15 January 2006

Meet the Gandhi of the OS wars

Microsoft-dependent Redmond Magazine has published an article on how to “win” something called “the Linux wars”. Here’s my response:

It’s going to do your readership no end of harm to hit the field thinking that they’re armed when they’re not.

Your “Winning the Linux Wars” article is typical of the misfiring arms that the troops from Redmond have had to deploy with. To cherry-pick a couple of examples:

  • You take two unsupported opinions from salesmen whose companies absolutely rely upon Microsoft products for their living, and treat those as meaningful data points;

  • The “independent analyst white papers” to which Marshall refer are nothing of the sort, and your people will be left looking like idiots when the customer points this out;

  • Beamer’s opinion “I know what my tool set looks like. With a Linux tool set, there are some dark areas out there” is nothing but FUD-casting; your Linux opponents will know what their tool set looks like and what your tool set looks like, and you’ll come across as ignorant;

  • Henson’s opinion “customers need in-house IT resources to maintain a Linux environment” is also disingenious in that both Linux and MS-Windows require IT resources, but Linux requires far less of them;

  • His opinion that “there’s no guarantee that even a specialist fully understands a particular company’s exact flavor of Linux” similarly misses the point from the customer’s perspective, as a typical MS-Windows solution will require black-box software which the typical Microsoft specialist not only won’t “fully understand” but has no tools for readily analysing; the Linux counterpart will typically come with source;

  • Hollinger’s statement that “There’s no long-term vision” misfires on at least two levels; first off, if you want to depend upon someone else’s long-term vision, buy your Linux from someone like Novell or Red Hat; second off, Linux has the advantage of marching to the tune of the people who use it, not the people who sell it;

  • The only performance shoot-outs I’ve not seen Linux win handily are the ones carefully shepherded and tweaked (albeit sometimes by remote control) by Microsoft themselves; where details of these have gone public, the FOSS people have addressed the bottleneck and parmanently reversed the results — sometimes within hours — and despite everything that the biggest software company in the world can do in exchange; in general and on identical hardware, Linux pounds MS-Windows into the sand;

  • Microsoft may well invest “north of $6 billion a year on R&D” but a significant portion of that research goes into finding and implementing more effective methods for locking in and controlling their own customers (and to a lesser extent their ISVs) — or in other words, a big slice of their war budget goes into fighting their own customers and allies, which is the exact opposite of providing customer value with it;

The last point above typifies a key difference between Microsoft and Open Source solutions: Microsoft is continually fighting for and against their customers. It’s a war in which we are constantly urged to take sides.

Turning the other way, Open Source is the customers and at the lowest levels there are no sides — even the various Linux distributions (Mandriva, Ubuntu, Linspire, Debian, Slackware etc) willingly swap technology with one another — which in the end means that no matter how big an army of “independent” consultants, journalists and US Department of Trade* politicians Microsoft hires, Open Source advocates will always outnumber them, will always be able to go places that they can’t. There is no “sale” too small for FOSS to make.

Like Mohandas Gandhi and “making salt”, Open Source as exemplified by Linux will not “win” the marketing war, we will simply make it irrelevant. Microsoft can win as many “battles” as it pleases, but it cannot win the war, which is something it needs to do to survive.

The missile icon accompanying your story is rust-coloured, and that's singularly appropriate: where do you deploy a missile if your “enemy” is everyone? Microsoft’s weapons rust for lack of a real target.

Microsoft can fight corporations, but it can’t fight progress, and that’s what it’s trying to do. This is a flawed analogy, but think of it as “evolution in action”, ubiquitous hordes of small furry mammals swarming over the bones of a large, centralised, cold-blooded hard-to-control dinosaur.

Bets on seeing a response? Or am I too small to aim a cruise missile at?

* Ironies abound; US-DoT is now internally advocating Open Source after having intervened heavy-handedly in Peru in a futile attempt to block Open Source adoption there.

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