January 13, 2009
With all of what's currently going in the open source community, Microsoft faces some challenges to its
operating system, the most visible of which is the Internet, where Google is working on relandscaping the computing
industry and trying hard to redirect it towards the Web browser.
If Google achieves that feat, it will effectively turn away computing as we know it today from Windows
or any other particular operating system to its own data centers. The rest will be history, especially when
the Windows operating system is concerned.
Will that kill Microsoft? No, not really, although it will make a dent in its earnings...
Over the past three to four years, the ongoing shift toward the Internet and Google has actually buoyed Microsoft's
smaller rivals, including Apple and various Linux distributions.
Google's operating system's strategy is the idea that
what's good for the Internet is actually good for Google, and the company puts this philosophy into practice
through a range of various initiatives aimed at expanding the Web, including investments in ventures such as
Meraki and Clearwire.
Going back to Microsoft and its own platform supremacy, it's now clear that what's good for Windows is good
for Microsoft... Probably the best move Microsoft could make to broaden its reach and strengthen the core
of its Windows operating system would be to release its operating system as open source! But of course that
is easier said than done.
Releasing Windows under an open-source license would greatly benefit the OS in two ways. First, an open-source
Windows operating system could be had for free, which would mean more legitimate Windows users around the world
and fewer barriers in upgrading to the latest version of the OS.
The end result would be a larger network of Windows nodes at which system integrators could target sales
of their Windows applications.
Secondly, a move to open-source Windows would inject an enormous amount of vitality and innovation into
the platform, as the legions of user organizations, vendors and developers now invested in Windows could take
the platform to the next level, a bit like a much smaller community of stakeholders now does in the Linux
But if Windows could be had for free, how would Microsoft make its money you might ask?
Nobody is suggesting that Microsoft open-source all of what it calls Windows. Instead, the software giant
could divide its OS into application elements, restrict its open-sourcing efforts to the operating system
side of the equation, and then sell client and server distributions of Windows with proprietary Microsoft
applications layered on top of the open-source platform.
This sort of division of tasks would help preserve existing Windows sales among customers who find value
in Windows' current platform-plus-bundled-applications incarnations, while still freeing Windows to work
with different business models that only Linux can now reach.
Currently, you can still build and run a whole business on Windows, but there's a limit to the range of
companies where Windows fits best. The smallest startups and the very largest operations are driven to select
the low-friction licensing and development flexibility of open-source platforms, and on that, Linux still has
a very strong advantage over Windows.
But even if Microsoft would open source its Windows operating system, would that mean the end of the
software behemoth? Not by a long shot. The company would still continue to thrive, albeit at a slower pace.
It would certainly come up with alternative ways of maintaining its revenue stream, and would continue
to work in expanding it as it has done so well for so many years.