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Will open source become Microsoft's next victim?

By Richard Dlesk
November 13, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - So the Open Source Initiative (OSI) issued a press release, gloating, about success in having open source solutions taken seriously by the market (see story, "Open-Source Community Gloats Over Leaked Microsoft Memo").
OSI shouldn't be gloating, they should be very, very concerned. Why? Because it's evidence that Microsoft is taking open source quite seriously. Translation: The big, bad, Redmond cannon (money, talent, market share...) is being cranked around to take aim at this business threat.
Your best tactic against a bigger, stronger opponent is stealth. Competition is great, but it requires competitors to be serious, relentless, and ruthless. I don't see that in the open source "movement."
The significant press release about Microsoft this week was the court decision supporting, with minor change, the antitrust remedy. Other than legal costs and fines, can anyone state the material business impact this case had on Microsoft?
It took years, but once again the rap was beaten.
The only major battle Microsoft has lost so far has been with AOL. I really want Microsoft to get challenged and pushed. Note the rapid innovation and how business and consumers win when this happens. I'm tired of seeing promising companies and products fail due to arrogance and naivety.
Let's look at the real and major threats to success Microsoft has faced. My take is below; you construct the scenario that is unfolding for open source:

  1. 1982 -- IBM licenses DOS from Microsoft for first IBM PC. Microsoft response: Retains property rights to DOS creating IBM-DOS and MS-DOS. As non-IBM PC's dominate the marketplace, Microsoft is the dominant company with the only proprietary element.

  2. 1987 -- AT&T, Sun and a few others attempted to unify Unix. Microsoft response: None required. Effort failed as partners could not reach a common vision and see past their own self-interest. Microsoft had almost a decade more to develop a viable server solution.

  3. Late '80s -- To correct the DOS misstep, IBM develops OS2 and enlists Microsoft as a partner to build it. Microsoft response: Continues separate, internal development of Windows; keeps alliance intact with IBM until 1990 when version 3 of Windows was released. Is unwilling to scuttle Windows for OS2 and IBM partnership dissolves. OS2 fails in marketplace largely due to product quality. Windows captures the desktop from MS-DOS, continuing Microsoft's dominant PC position. Game over by 1992.

  4. Early '90s -- Lotus and Microsoft (and a few others) duke it out over PC applications. Microsoft response: Create a low-cost, decent-quality suite of applications based on the "new" Windows platform. Rivals don't match pricing, bundling, quality, and/or Windows support fast enough. Game over by 1994.

  5. Mid '90s -- Mass commercialization of the Internet. Netscape had dominant position in Internet browser market Netscape believed they were the future. Microsoft response: Gates comes back from his "retreat" and reorients company to the Net. In weeks, products with Internet capability hit the shelves. IE staff grows from 20 to 120 in a few months and catches Netscape functionality within 18 months. Exploits the desktop position by integrating Windows and IE. Game over in 24 months, but Microsoft is forced to deal with DOJ for several years. Netscape couldn't make their business model work.

  6. Early '00s -- Open source movement grows with Linux as flagship. Microsoft response: ?
    History in the making.

Richard Dlesk is a principal at Lenape Associates, a technology management consulting firm in Chapel Hill, N.C. You can reach him at rich.dlesk@pobox.com.

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