Thought for the day: Open source, open season

Microsoft appears to be a victim of its own success, says Simon Moores. Why else would it be the target of virus writers and the...

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Microsoft appears to be a victim of its own success, says Simon Moores. Why else would it be the target of virus writers and the open-source community?




August may be a month that Microsoft would rather forget. Now September is shaping up for a whole host of different problems.

Microsoft remains uncomfortably trapped between a rock and a hard place as it seeks to deliver credible arguments to support the investment it has made in Trustworthy Computing, and fight off the challenges from the Linux corner.

The company is expected to tout the results of a study it commissioned from Forrester Research any day now, which claims Windows and the .net platform is substantially cheaper than J2EE/Linux when it comes to application development, deployment and maintenance

Since Japan trade minister Takeo Hirunama raised security concerns over Microsoft's software at the ASEAN economics ministers' meeting, there is talk of Asia going its own way with a rival open-source operating system to Windows. Referring to the recent attacks on Windows software, Hiranuma remarked it would be useful to "pursue a new kind, a different kind, of software code".

In the US, The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) has urged The Department of Homeland Security to reconsider its decision to use Microsoft software on its desktop and server systems. It cites "major security failures" created by the vulnerabilities in Windows and some security specialists are now advocating direct regulation, in the form of legislation that makes software companies liable for damage caused by security flaws in their products.

"The government has, essentially, relied on the voluntary efforts of industry both to make less buggy software and make systems more resilient," said Michael Vatis, former director of the National Infrastructure Protection Center at the FBI. "What we're seeing is that those voluntary efforts are insufficient, and the repercussions are vast."

For a moment though, we need to add back a little perspective into the debate. Sun Microsystems reportedly had 20 security alerts in August and these included Linux. This news rather passed us by because an overwhelming number of us prefer to use Microsoft’s products, and Microsoft has become a victim of its own success in giving us what we asked for in off-the-shelf commodity software where consistency and ease of use was the primary attraction and security was an option.

There are two arguments at work here, and it is almost impossible to separate them in the overworked debate surrounding your choice of supplier or OS. Many of us might concede that a more "up front" and responsible Microsoft has made significant steps where product security is concerned, but the company’s broader efforts are being frustrated by society’s consistent failure to treat internet security seriously. Every time a new virus appears, another million or so unpatched lemmings follow it over the nearest cliff.

The public rightly expects bulletproof software, but it is not going to get it, and needs to understand that the responsibility for fighting viruses, worms and hackers works both ways. Microsoft, like Ford, can spend a few billion extra on safety enhancements but in a comparative sense, the superhighway is no safer than the road outside my house if I choose to ignore the dangers.

Over time, security will improve beyond all recognition and viruses may, one day, become a bad memory on any platform, but I doubt very much it will be this side of 2010.

Finally, we have the cost of ownership argument, which says that if enough countries back an alternative OS, then computing costs will drop dramatically and everyone in China or India will live happily ever after. This may be true, but we live in a global economy and  need to recognise that the world is now dominated by a handful of large IT companies split across an OS fault line and driven by a strong profit motive.

Much like searching for the best price for a cross-channel trip, the market will, in the end, find its own equilibrium and whether you choose the tunnel or the ferry, Linux or Windows, the prices may look remarkably similar.

What do you think?

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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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