Opinion

Thought for the day:Look out! The Penguin's got a gun

Are Microsoft's attempts to understand the Linux phenomenon too little too late? asks Simon Moores.

Whether by accident or design, it very much looks as if Microsoft, in its attempts to find a more intelligent way of dealing with the threat that Linux poses to its server revenues, is now reacting differently to The War of the Flea I described in an earlier column.

Large American corporations frequently represent a cultural reflection of US foreign policy where unwelcome competition is involved.

Where the British dither and the French may use clandestine finesse and well-placed explosives, our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic have an emotional attachment to the B52 bomber - big, noisy, unsubtle and completely useless when it comes to dealing with today's expanding "Zapatista" protest culture of which Linux is, increasingly, a part.

You see, if Che Guevara were around today, he'd probably be wearing combat trousers and a T-shirt with a cigar-smoking, machine-gun toting Penguin on it. Linux has become a popular icon that represents everything which Microsoft isn't. Whether the technology Linux offers is better or worse than anything that Microsoft can sell us is immaterial to an army of partisan developers.

After all, whatever Linux can't do for you this year, collaboration and a common purpose will allow the people's programmers to make work next year.

At last, Microsoft is beginning to comprehend that it's not fighting the equivalent of a large tank battle purely around a question of technology preference.

Mirroring the political situation which surrounds us today, Microsoft is fighting an ideological war for which it is not well equipped and which ultimately could prove more dangerous to its revenues than the creeping risk of a second "Axis of Evil" - Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems - promoting the benefits of Linux to their enterprise customers.

So, this week, I read that Microsoft is dropping its special forces into a stand at the big LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in New York in an effort to reach out to the people that matter, the programmers and Unix enthusiasts, and convince them that when the time comes to migrate, Windows on Intel is a better decision than Linux on the same platform.

The billion-dollar question is whether this kind of activity is too little too late? Microsoft has had a good three years of trying to settle the Linux argument with a baseball bat. In that time, it has been responsible for the creation of the Linux "sub-culture" that could prove to be its undoing.

I'm seeing signs that, at last, the company is starting to understand the true shape of the Linux phenomenon and is attempting to define a new strategy, one capable of addressing both the technical and ideological arguments that it must win if it's to be the dominant player in tomorrow's enterprise.

But, while Microsoft, with its back to the wall, decides its next move, I would argue that in a no-man's land between technology and ideology, the company is still firmly pinned by horns of the dilemma that Linux represents.

But one final point before people start predicting the inevitable victory of open-source computing over the powers of reactionary capitalism. In real life, Che was a revolutionary failure and the legend was far greater than the man!

What's your view?
Has Microsoft left it too late with Linux? Tell us in an e-mail >> CW360.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.

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This was first published in February 2003

 

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