Linux Not Cause of Microsoft's Downfall
by Walter V. Koenning, OPINION/EDITORIAL section.
Our other related OP/ED postings include:
Microsoft's Approach May Isolate U.S. Permanently
Open Source VS Windows: Reality of a Better Paradigm
In the latest validation of the power and presence of Linux, a recent report disclosed that seven of the top ten super computers in the world now run Linux. To some, this represents the essence of how serious and formidable is the capability and challenge of Linux to Microsoft's reign on corporate computing. To others, the uniqueness of super computing raises questions whether it is even relevant in the context of the enterprise. No matter how you cut it, there is no doubt that Microsoft's Server OS is not in the running for supercomputer use.
Moreover, Microsoft continues to validate the benefit of UNIX OS variants by employing SUN Solaris and FreeBSD in several of its major infrastructures. Scaling matters and in the reality of mass scaling projects even Microsoft seems to shy away from using its own product in some very important initiatives.
Then there are those who quickly point out the overt presence of Linux in many enterprise contexts. Linux is used by companies including: Google.com, IBM, Novell, Amazon.com, Walmart, ILM, and the list goes on and on.
But does all this mean that Microsoft's powerful hold on the OS market is dramatically shrinking, or is it simply a validation that there is a gaping vacuum that Linux is filling?
To help understand why I think Microsoft is seeing a major downfall, we must take a look outward, overseas, and then inward, inside the very heart and guts of the company of companies.
First, an Outward Glimpse
Although extremely aggressive in its marketing and relationship initiatives in Asia, Microsoft is seeing diminishing returns. India's national government not only announced that OpenSource tools and projects would become defacto standard (resulting in a major cut in the Microsoft Office and Applications sales), it also validated the value of Linux as ever growing numbers of IT education schools move to Linux as a primary teaching tool. China has now also chosen its own manifest destiny by deploying major infrastructure initiatives using Linux, and opening the door for Linux as a primary OS. Two huge future markets for Microsoft cut off in their infancy. The reality is that this event is occurring in many other places around the world, in smaller, but still significant numbers. The national government of Brazil is well known for switching much of its computing systems over to Linux and OpenSource applications. Again and again, even here in the United States we see small and large companies migrating key server needs to Linux.
All this to say, there is no doubt a rather overt trend away from Microsoft to Linux is occurring. The outward, global perspective is that Linux is gaining in adoption and often where Microsoft systems were employed. More importantly, the gains are not a derivative of effective marketing, a place where Microsoft continues to excel. Linux adoption is happening for some other reason. A reason fundamental to effective expansion that perhaps Microsoft forgot, and which I wish to describe in a moment.
Second, an Inward Glimpse
Next, we can also see a growing downward trend from an inward, introspective glimpse. Look into the heart of this large and capable corporation and you will see that where once its research and development, its marketing savvy and incredible sense of market timing existed, today there is often little more than rhetoric.
Chairman Bill Gates, in a recent interview, compared Linux and Open Source licensing and use as "communist."
The statement is difficult to understand coming from someone so adept at quality messaging. Apparently we as technologists should accept that the use of an operating system and its licensing is somehow correlated with supporting the theories of Karl Marx and Engels on the subject of economic structure (communism at its sources). Obviously, using an OS has very little to do with being a supporter of Karl Marx and far more overtly to do with choosing what deploys, operates, and scales best.
That's why it's so difficult to understand how such a statement is made by a leader that once stood strong against some of the world's leading competitors. Microsoft and Bill Gates have a fine record for addressing competitive challenges. Why stoop so low as to devise convoluted rhetorical pleas? Why now abandon the systems, research, marketing initiatives that so effectively gave Microsoft the edge in years past?
Were this rhetoric incidental and isolated, one could argue against it being a signifier of something deeper, something within the heart of Microsoft itself. But even Microsoft CEO, Ballmer made such an error when he warned Asian leaders about the potential for patent lawsuits if they use Linux. The implication obviously being readily understood by many of these leaders as a rhetorical statement to invoke fear.
Rhetoric now supersedes much of what comes forth. When this happens in the context of a company fighting against an ever growing competitor, like Linux, many begin to speculate that the competitor is both the cause and the winner. I disagree. In the rhetoric itself, combined with the growing market shift to Linux and OpenSource, can be seen a far more serious reason for Microsoft's gradual downfall. Microsoft itself.
This can be attributed to many things. I believe the key reasons are:
loss of understanding of their true end users,
and loss of focus on quality over quantity (output).
Even Microsoft validated this by recently making significant changes to some of its OS software development cycles.
We live now in a world where increasingly large computer corporations separate themselves from their end users, their bread-and-butter. Between them and their real customers are OEM relationships, government acquisition agents, and wall after wall of corporate structures. Where these don't exist, what they get is a wall of certified professionals that often subdue the voice of their true customers: average joe user.
For instance, it's hard for me to understand how some of the GUI (graphical interface) design decisions for the latest Microsoft products were made. As one of the leading and popular Linux desktop GUIs, the KDE Desktop proves you can be both flexible and easily understood, you can find balance between beauty and function. What happened to this balance, even at the interface?
The further you grow away from your end users, the more likely it is that one day you are so distant that the only voices you hear are your own.
Next, even if you could somehow reconcile this terrible separation, most companies err even worse with regards to quality over quantity. In recent years, output of software releases and project schedules were dictated almost exclusively by the arbitrary elements of marketing. I state "arbitrary" because no one has yet proven to me that over the long run, giving up quality for quantity (output performance) is a better choice.
So, as my headline states, I believe that Microsoft is seeing a gradual downfall. But this downfall stems much more directly from a failure to retain roots in the end user base, and from a decade of placing quantity over quality in product development.
Linux and OpenSource initiatives of today may very well encounter precisely the same decline if we do not conscientiously try to protect from these same two elements.
By focusing on the end user, understanding that projects exist for people, rather than people for projects, and by ensuring release cycles are never driven by short-term promises but rather emphasize quality, this will not happen to Open Source initiatives. And indeed Linux will run far more than just the top four super computers in the world.
Walter V. Koenning is a technology writer and provides insights regarding IT and computer industry trends. He contributes regularly to the OPINION/EDITORIAL segments on Reallylinux.com.
This brief opinion piece should not be construed as factual information, and only contains the opinions and personal experiences of the author at the time of publication. Reallylinux.com could not find information in this article that at the time of publication was inaccurate. However, the opinions and personal experiences that have been posted do not express the opinions of Reallylinux.com and are not endorsed in any way. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. IBM, PC-DOS, and OS/2 are the registered trademarks or trademarks of International Business Machines. Microsoft, Microsoft Windows are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation both in the United States and Internationally. All other trademarks or registered trademarks in this opinion piece belong to their respective owners.