What would a Microsoft fade mean for open source?

Open source may be software's way out of Moore's Second Law.

ABC News has a feature up this morning asking, "What's Wrong with Microsoft?"

A litany of woes are presented. Legal problems. Succession problems. Financial problems.

Personally I don't think things are that bad. Other tech giants, like Cisco and Intel, aren't doing well in the markets these days either.

But let's assume for a moment things are that bad. What would that mean for open source?

Microsoft has played the part of open source bogeyman for years now, just as IBM played that role for Microsoft in its early years. Part of Bill Gates' genius was to focus on a single enemy at a time, and stay paranoid about that enemy and ts counter-moves. The company's stock problems really began when he ran out of enemies.

Could this happen to open source?

Again, I don't think so. Open source is not a company, or a movement. It's a new way of doing business, in which many big companies can compete, can even make money, but where there's a true "sell-by" date on software innovation, a commodity point at which its value (and price) starts plunging.

I like to think of it as Moore's Law of Software, and in fact it's related to Moore's Second Law. Just as the cost of starting production rises exponentially as chips get more complex, so the cost of developing and maintaining software rises with complexity.

In hardware, this means the number of companies which can afford a fabrication plant or "fab" declines. In software it means that fewer-and-fewer companies can compete in important niches as software grows more complex.

But in hardware there is a way out, the "fab-less" semiconductor company. Firms like nVidia don't own their own plants. They farm out production to companies that do.

Open source may be software's way out of Moore's Second Law. And that law will continue to bite every remaining competitor in the proprietary realm, including Microsoft.