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Microsoft faces a serious open-source press

By Oliver Rist
October 14, 2005 12:00 PM ET

InfoWorld - If there's one thing I learned from my recent sojourn into the depths of Microsoft Corp.'s future vision, it's that the concept and popularity of open-source software has shaken Redmond to its core. Much of this new vision is the direct result of how Linux and open-source have galvanized the company's management team. This is why Microsoft has upped the feature ante on so many systems at once: to overwhelm customers with new technologies you simply can't get from open-source.

The upside is obvious. Flash as much glitz and glamour at customers from as many angles as possible, then implement the same selling tradition that has worked in the past: Interlink the sexiest features so that they bridge product lines. One product wants another, which wants another, and so on. Customers not only spend more; they become inexorably tied to Windows.

Except it isn't working as well as it used to. The arrival of competitors -- quality competitors -- from the open-source sector has not only shaken Microsoft; it has also opened the eyes of an ever-broadening spectrum of third-party manufacturers, partners and end users. Hey, competition in a semi-free market. Love that.

And it's not just the smaller open-source organizations anymore, either, nor larger software competitors that harbor a jihad-esque hatred for Microsoft.

Last week, three hardware vendors stepped away from the Wintel alliance and began exploring other options. Dell announced its "open-source" PC, the E510n. This puppy ships with a fairly standard desktop feature set, but includes only a blank hard disk and a CD containing FreeDOS. The idea is that Penguin lovers can now go straight to installing their favorite distributions without having to wipe Windows first. HP announced that it would begin shipping its PCs with the Netscape 8 Web browser preinstalled. And Lenovo has decided to begin bundling StarOffice 8 with one of its ThinkPad models.

Naturally, there are caveats to all these announcements. For one, the folks at The Register reported trying to buy a Dell "open-source" PC only to find that based on a standard Web sales experience, the E510n wound up being slightly more expensive than a comparable Dell with Windows XP. Whoops. Dell customer service helped them around this issue, but the price difference still isn't all that compelling.

For its part, HP isn't offering Netscape 8 instead of Internet Explorer, but merely in addition to it. And one of the key features of Netscape 8 is the ability for users to dynamically switch between the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsing engines.

And finally, ThinkPad customers have long

Reprinted with permission from InfoWorld. Story copyright 2012 InfoWorld Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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