Over at the Monday Note blog, former Apple/Be maven Jean-Louis Gassée poses a rhetorical question to Microsoft: How do you compete with free? But it's not just "free" that Microsoft's competing with here, and it's not "open," either. It's "agile."
Agility's a buzzword, to be sure, but it's one that's coming up again and again to smack Microsoft in the face. The Windows legacy -- or maybe I should say, legacy Windows -- is both its biggest accomplishment and its greatest hindrance.
It's not just because of the technical limitations of Windows itself, but because Windows is the biggest embodiment of Microsoft's typical way of doing things. It builds a platform, charges entry fees for it, and makes ominous noises about what happens when you don't come around to its way of thinking. (Not as much as it used to, thankfully, but old habits die hard.)
Now along comes the competition in the form of open source -- not just free and open, but far more flexible by dint of not being compulsively hidebound. Once upon a time, Microsoft was in the position to demand that anything that runs Windows be of a certain hardware spec or better, but today there's no reason the same functionalities can't be available for less -- e.g., XP on netbooks because Vista's too top-heavy for that environment and Windows Mobile isn't nearly enough.
So what happens now? Barring going open source itself -- a logistical and fiscal impossibility right now -- Microsoft can pick one of a couple of ways to avoid being completely nibbled to death: