Business & Finance
Commentary
11/1/2004
08:29 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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Ballmer's Linux Blind Spot

Is Microsoft's CEO blowing his chance to turn Open Source from a mortal threat into a major business opportunity?

And some of the analyst findings cited so assiduously by Ballmer in his letter can be open to some interpretation, according to my colleague John Foley: "A Yankee Group report is among the data showing Windows to be cheaper than Linux in some situations. But that's the catch, it's only in certain circumstances, such as when a company is already heavily invested in Microsoft software or has internal Windows expertise. In other cases, Linux is sometimes cheaper."

Maybe I'm all wet on this. Maybe some/many/most of you are moving away from heterogeneous environments and toward all-for-one commitments. Maybe it's insanity--or at least wobbly kneed socialism--for me to suggest that Microsoft should put its customers' interests ahead of the company's own competitive intensity. Maybe Linux really is nothing but a pimple on an elephant's keister and is managing to glom far more publicity than it deserves purely because the argument links it to Microsoft. But if that's the case, then why are HP and IBM and Dell increasingly committed to Linux? Why are those "thousands" of customers cited even by Steve Ballmer asking about open-source solutions and Linux? Why, indeed, would Steve Ballmer and Microsoft make such a big deal with this letter about Linux if they weren't feeling pressured by market forces to speak out and make a very public case?

A year ago in this space, I wrote an open letter to Microsoft about this same issue with Linux. At that time, I said, "The problem with this Linux thing, though, is that in the battle to marginalize, isolate, stigmatize and perhaps even cripple Linux, it's not going to be just Linux that bears the brunt of your assaults. Instead, it will be thousands of your customers who will also feel the nontrivial effects of that isolation and marginalization."

I wish I could say, "What a difference a year makes." But nothing about Microsoft's attitude regarding Linux has changed. For customers, that's a shame. And it could turn out to be an even bigger shame for Microsoft.


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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