The #NewsGarden web site will now include columns submitted by various channel members.

Anyone who wishes to become a columnist or submit a column or a response please contact Alllie. (No personal attacks on channel members allowed.)


Chatters Page
Contact Us
Food 4 Thought
(Chatter Recipes)
Friday Night Quiz
The Garden Party
Java Chat
911: Looking Back
Media Links
Newsgarden Compost
Off Center
The Poet's Garden
Server List
Techie Tips
What's new
Words of the Wise

Search the Site

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 in between.

Hemorrhaging red ink, municipal and state 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.

Consider this:

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 standard. According 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 Project.

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 market.

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.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Return to Top