How big a threat is good Microsoft?

How big a threat is good Microsoft?

Summary: Microsoft plans to give people what they know they want from open source, support it better than an open source project can, and get its enterprise market share back.


Bill Gates as angel, by Matt ElderOne point was made to me repeatedly while covering the HIMSS show for ZDNet Healthcare this week. (Drawing by Matt Elder.)

All this "good Microsoft" stuff about supporting open source, abut placing code on Codeplex, and about keeping open source projects "in the loop" regarding format changes, is no head fake.

It's serious. This is the new strategy. Kill open source with kindness.

Over time, if this strategy holds, all the hoopla over OOXML and SharePoint should die down. Microsoft will become as "open" as it was said to be in the 1980s. Shouts of kumbaya will be heard across the land.

Stop laughing.

Rather than trying to trap people with its proprietary code, Microsoft plans to give people what they know they want from open source, support it better than an open source project can, and get its enterprise market share back.

That's the theory.

Now let's assume we're being told the truth. (I know, big assumption.) But wouldn't Microsoft's support, its development strength, and its enterprise hand-holding make it a threat to every open source project on the planet, if this were its strategy?

Isn't this the best strategy Microsoft, in fact, has?

And how successful do you think it might be?[poll id=68]

Topics: Open Source, Microsoft

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  • Business fundamentals

    The whole concept is predicated on the idea that the only reason for [i]software libre[/i] is reaction to the Transcendent Evil Of Redmond. Which is as silly as saying that open and collaborative science only exists as a reaction to guild secrecy.

    The guilds went away. Did science?

    I observed more than 15 years ago that Microsoft wasn't founded on technology, it was founded on a new business model: it sits between a post-industrial production process (software creation) and an industrial sales process (per-copy charges.) When Microsoft got tapped for the IBM PC, that was radical. My conclusion then was that MS had made that business their own and that no "better technological mousetrap" could threaten them; their only real threat would someday come from another shift in business models.

    Well, those business models are happening. Look around.

    The business-model justification for [i]software libre[/i] isn't dependent on Microsoft, it's basic economics: reduced transaction costs in a system make it more efficient and ultimately a better value proposition.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Great post!

      If I might...does this mean there is nothing Microsoft can do?
      • Overstatement

        [i]If I might...does this mean there is nothing Microsoft can do?[/i]

        Of course there are [u]lots[/u] of things Microsoft can do. Some of them are even legal, and a lot of the others are in the Netscape category. Beyond that, they have so much money that (as John Carroll pointed out) they could build large office buildings out of currency. Look at Control Data: they left computers and went into financial services.

        Beyond that, they obviously could take the "that was a good game while it lasted, let's change the rules" approach without leaving computing. For instance, they could undoubtedly out-Red Hat Red Hat if they seriously went at it. For that matter, they could probably keep a lot of their current [u]product[/u] strategy, less piracy control, and go to a give-it-away-and-sell-services business. They're halfway there in some areas now.

        Their biggest problem isn't a lack of strategic options, it's that they're the ultimate victims of the Innovator's Dilemma: anything that they do from now on has to avoid disrupting their current cash cows. Even if, like SCOX, their cash cow is on a long slow CFIT they still have to protect it.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
      • Lot's MS can do.

        I have said it all along, MS has some talented developers. The problem till now (and the last couple of years) was the marketing management goals contradict the goals of software developers.

        1) Make it fast
        2) Make it proprietary, and change things for the sake of change.
        3) Make each applications so that it is merged with underlying layers so that the entire package must be bought

        The above worked, but led to software that is not great, but only as good as the above constraints allow. With the advent of Open Source, the above is turned on it's ear because quality is the new driving factor, and complete lock in is fading fast as a business model.

        So, when MS competes on merit, capacity, quality, time to market, MS's offerings will get better. The downside is, in a open ecosystem, the confusing and expensive licensing model will itself have to die. Prices will come down, quality will go up, consumers will bennefit, but in the long run, MS will be a regular player (maybe a big one) in the computing world, and no longer dictates the way the world computes.

        • Correction

          Change "1) Make it fast" to "1) Build it as fast as possible"

          I didn't mean to imply build it lean and so that it runs fast.

  • RE: How big a threat is good Microsoft?

    It depends on what you mean by "open". If you let Microsoft define it, they already are. If you define it by truly open standards and open code as set by such examples as tcp/ip, smtp, html, pdf and odf, all of which have multiple, freely available implementations, then MS has a long way to go.

    A good Microsoft defined by Microsoft's definition of "open" would still be a nuisance, but free software is more of a threat to Microsoft than the other way around, in my opinion.

    A good Microsoft defined by truly open protocols and formats, that can be successfully implemented by GPL licensed projects on competing platforms as well as proprietary competitors would be welcomed as a good citizen on a level playing field.
    • It does depend on what you mean...

      But I don't think it's entirely based on what Microsoft means. It's what the market means, what the market will accept.

      How much openness is the market really demanding? Free beer good, but how much does the mass market really care at this point whether or not they can see and work with a vendor's code?

      That's where the rubber really meets the road.
      • How much does "closed" cost?

        [i]How much openness is the market really demanding? Free beer good, but how much does the mass market really care at this point whether or not they can see and work with a vendor's code?[/i]

        Well, ask yourself this: how much did closed code (e.g. for device drivers) cost Microsoft over the last year? Read t[url=]MS Execs' own words[/url] on the subject.

        Joe Six-Pack doesn't care, but "open" certainly affects the companies that make things that he [u]does[/u] care about.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
  • I have been say for some time they should go cross platform with .Net

    I have been say for some time they should go cross platform with .Net. What I find puzzling, even frustrating is the way they can dance around "openness", yet still not really deliver.

    The .Net framework and eco-system is an extremely interesting development platform. The key parts, CLR, BCL and C# are even ISO standards. Yet not all of it is, and there is lingereing patent concerns. At the very least they should eleminate these concerns.

    But Microsoft should make the effect to get .Net running credibly on other platforms. Again, they have agreements with Novell, where Mono is, and they help out with Moonlight (yes, it suited them to do it), why not send a few of the .Net team on secondment to Mono and get that up to speed?

    They have open source projects bringing Python and Ruby and indeed general dynamic langauge support to .Net. Why, because these languages have developer attention and they want to provide these on Windows too. Not only that, they want to provide them BETTER on Windows than elsewhere. I beleive IronPython is the fastest implementation of Python for example.

    A valid critisim of .Net is that its essentially Windows only. If they get rid of that concern, maybe more people will explore it for its technical merits. And if the best place to run .Net apps in on Windows Server, but customers dont feel locked in, that's got to be good for Microsoft.

    Developer attention is vastly important, and .Net is extremely interesting technology. It could and should be one of Microsoft's most power tools is gain business. The .Net team seems geninuely interested in transparency, but they never quite nail like you wish they would. If on the 21 Feb they had declared they intention to take .Net to other platforms, that would really have been something.
    • Check out:
  • "Good" MS

    All this ABMer has ever really wanted from MS is for them to compete on the merits of their software, instead of by disadvantaging the competition. I suspect that's true of many others. If MS drops the monopoly maintainance tactics (all of them), then the software consumer will have won, regardless of what the future holds in store for either open source or proprietary software.

    A more open MS would likely lead to a revitalized proprietary software industry (after all, it's the proprietary developers that have been MS' primary victims, leaving a vacuum for free developers to fill), but free software (by whatever name) is now too well established to be threatened by competition alone (there's just too much good quality free software out there). This is likely why MS has relied on legal threats and taxation efforts to protect their business model.

    I have no fears for free software in a truly free market. It will hold its own.
    John L. Ries
    • "Good" MicroShaft? Surely You Jest!

      You may as well expect hyenas to stop preying on babies - or Bush Rethuglicans to actually behave in a moral, ethical and Constitutional manner.
      • Repentence is almost always possible...

        ...but not necessarily likely.

        I don't expect MS to change its abusive ways without force, but we're dealing with hypotheticals in this article.
        John L. Ries
  • What is the OBSESSION?

    I see most of this chatter as OBSESSIVE (sp?) - One continuous whine after another. Look, Microsoft exists, opinions are great and even Governmental controls (US & EU) - - but Microsoft is what it is. You folks chattering, whining and bitch aint gonna change anything - - guess it's your opinion - - no one really give a hoot though......
    • Don't have to read it

      For better or worse, what MS does has a major impact on the rest of the industry, which makes it a legitimate topic of discussion. I would like it if it were not the case, but that's going to take quite a few years.

      If it's not important to you, you can save time and skip the discussion.
      John L. Ries
    • It gives some of them momentum

      to do something on their own, for themselves, and have somebody whine about their efforts to or at them but to a lesser degree, . . . others, it's their job, and some, it's their UFO, their bigfoot, their chase or heart attack.
  • With their stockpile of money and entrenched systems

    they could upend legally the apple carts of competitors that have totted being 'different' for years but don't have the ad savvy to dispel the lie or truth of a good Microsoft, nor go they branch into lateral markets if MS divests enough IP and business roots to slip through the rope that binds them as a monopoly, or at least one with such high scrutiny. If they turn their cash cows into good will marks and take over less turbulent markets (finance, small business seeding, gaming, hardware mfr), they might IBM their way into being 'good' Microsoft and eat their competitors lunch without them being able to run to an EU or DOJ with impunity. Highly doubt it with Ballmer still onboard, big baby that he is. MS could have made progressive change minus Ballmer and Bill a few years back. Still hasn't 'really' happened, . . . but how many percentage points has marketshare tumbled for the company?
    • I think if they make a wrong move next

      that their advertising dollars isn't going to help stop the fightback.

      Perhaps they'll then use their buddies tactics to "unite against a common enemy".
  • We'll see how nice they are since OOXML apparently failed.

    Some of the quotes.

    Approve = 4
    Disapprove = 4
    Refuse to Vote = 2
    Abstain = 15

    Yes, 17 of the 25 members were so affronted at the bulk approval of 900 undiscussed comments they refused to take part.

    Literally, they only got through 20 discussion and votes, leaving ~900 undiscussed.

    OK, detest Groklaw

    [B] Ignore the fact that only c. 20 substitutions out of c. 900 substantive dispositions, were actually discussed[/B]

    Even adding in the "O" countries as allowed to vote, it didn't matter.

    Approve = 6
    Disapprove = 4
    Refuse to Vote = 4
    Abstain = 18

    there is no consensus, and even refusing to count the abstain/refuse to vote, 60% approve, not 2/3.

    When, finally, I suspect, the fast track process (which it never should have been) is dead as a doornail, you may see MS backtracking a LOT on it's openness as it claws back it's OOXML standard. i.e. they take their ball and go home.

    • Well...

      Assuming fast track fails, what MS does about it will say a lot about their motivation for backing OOXML. If they, as you say, "take their ball and go home", that would tell me that the standardization of OOXML was a tactical move and MS never had any real interest in making it an open standard. If, however, they do the long hard slog, address all of the concerns, and produce a truly open standard that anyone (with the appropriate knowledge, of course) can implement, I would take that as an indication that MS are in earnest.
      John L. Ries