Ozzie: Open source a more disruptive competitor than Google

Ozzie: Open source a more disruptive competitor than Google

Summary: Google has nothing on open source when it comes to potential competitive threats to Microsoft, according to Redmond's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie.


Google has nothing on open source when it comes to potential competitive threats to Microsoft, according to Redmond's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie.

Ozzie fielded a number of questions on his role at Microsoft and the company's evolving technology strategies during an appearance at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference on May 28. (I listened to his session via the Webcast.)

Ozzie reiterated that it often takes a strong competitor to truly galvanize Microsoft.

"Microsoft has built up a culture of crisis," Ozzie told conference attendees.

Competitors like his former employer, Lotus, and now, Google, have spurred the company to make changes to its business to stay ahead, Ozzie said. But while Google is a "tremendously strong competitor," Ozzie acknowledged, "open source was much more potentially disruptive" to Microsoft's business. (He noted that, unlike Google, many open-source programmers aren't beholden to shareholders.)

Ozzie said that competing with open source "made Microsoft a much stronger company." He cited changes Microsoft has made to its business model -- such as focusing on making its closed-source software interoperable with open-source products -- as directly attributable to that competition.

During the rest of his hour-long talk, Ozzie focused on many of his favorite topics, such as the need for a mesh for devices and people (Live Mesh) and the importance of giving customers choice (with Software+Services, rather than a 100% cloud-services approach). A few other tidbits from his remarks that I found interesting:

* The changing nature of the operating system in an increasingly services-based world. Ozzie noted that if a new operating system were designed today, it wouldn't be a single piece of software that operates a single computer. It would be something that could accommodate multiple devices, with the user at the center. That sounds like Live Mesh -- but perhaps he was also hinting about Microsoft's post-Windows, distributed operating system I keep hearing rumors about... * Yahoo as an "accelerator." Ozzie deftly deflected questions about Microsoft's on-again/off-again deal-making with Yahoo. "Yahoo was not a strategy unto itself," he said. "It was an accelerator to the ad platform." Ozzie spoke highly of Yahoo's work in the social-networking and community space, adding that these kinds of services represented the next wave in communications technology. He also pooh-poohed any notion that Microsoft might be wavering on its commitment to being an online player. "We are very, very serious about the online space," he said. * Programming tools that work across a variety of devices. At the very end of his remarks, Ozzie made a passing reference to the need for not just programming tools and services that can accommodate multi-core/many-core systems, but also tools that can work across a variety of devices. He noted that there's a need for development tools for building software that works across multiple devices. A reference to the Live Mesh Software Development Kit (SDK), expected to debut at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in late October? Perhaps....

Topics: Open Source, CXO, Google, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Creative distruction makes us all stonger

    I think Ray is right. His biggest competitor is open source. I'm not sure Microsoft will recover unless they learn how to embrace open source. The patent wars they have started make them toxic to most OS projects.
    • Guess what? MSFT is doing fine w/regard to open source

      If you look back 2-3 years ago, Micrsoft was losing some share to Linux/Open Source. But mostly Linux was cannibalizing from other UNIX-based operating systems. Since then Microsoft has largely turned the tide. In some scenarios Linux continues to grow share (bare-bones Web hosting services, for example) but Microsoft is doing just fine. There are quitea few examples of companies that tried Linux and ultimately decided to stay with or switch back to Windows.
    • Dosn't Ozzie Eat Bats?

      I saw that somewhere that he bit the head off a bat.
      Duke E. Love
  • Success did not make Google disruptive, an assertion I drop quickly to say

    I'm as much of a "on a clear day you can see the clouds" fella
    as the next person, but I just don't see how much of the
    operating system's traditional role may be distributed. Do we
    really want to say "The scheduler is out there" to paraphrase
    the X-files? Some key tasks of the system can not suffer any
    more latency.

    Once the networking module is in place, isn't an operating
    system as cloud ready as it needs to be? (Unless the cloud is to
    be a place of secret handshakes and Digi-barbary pirates who
    charge to let the data stream up and down. In that case,
    perhaps Mr. Ozzie has a point and is at the right employer.)
  • Does that make sense?


    Ozzie said that competing with open source ???made Microsoft a much stronger company.??? He cited changes Microsoft has made to its business model ??? such as focusing on making its closed-source software interoperable with open-source products ??? as directly attributable to that competition.

    [End quote.]

    So a way in which Microsoft gained from competing with open source is... developing the ability to interoperate with open source.

    That seems more a recognition of open source than a competitive response to it. Open source use will not be diminished by Microsoft's ability to work with it.

    The goal of competition is, after all, to decrease the use of the competitor's product.
    Anton Philidor
    • Partly...

      Competition is also about improving yourself. Not strictly to decrease the use of the competitors product, though that is a desired side effect.

      The world is moving into a need for transparent interoperability and Microsoft is simply being wise in that regard in it's belated realization that walled gardens are simply not going to work any longer.

      If it makes Microsoft stronger and more transparent so be it.

      It still leaves the other factors Ozzie describes which continue with FLOSS being disruptive and Linux in particular.

      As usual you only see that part of an issue you want to see and only that part which jibes with your rather peculiar world view.


      • Another type of competition.

        Microsoft must provide reasons for upgrades to be purchased. In that sense, "competition is also about improving yourself."

        And yes, Microsoft must be concerned about devices interacting, which is, I think what you mean about breaching the "walled garden".

        The Microsoft software on one device must work well with the Microsoft software on other devices. And then, of course, the ability of Microsoft software on a device to work well with software from other companies on other devices is also a sales point. Though, naturally, Microsoft's own products will work together best.

        The common element is providing people reasons to buy Microsoft's software. You wouldn't consider making the world somehow a better place to be the prime motive for a profit-making company, would you?!
        Anton Philidor
        • When you're a monopoly..no...

          Never mind the "convicted" part. That's been done to death and it's not on the topic here.

          Monopolies haven't, historically, had the idea that making the world a better place among their top motivators. That's been to preserve the monopoly at whatever cost at the cost of whatever the better place might be.

          That behaviour is hardly unique to Microsoft, though they do indulge in it. A lot.

          If it makes the world a better place that's incidental, at best.

          The "walled garden" is private protocols, for example, which prevent communication between MS operating systems and others regardless of who the maker is. Nor, in all honesty, are they long for the world. Even Microsoft recognizes it even if some of their louder mouthed fanboys don't.

          Nor am I talking devices. If XBox doesn't play well with Wii, I don't really care to the extent that neither are general purpose computing devices or mobile communications handsets. Both of those, the latter in particular I do.

          OK, if FLOSS is keeping Ray Ozzie up at night then I suggest that they must be doing something right to cause that sleeplessness outside of some SCO dream/nightmare.

          The reality. Anton, is that you just don't get it.

          Monopolies aren't good for a capitalist economy. Period. It doesn't matter if it's Microsoft or the Standard Oil Trust.

          They become, very quickly, less capitalist in nature and far more Mercantilist. Say Hudson's Bay Company or East India Company.

          And, for the record, I do think making the world a better place is a legitimate role for a profit making company. There are lots of them and I cheer them on. Microsoft isn't among them.


    • Wrong

      Anton says:

      "The goal of competition is, after all, to decrease the use of the competitor's product."

      Nope... it's to increase demand for your own.
      John L. Ries
      • The two are linked.

        Negative political ads are run to make people less likely to vote for the subject of the ads. That helps the opposition.

        Aside from directly reducing demand for the opposition, there are also zero-sum situations in which a success for one competitor takes a sale from the other.

        So very often the goal of competition is to decrease the use of the competitor's product.

        I agree, though, that there are other strategies used to make potential customers more likely to buy the product. Those strategies very often don't involve anything negative about the competitor.

        Sometimes a positive campaign about one's own product is the best way to decrease sales for the opposition.

        I exaggerated, I agree, in writing only about negative impact on the competition as a goal. But the point is accurate.
        Anton Philidor
        • In general...

          ...if your goal is to make money it's usually better to hawk your own wares then it is to attack the competition's. After all, if vendors attach each other, the big risk is shrinking the market.
          John L. Ries
          • I'll take your word for it, but .......

            It doesn't seem to be hurting Apple too much to put down the competition in all of it's ads. <br><br>
            Although, over the years we've seen cheer show it's hanky come out cleaner than Tide or Gain. <br><br>
            We've heard a lot about "those other guys", or their peanut butter isn't made from the best peanuts or whatever. <br><br>
            I'm not sure I'd be so bold as to say which way has been the best marketing strategy overall. <br>
            I think maybe it's a combination. When you pump up your own product but at the same time you subtly, possibly not even by name, suggest the consumer is better off than with the "other guys".
      • You see, Anton - THAT Attitude is Why MicroShaft Is EVIL!

        John's right - an ethical capitalist company can increase demand for its own product w/out requiring the destruction of all competition.

        That is only considered a "good idea" under Communism - or MicroShaft...or the Republican Party....
        • What company is this MicroShaft? Is is some new mining ventilation system?

          Just wondering?
          • Yep

            Each pipe is only nanometer in diameter. Now, if I can only get it to not kill the canary.
          • That sounds about right.

            Using outdated technology for the job. I can tell you don't use Microsoft products. <br><br>
    • Acquieses not competition

      I agree... To really compete with Open Source, M$ needs to ***LISTEN TO THE CUSTOMERS**!!!!

      To be the bull in a china shop and ***FORCE** Redmonds latest bright idea is far more counter productive than they will ever be intelligent enough to realize!

      Mike Sr.
    • His stockholder comment...

      may have cleared that up. Since most open source projects don't answer to stockholders theres not much of a way to hurt them. They will keep developing whether the masses use it or not. The competition here is about remaining relevant. If they provide tools that work with open source but add value then they'll be fine. If they try to lock out and they aren't CLEARLY better than the FOSS alternative then they stand to loose entire software stacks to FOSS.
      • Where is FOSS a competitor to Microsoft?

        The clearest success is Linux on servers.

        As widely acknowledged, Linux displaces Unix, not Windows. And a lot of profit goes to companies like Red Hat, which must answer to shareholders.

        Still, some/many Linux sales displaced potential Microsoft sales. And, as stated, a [not the] goal of competition is the reduction in sales of competitors' products.

        Microsoft is certain to remain relevant, because the company has the resources to produce whatever relevant software might be. Even leaving aside the company's ability to determine for many what relevant software is and does.

        So I suggest that Microsoft can intend to marginalize and then displace open source. The issue is not whether open source continues to exist - it will - but whether it will be returned to the hobbyists from whom it sprang.
        Anton Philidor
        • Who's in danger here?

          Linux doesn't really need to displace any other OS. Red Hat and Novell do through the use of Linux because they are companies. However they do not make or break Linux.

          Now yes they could theoretically push Linux back into a hobby. But thats highly unlikely and especially now. The web2.0/cloud phenomenon is surging and no I'm not a fanboy of this movement....just stating the facts. The coming years will see a lot of startup web companies blowing up to big companies and the fact is that most of these startups use FOSS out of concern for cost. As long as there are techie driven companies FOSS will continue to be used widely and development will continue. This isn't counting government and education where I have spent most of my career and can tell you they don't shy away from FOSS at all.

          Now thats not saying that Linux is definitely going to run over Windows. While techies at startups choose FOSS, business execs at corporations choose MS. The question is which side will become bigger...probably neither. However cost incentives give the coporation a reason to look at FOSS. MS will either have to continue to market their way into server rooms, continue to convince Universities to teach Microsoft instead of programming theory and logic, or actually produce a better and/or cheaper product. But its mighty hard to get cheaper than free.