Thought for the day: Can Gates halt the march of Linux?

Microsoft is starting to resemble the old Soviet Union in the face of the rise of a penguin-powered Perestroika, says Simon...

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Microsoft is starting to resemble the old Soviet Union in the face of the rise of a penguin-powered Perestroika, says Simon Moores.




Last year, I warned you that Linux would become a hot technology, which is normally a safe bet, as the temperature of the open-source market has been increasing quarter on quarter since 2000 and server revenues have grown by more than 50% year on year.

However, 2003 was the first year that Microsoft started to feel real pain from the growth of open-source computing and, although  Linux shipments remain modest in relative terms in contrast with Windows, the coming year will see an acceleration in the migration process from Windows NT and the remaining Netware base of around four million servers.

For very good reasons, Microsoft wishes the market to move rapidly towards a uniform Windows 2003 environment and for equally good reasons - many CIOs are worried by the cost implications of such a move.

After all, the Windows environment isn’t cheap and Microsoft licences represent a significant proportion of any company’s total cost of ownership by the time major server applications such as Exchange 2003, the Live Communication Server and the SharePoint Portal Server have been added in.

Pursuing the TCO theme, IBM, Novell, Oracle and others will be encouraging their customers along the open-source road. In the coming year, we should expect Linux to make real progress on the corporate desktop, driven by the commercial and competitive interests of Sun and Novell/SuSE.

With nations like Brazil, Thailand and Germany examing the Windows proposition very carefully and even rejecting it, Microsoft will need to quickly revaluate its defensive strategy against Linux and arrive at an argument, which accepts the increasing fact of co-existence and offers a compelling TCO and security answer to its critics.

The company may also have to review its licensing agreements and the double standards, which encourage the arrival of "special offers" for customers or continents showing public interest in Linux.

In a recent Comdex interview, Bill Gates, in answering a question on the growth of Linux, was quoted as saying, “Five years ago it would have been Windows versus OS/2. A few years before, it would have been Windows versus Macintosh. Before, maybe it would have been C/PM 86 and before that maybe CP/M 80. There has always been some challenger to the operating system. Linux - which is only a kernel - is not where the interesting stuff is going on nowadays”.

I’m sure Bill is right about the inevitability of competition, but I wonder if he’s experiencing a form of denial over Linux's growth. There has to be a limit on how much business is prepared to pay for "interesting stuff" and, if IBM and Sun and Oracle can deliver that same "stuff" to your desktop at a fraction of the cost of a Microsoft alternative, then that’s going to be pretty interesting to any finance director.

Visit PC World and you’ll see the population at large loves Microsoft software. More accurately, perhaps, they love software and they love it even more if it’s cheap and innovative. If it does the job, then they won’t worry so much whose logo is on the front of the box in future.

Some of us can still remember what having a real choice was really like. We had to make strategic decisions based on merit. Lotus 1-2-3, Excel, Supercalc, Word, WordPerfect, or AmiPro. Microsoft has made our lives easy for five years now by almost eliminating that decision-making process, but it’s competition and choice that really count in business and, perhaps, with the continued growth of Linux in 2004, we will see its return to this industry.

What do you think?

Should Microsoft worry about Linux long term?  Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

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

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