Doom comes to Redmond
The handwriting is on the wall
One day Linux will overtake Windows as the operating system that
drives the majority of desktop and laptop PC's. Does that sound
crazy? Read on. You might end up agreeing with me.
A recent study showed that Apple/Mac operating systems made up
2% of the desktop OS market, while Linux owned 1.5% of that market.
That study only measured sales of boxed sets of Linux from store
shelves and shipments of computers with Linux already installed
at the point of sale. There is no way to measure how many copies
of Linux have been downloaded and installed on old machines that
weren't up to the hardware requirements of newly released proprietary
operating systems (recycling older computers). I have personally
installed Linux on five machines all from the same set of CD's.
Taking this into consideration, it is likely that Linux is the
2nd most commonly used desktop operating system. Five years ago
the number of Linux desktop boxes was statistically insignificant.
Five years ago one would have been hard-pressed to find Linux used
anywhere. It was strictly the OS of choice for true propeller heads
the world over. Today it owns a significant chunk of the web server
market - some studies showing 33%, other studies 60%. The actual
number is anyone's guess.
Linux is making inroads in data centers of major corporations around
the globe. IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems have all announced support
for Linux. Shell Oil, Sony, Boeing, Cisco Systems, DaimlerChrysler,
Industrial Lights & Magic, Home Depot, Kenwood, Nokia, the US
Census Bureau, Siemens and Texas Instruments all use Linux. Linux
can be used behind databases from Oracle, Sybase and IBM (not to
mention the open source databases MySQL & PostreSQL). It can
be used to run anything from a PDA
to a mainframe
computer and everything
Hemorrhaging red ink, municipal
governments, as well as the US
federal government are all looking into open source software
as a way to lower the cost of running a data center and keeping
a lid on spending and taxes, but that is nothing compared to
what is happening overseas. Some countries are even proposing
legislation mandating the use of open source when it's use is
appropriate on government computers.
Trends in the history of personal computing also point to an increase
in the use of Linux and open source software.
In the very early days of home computing consumers had a number
of options available to them. Eventually market forces narrowed
the home computer field down to two standards. Only IBM and Apple
had the weight to advance their technologies to the point where
other computer manufacturers were incapable of offering competitive
features. Competition between IBM and Apple was fierce. In the early
1980's IBM released it's grip on the architecture used in it's PC
line, allowing other manufacturers to build computers compatible
with the IBM PC. The machines built by other manufacturers were
known as "clones". The one component all of these clones
had in common was the use of Microsoft's DOS as the operating system.
IBM had approached Bill Gates to come up with an operating system
to run on it's PC line. Bill Gates purchased the rights to distribute
QDOS from software author Tim Paterson, of Seattle Computer Products,
and renamed the operating system MSDOS. Microsoft then licensed
it's use on IBM PC's but retained the right to sell the operating
system separately, as a boxed set. The number of computer manufacturers
increased dramatically as various electronics companies used the
open IBM standard to jump into the desktop computer market. Competition
between these PC clone makers drove the price of IBM-based computers
down, significantly undercutting the price Apple was getting for
their offerings. Microsoft experienced phenomenal growth, eventually
becoming the software giant that it is today. Microsoft essentially
"piggy-backed" it's way to dominance as a result of the
opening of the IBM PC architecture.
Apple refused to allow other manufacturers to make computers that
were based on Apple's architecture. In pursuing this course of action
Apple doomed itself to eventually become a marginal player in the
desktop market. In the mid-late 80's Apple was widely viewed as
possessing superior hardware and a superior operating system. By
1993 Apple accounted for 8.5% of the desktop market and today only
accounts for 2% of new operating systems sold, even though it's
operating system (OSX) is widely considered to be superior to PC's
offering Microsoft's Windows XP or Windows 2000.
The history of IBM vs. Apple is a good example of what happens
when consumers are presented with a choice of open standards which
might be of lesser quality vs. proprietary standards which are higher
quality, but also higher priced. It is not a question of which is
the best standard. Usually a consumer faced with an inexpensive
mediocre product vs. an expensive high quality product will choose
the inexpensive product so long as it meets his needs. It's a case
of the product being "good enough". In the case of Linux
vs. Microsoft operating systems it can be argued that a situation
exists where a superior free open standard system is competing against
an inferior expensive closed standard system, and the open standard
is less expensive.
When it comes to PC and server operating systems, currently Windows
is the established product. Linux is the upstart. Microsoft's server
and desktop operating systems are proprietary systems and must be
purchased and licensed in order for their use to be legal. Linux,
on the other hand, is open source software, can be downloaded freely
via the internet and has no licensing issues associated with it
aside from a requirement to freely share any modifications made
to Linux's source code should a manufacturer modify the code and
sell a product based on Linux's code. Given what has happened to
proprietary technologies in the past when faced with non-proprietary
products of comparable or even slightly lower quality, there is
every reason to believe that Linux/Open Source Software will eventually
displace Microsoft operating systems and applications as the industry
to Microsoft's own personnel, Linux is the most serious threat
to Microsoft's business model.
Another historical precedent to consider would be the competition
between Netscape's Communicator Suite and Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Mosaic, a web browser developed by the National Center for Supercomputing
Applications (NCSA) and the University of Indiana at Urbana-Champaign
in 1993, is credited with being the first graphical web browser.
Marc Andreesen, one of the primary developers in the Mosaic Project,
left NCSA in 1994 to help found Netscape Communication Corporation.
In 1994, Netscape released the Navigator web browser. By mid 1995,
Netscape Navigator was the most popular web browser on the planet,
by some accounts holding an 80% market share.
The rise in popularity of the internet is well documented, and
it can be argued that the internet would not have become as popular
as it did without a graphical browser that enabled users to "point
& click" their way through it.
Microsoft, realizing the enormous profit potential the internet
offered, set about making a browser of their own that would compete
with Navigator. Initially Microsoft's entry into the browser market,
Internet Explorer (IE) lagged in quality behind Navigator. Microsoft
and Netscape both raced to add features to their offerings. Netscape
sold Navigator bundled in with Communicator Suite, which also offered
an e-mail client, WYSIWYG web development software and an address
book for $50. Microsoft, in a strategic move, offered IE & Outlook
(Microsoft's e-mail client) for free. Microsoft was able to do this
only because they offset the R&D costs spent on Internet Explorer
with the enormous profits Microsoft reaped from it's operating systems.
Netscape countered by offering Communicator Suite for free and open
sourcing it's code. This code became the basis for the Mozilla
In another move to wrest control of the browser market from Netscape,
Microsoft threatened PC manufacturers with increased license fees
for the privilege of installing Microsoft Windows on their products
if they insisted on installing Navigator and placing a quick-launch
icon on the Windows 95 desktop. Given that PC makers all buy their
hardware components from the same pool of vendors, a PC maker faced
with an increase in the cost of Windows (the one common component
in all PC's) would not be able to compete with other PC manufacturers
without switching to another operating system (BeOS or OS/2). Those
operating systems, while capable, had already proved unpopular with
consumers in comparison to Microsoft's Windows 9x. A raise in the
per processor license fee for Microsoft Windows would have been
the death of any PC manufacturer given the competition in the hardware
Between the loss of revenues from software sales (and the subsequent
decline in the amount of money that Netscape could spend on research
and development), the lowered visibility of Navigator as PC makers
became unwilling to place a Navigator icon on the Windows 95 desktop
and Netscape's inability to keep pace with Internet Explorer's advances,
Netscape was almost driven out of business. Netscape was purchased
by AOL/Time Warner in 1998.
The browser wars of the 1990's are an example of Microsoft's tradition
of "embracing and extending" emerging technologies. Microsoft
has killed competition in many fields by offering comparable products
for free and bundling them in with their Windows operating system.
WYSIWYG web development platforms, photo manipulation software,
.mp3 players, video players, Office Suites all offer examples of
companies that suffered a reduction in revenues because of Microsoft's
competition. In the past Microsoft has either given away Microsoft
versions or offered competitive versions of an application at a
reduced price. Always the cost in developing the applications was
offset by the revenues generated by the Windows operating system
as a strategic move to enter and eventually dominate a segment of
the software market.
Microsoft has had the "embrace and extend" strategy turned
against it. Linux has developed into an operating system that offers
features competitive with Windows. Microsoft can't purchase the
rights to Linux or Open Source Software because the license
under which they are distributed (the GPL) specifies that all modifications
to the source code must be released to the open source community
without charge. The GPL also specifies that open source software
can be installed on any machine without a license fee being charged.
Microsoft can't undercut it's competition's price, as Linux can
be had for free. Microsoft is now faced with a competition that
offers technology considered in many circles to be superior to the
technology offered by Microsoft. There is no single entity that
Microsoft can outspend in R&D, as Linux is developed by coders
from all over the world in their spare time. Linux is a hobby writ
large. Marketing can help slow Microsoft's decline, but Linux has
received all it's growth strictly by word of mouth. There has been
no major Linux marketing push, yet Linux continues to make inroads
in the PC operating system market.
This is a very bad position for Microsoft to be in. It is essentially
the same position that Apple was in following the opening of the
IBM PC architecture and the rise of the "clone" PC.
In light of this I believe that Microsoft has already reached it's
zenith and is now in decline. In a recent
filing with the SEC Microsoft acknowledged that Linux and open
source software is impacting their market, and Microsoft might be
forced to lower it's software prices in an effort to shore up it's
market share. With 95% of the desktop operating system market in
it's pocket, Microsoft has nowhere to go but down. Granted, if Linux
ever exceeds Microsoft's share of the desktop and server markets,
Linux will never have the market share that Microsoft now enjoys
because Microsoft will always be a player in the operating system
market. However, there will be competition in that market.
Microsoft is looking at a decline in the same way that IBM looked
at their decline in the desktop PC market in the 1980's. Rather
than being the IBM of the early 80's, Microsoft will be akin to
the modern day Dell - a competitor in a particular field. Barring
an unforeseen event Microsoft will suffer the same fate at the hands
of Linux and the open source community that Netscape suffered at
the hands of Microsoft, albeit on a smaller scale. How much of a
decline Microsoft suffers is open for debate. I personally believe
that Microsoft will eventually will wind up with less than 50% of
the desktop market in the US. It may suffer greater reductions overseas.
Competition is a good thing.
Do you think I'm full of crap? Why not e-mail
me and let me know?
SkippyTheTubRat is a geek, and he needs a life.