Intel, after years of not paying serious attention to AMD, suddenly cares about upward compatibility, heat dissipation, multicore CPUs and power consumption.
Why the industry monoliths are picking this time to get nervous is open to much debate. Microsoft has always done its best work when it can find a competitor (Novell, Apple or the Internet) to attack. The competitor of the moment is open-source software and Linux in particular. The company has identified open-source software as a revenue threat in a recent SEC filing and has pinned much of its anti-Linux campaign on arguments that Linux is actually more costly to deploy than Windows and that the fragmented nature of Linux development precludes a comprehensive systemwide approach to corporate technology choices.
With the fragmentation argument being dealt a bit of a blow recently with the Linux community rallying around the Free Standards Groups Linux Standard Base, Microsoft will have to rely on the Windows-is-cheaper-to-deploy argument. When Ive asked users about the deployment argument, most have said they dont pay much attention, as deployment costs vary so greatly among organizations based on software, hardware and employee skill sets.
In Intels case, it found itself winning a horsepower race where many customers were unable to use the horsepower they had.
The current economic and political climate has overshadowed the technology market. War, elections and hurricanes have a way of shoving concerns about operating systems and processor selection to the back burner.
But thats OK; the technology community has done a good job at thoughtfully advancing the alternatives to what was once a two-company market for operating systems and processors. Users did the right thing in considering new alternatives, evaluating those alternatives and deploying them in the corporate work space. With those alternatives continuing to gain traction, they have finally caught the attention of Microsoft and Intel.
Microsofts slimming down its next operating system and Intels rethinking its compatibility strategy are only the early moves from these obviously well-funded companies. There will be more to come.
Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.