Linux vs Microsoft, 2006, By Tim Allix
Linux vs. Microsoft – is this a legitimate contest? Will Microsoft remain a mighty empire forever? It’s not easy to predict the future of software development; nobody in the seventies could have predicted the rise and dominance of Microsoft Corporation and the emergence of Bill Gates as the world’s wealthiest man – not even Gates himself – but that’s a topic for another column.
Microsoft has been successful because of its commitment to “software for the people”, and Gates’ fervent commitment to remain un-tied to a single hardware vendor (originally IBM wanted exclusive rights to MS-DOS). It has gone to great efforts to make software easy and friendly to use, but that required a vast infrastructure of programming and development staff, which costs a lot of money, and the price of Microsoft software is thus reflected. It is really no different from any other industry – money is spent on resources to produce a finished product, and the finished product’s price is set so that the company will be profitable. Microsoft has been very successful at this. What other brand of any household product can you think of that has been accepted by 90% of the world? For comparison, it would be like 90% of the world deciding they wanted to drive Chevrolets. If that were the case, GM would not be experiencing its current financial hardship. GM has a lot of competition, but until recently, Microsoft has had virtually none. It’s historically very unusual for a consumer product to exhibit such domination, and it is my contention that Microsoft will face some very serious competition in the decade ahead, and that competition will come from Apple Computers and Linux.
How could Microsoft have predicted that its competition would arrive in the form of a product developed by a worldwide community of volunteers? Other challengers of Microsoft used the old business model – spend money on development, and then hope the world will buy it. Many have tried and failed. Canadian software company Corel is a good example of this, the company tried for many years to topple Microsoft’s Office suite dominance, but Corel has only ever achieved a minor market share, despite being priced at a fraction of the price of Microsoft Office.
The fact that Linux is free and open source is what makes it so markedly different from any other type of software. The code is open for anybody (who has an internet connection) to hack, and consequently development is very rapid. With Linux, version releases come every few weeks or months, as opposed to years as with Microsoft. Anybody can test the new releases, so the world-wide Beta testing community is enormous. Bugs are reported, and fixed, quickly. This is a radical departure from traditional software development, and I believe we are perched at the dawn of this development model. As India and China continue to gather momentum as developing industrial countries, future generations of programmers who would never have had the opportunity to write code for the likes of Microsoft, will now be able to participate in this rapidly-growing community of programming volunteers.
I very much doubt that Microsoft will ever collapse into non-existence, but I am certain that the Linux phenomenon is the brightest spot on their radar screen. If nothing else, I predict that as free software becomes more and more prevalent, Microsoft will be forced to review its software pricing strategies.