Microsoft's fight between security and open source continues, but will it win the vital battle of winning public support, asks Simon Moores.
With what is possibly an indirect poke at Microsoft, through encouraging the spread of open-source software, researchers at three French government-funded research organisations have revealed a new licence they say is compatible with the Free Software Foundation’s GNU General Public Licence (GPL).
A report from IDC last week suggests that Western European business has now accepted open-source computing and Linux into the mainstream consciousness and that the European public sector, very much encouraged by IBM, will spend close to €100m (£67m) on services to support their Linux systems this year and as much as €220m by 2008.
Although this is still a relatively tiny percentage of the overall software market, when compared with Microsoft’s dominance of both the desktop and the server platforms, interest in Linux continues to grow rapidly and at Microsoft’s expense.
One Italian PC dealer, Questar has broken ranks with the manufacturer and has reportedly begun selling Dell desktops loaded with Linspire 4.5, a version of Linux, and a copy of OpenOffice. The basic Questar computer, with a 2.4GHz Celeron processor, is available for about €600.
The size and interconnected nature of the public sector, through the European Union, is increasingly presenting a market challenge to Microsoft.
When I attended an EU conference in Greece three years ago, Microsoft’s pricing was, at the time, described as "unsustainable" by the Greek secretary general for industry. Since then I’ve been predicting that the cost-conscious nature of public sector procurement was likely to drive Linux growth at a steady pace if Microsoft failed to react quickly and positively to Europe’s total cost of ownership arguments.
Microsoft has now started to negotiate, of course, but from a position of weakness, rather than strength, stung by shifting opinion, a migration to open source by Munich and now threatened by the municipal governments of Rome and Paris.
While I’m not entirely convinced that such government-sponsored shifts towards open source may be as cost effective as the market and media opinion might wish, this is having the effect of driving down the costs of living in a Microsoft world and may bring cheaper computing to everyone, business, consumer and public sector in the longer term.
Faced then by an increasingly perceptible drift away from its products, Microsoft is attempting to respond and to convince customers that loyalty has its rewards.
Chief executive, Steve Ballmer has suggested that the company might introduce more tailored and specialised versions of its software to meet changing customer demands.
Taking a lesson from Murphy’s Law; "There is never enough time to do it right the first time, but there is always enough time to do it over," Ballmer said in a memo to mark to start of the financial year, that "We [Microsoft] must also work to change a number of customer perceptions, including the views that older versions of Office and Windows are good enough, and that Microsoft is not sufficiently focused on security."
Microsoft anticipates that the number of PC users worldwide will reach one billion by 2010, up from 600 million and led by growth in emerging markets.
Ballmer writes, "We are effectively using independent studies by Forrester Research, the Yankee Group, IDC, Giga, Bearing Point and many others to change perceptions of the advantages of Windows over Linux when it comes to total cost of ownership, functionality and productivity advantages, support and security. We need to do work like this in every business to get customers to recognise our work and appreciate it fully."
While the intention remains laudable and the evidence impressive, Microsoft continues to fight its war on two fronts, security and open source and while it may win isolated skirmishes, it is failing to win the vital battle for public opinion.
Weighed-down under the weight of its own success, Microsoft is slowly sinking and the market stands by, fascinated by the spectacle of a struggling giant and wondering how long it can continue to tread water.
Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit www.zentelligence.com
This was first published in July 2004