The arrogance of the OS majority

Become familiar with your alternatives as you are with your existing systems and applications. Migration issues are important, but sometimes when it makes sense to make changes despite those issues.

When overzealous proponents of some fringe operating systems rant about criticism of their favorite platforms, they hinder rational discussion. But supporters of mainstream platforms suffer from a different problem: arrogance and complacency.

Microsoft's operating systems run the majority of corporate desktops (and those of home users, for that matter). How did this happen? By a combination of useful software, savvy marketing, and predatory licensing practices that virtually forced computer hardware vendors to bundle Microsoft operating systems with their hardware.

Today, Windows' familiarity is probably its greatest virtue. Goodness knows, as an operating platform, Windows leaves a lot to be desired, especially in terms of stability, interoperability, and, in the case of 95/98/Me, security. But we've learned to work around many of its flaws, so we feel comfortable with Windows in spite of its problems.

Microsoft, of course, does all it can to protect its niche. One of its most powerful weapons is the pre-announcement. The company, often years in advance, announces a new product or a new version of an existing product, and tells how it will work. It then delays and delays, and when the final product comes out, many of the features originally planned are postponed until a later version, or simply disappear. Meanwhile, corporate purchasers delay committing to released software from competitors because they want to see what Microsoft will come up with, figuring that applications from the operating system vendor will be better integrated with Windows.

It's easy to get stuck in the rut of the familiar, but it's prudent to broaden your horizons.

Listen to the members of your organization who want to pilot new systems and applications. Give them the freedom, the resources, and some time to investigate whether new products would meet your business needs better than existing systems. Remember, someday you're going to have to upgrade, and if you haven't done your homework beforehand it's very easy to continue down the path you've always trod, sidestepping the familiar bumps and puddles.

I'm not trying to minimize the importance of migration issues. They're always going to be an issue when you choose to change applications or platforms. So is price. But there are times when it makes sense to make changes despite those issues.

If you're a CIO, don't let your IT department off easy. Reader Brian Larson, in an e-mail message he sent me about my previous column, expressed dismay about the many times "platform standardization decisions become decisions made to benefit the support system, not the user who needs to get the work done." Don't let that happen in your organization.

Make sure you're as familiar with your alternatives as you are with your existing systems and applications. Reader Mordechai Ovits observed, "Microsoft has inertia. Linux has momentum." I'm looking forward to seeing whether one is an immovable object or the other an irresistible force.

Is your organization stuck on Windows? Talk Back to me. Lee Schlesinger is executive editor of ZDNet's Business & Technology Channel.