Perhaps desirous of the sort of publicity jolt that IDC enjoyed/suffered when the analyst firm released its Microsoft-funded account of how Windows is cheaper than Linux, the Meta Group last week issued a controversial report of its own. In the report, Meta forecasted a move by Microsoft to support Linux in its Web, groupware and database server products by late 2004.
However, Redmond was quick to reject the Meta predictions, insisting that Microsoft has no plans to deliver its products on Linux. Indeed, why would Microsoft, swollen with antitrust trial success and presumably safe from further government attacks on its desktop computing monopoly, bolster the legitimacy of Linux by writing software for the open-source OS?
Of course, Microsofts antitrust troubles up to now have really been centered around Redmonds excessive aggressiveness in dealing with similarly proprietary computing companies such as Netscape and Sun. Open-source software poses a very different sort of threat to Microsofts market dominance.
Microsofts old-school rivals, like Be Inc., had to survive by owning and selling licenses to software, just like Microsoft does. No matter how space-age and charming BeOS was, it was probably doomed from the start. The trouble for Be was that Microsoft is way too big to be challenged on its own terms.
Desperate for more licensing money, Be ended up tossing BeOS into a broom closet to focus itself on a short-sighted bid to cash in on the unwanted and overhyped Internet appliance space. Now, both Be and its still-ahead-of-its-time BeOS lie fallow.
Compare this to Eazel, a firm with an unrealistic business plan and a brief corporate lifespan—typical of the late 90s—whose flagship, open-source product, Nautilus, still undergoes development and is featured as the file manager for the GNOME Desktop.
The companies that develop, market and support Linux and other open-source software projects might go out of business, but the code can always carry on—provided its good enough to continue attracting devotees and maintainers.
I believe that the cost and flexibility benefits of an open-source platform like Linux, in addition to its hardiness in the face of depressed markets, will push the platform to a height of ubiquity too tall for Microsoft to ignore. If Linux becomes the network operating system of choice for a large portion of the enterprise world, Microsoft will have to concede the market for Linux server software to others. Microsoft has shown itself too smart to let that happen.
Just as Microsoft once drastically turned itself around to conform to and profit handsomely from one open-source phenomenon—the Internet—the same may one day happen with Linux. We can argue that Microsoft would have preferred a different Internet based on proprietary Microsoft technologies, but its found that theres plenty of money to be made on an open network.
Perhaps before this decade is over, market forces will have nudged Microsoft into making a similar discovery where open computing platforms are concerned.
Does Microsoft need to own the OS in order to make its killing? Tell me what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.