James Dixon’s Blog

James Dixon’s thoughts on commercial open source and open source business intelligence

Re: Is open source really a more disruptive competitor than Google to Microsoft?

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In response to Savio’s post: http://weblog.infoworld.com/openresource/archives/2008/05/is_open_source.html

I have to disagree with you on this one Savio. I do understand Ozzie’s point of view.

Ever read the Halloween emails? http://catb.org/esr/halloween/index.html
Whether or not you agree with all of Raymond James’ commentary those emails clearly show that Microsoft considered open source to be a threat at least 10 years ago. In the last decade Microsoft has actively fought many companies and technologies (PIMs, Netscape etc) with various techniques but the only major open source-related situation was the Novell deal last year.

When it comes to fighting a competitor Microsoft knows that if it can drive them out of business the software/technology goes away. Or they embrace, extend, and then extinguish. Or they acquire and expire. Look at all the anti-competitive issues they have been accused of. In these cases they have been using their might as a monopoly to fight a battle based on primarily on price. These approaches do not work against open source. There is no company to fight and they have no advantage on price.

I’m not being anti-Microsoft here I’m just saying that the strategies they have used in the past to try to maintain their position as market leader don’t work well, or at all, against an open source alternative.

Lets compare business to warfare (The Art of War is on most MBA reading lists). Microsoft vs Google is a conventional war using conventional weapons. Microsoft knows how to go to war in this case. Microsoft vs open source is a non-conventional war. In most cases the ‘enemy’ doesn’t show up for the battle because they don’t have to. The enemy virally and silently chips away at your dominance without ever showing itself. What’s worse in this case is that your customers either like the enemy or are the enemy. Microsoft declare war on its customers? Doesn’t seem like a good proposition. So Microsoft is trying to be more OSS friendly, to be more open itself (shared source etc). In the last ten years the Microsoft marketing machine has been unable to create an effective anti-open source campaign. I certainly see why Microsoft, faced with fighting a battle with no rules and an enemy they can’t see, views this as a harder problem than that posed by Google.

I agree with you that OSS is a huge opportunity. Unfortunately for a company that is large, proprietary, and historically more closed and aggressive than most, taking advantage of that opportunity is not a natural or easy thing to do.


Written by James

May 28, 2008 at 7:27 pm

Posted in open source

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