Linux Can’t Kill Windows

April 21st, 2005

What follows is something I wrote on my personal blog. But after posting it, I realized it may be more appropriate for E Minor.


So Krishna thinks that this chap Ian makes very valid points when he says ‘Linux can’t kill Windows.’ I couldn’t disagree more. Not with the can’t kill part but with the valid points part.

I am going to quote liberally from Ian’s post but I suggest you read it first in its entirety ‘cos if you do that, I suspect you’ll agree with me in disagreeing with Ian and Krishna without having to read what follows.

Operating systems are this centuries (sic) infrastructure. It’s simply too inefficient to have multiple choices in this area, the world naturally gravitates towards a monopoly.

Infrastructure implies monopoly? Telecommunication, transportation and banking. All infrastructure industries where I see healthy cut-throat competition.

You wouldn’t want there to be 5 bridges right next to each other going over a river or 4 train lines right next to each other going from the same place to the same place.

But I could ask PowerBuilders to build a bridge on this part of the river and BuildOMatics to build one on another part of the river and still expect that traffic will be able to ply on these bridges and the connecting roads reliably, no? Operating Systems are infrastructure.

Businesses aren’t going to pay for training and support of multiple operating systems in their organizations and it’s all about business.

No, but my business can use Linux and yours can use Windows and ensure they work together based on standards, right? Just like phones and banks? Operating Systems are really infrastructure!

Let’s say Red Hat takes off and all the sudden they become what is on every users desktop in every organization in the country. What have the businesses accomplished? They’ve traded in one monopoly for another. You don’t think Red Hat would start charging like they were a monopoly? I do.

It’s very unlikely we’ll see a Redhat or any other Linux based monopoly emerge. The GPL ensures that. (Linux geeks: cf. RHEL and CentOS.) Further, this again assumes that a monopoly is the only viable option.

So why should businesses take that risky path of swapping out one OS for another which may only be slightly better?

Businesses take calculated risks. No one is asking companies to throw out their existing systems to install Linux. It’s for them to evaluate their requirements, calculate costs (including risk associated costs), map out the future and then decide if making a switch to Linux makes business sense.

Agreed that changing infrastructural elements carries higher risks. Nevertheless, an agile company will make even fundamental changes if it means more profits and a better future outlook.

Until there is something to compete with Office nobody is going to switch out of MS products. There’s simply too much productivity on the line to mess with switching to another Office like solution. By the way Open Office and the like are not the answer. MS has 40 BILLION dollars sitting around. You’re not ever going to catch them in the business software market by trying to copy them. The only thing that can unseat Office is a revolutionary new product, like the Spreadsheet was 20 years ago.

Why aren’t OpenOffice and the like unlikely to partake a chunk of the business productivity software marketshare? If I find a new solution that delivers identical functionality at a fraction of the current solution’s cost, I’d be crazy not to switch! So delivering required functionality is a viable way to gain market share.

And the current thinking in office apps is approaching a dead-end, something Microsoft’s billions haven’t been able to fix. Companies are happy with their Office 97/XP investments and see no reason to upgrade to Office 2003 and beyond. They already have all the functionality they need from the current set of productivity tools. So if OpenOffice can deliver that functionality, it gets that market!

Of course, if a revolutionary idea comes along, then it’ll be easier to dent Office’s monopoly. Doesn’t mean the current approach is unlikely to yield any results!

The whole idea is that Operating Systems and other basic software are becoming infrastructure, something Ian so rightly gets. But with the emergence of an infrastructure come standards and interoperability. So you get an ecosystem of competitive entities, not a monopoly.

Now going back to the can’t kill part; I believe ten years later we won’t even be talking about operating systems since they’ll be, well, infrastructure. :-)

Instead, someone will be writing ‘Google can’t kill Microsoft’ and I’ll be refuting that. ;-)