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Linux is a Godsend!

Why?

It's a mature operating system that has a reputation for being robust and resilient.

Has legions of devoted followers a number of which support it with an almost religious fanaticism.

Has been popularised in the media fervently.

It has become more than just an operating system but a momentous unstoppable force in the IT Industry. Linux has become a movement that represents a seemingly just and noble cause about the success of the underdog using the weapons of mutual cooperation and full-disclosure where the sharing of almost everything from ideas to code is performed freely for the benefit of all.

Developing an operating system these days is expensive and difficult. Once made there is still no guarantee that it will enjoy adoption and any success. This is especially true since Windows came to domination.

Windows did pose a difficult problem for competing software vendors that fought against Microsoft and that was having to deal with a hugely successful competitor in the same industry as themselves and in turn further helping the enemy to even more success by having to write versions of software to run on it because the market place was saturated with one operating system.

Linux became a god send because it meant that competing software vendors didn't have to use Microsoft infact there was the distinct possibility that a software vendor could indeed control it's own destiny completely as Linux has a perfectly acceptable vehicle that allowed Linux to be customised in a vendors image, branding the lot ... it's called a 'Distro'!

Linux allows software vendors freedom from Microsoft and has the killer god-send of being backed and promoted by one of the most powerful marketing terms of the modern age 'Open'. With a great clamber of people and groups with good intentions, hurrying to call themselves Open<something>.

The rather cynical amongst us have realised that Linux for all it's good intentions enjoys most of it's success with companies that primary purposes is, ironically identical to Microsoft, to return a profit to share-holders.

Now the OS war is in full swing with a convincing weapon, intentions turn to other Microsoft dominated markets, after all these markets are huge, so scoring any percentage points off Microsoft means serious money even if it Steve's company still has the lions-share. So the Office market has exploded with alternatives to the stalwarts of Word, Excel and Access, threatening to take on Powerpoint and even Outlook.

The tide turned for me with Ubuntu. They weren't the first Distro to include a compete alternative to all that Microsoft offers on the desktop but they made it accessible with a simple install and a UI that wasn't unfamiliar and with a bit of help from hype. Even cynical old me installed it and use it. Now DELL ships Ubuntu as an alternative to the default Windows install on some models which was one of the key methods Microsoft used to get to dominance, pre-installation.

So now that small businesses have proved the model and the market has indeed warmed up to Linux (or just become fickle) it's now time for the bigger players in IT to step in. IBM and Oracle have been dancing around with SUSE and RedHat but this year will see an assault with a whole stack of IBM and Oracle branded software made up of a Linux here, an OpenOffice there, all lumped together and branded like some sort of software Frankenstein. But that's ok because it's Open and none of it's Microsoft. After all that's what we all want right?

The dream for the large software vendor is to have what Microsoft has, 'the Complete Stack' which is the ability to sell Operating systems as well as applications software. Larry Ellison even admitted as much in an interview with the FT back in April 2006.

So is the complete stack actually a good thing for the consumer? No not really, well not to begin with anyway. Oracle is good at selling Database software, it's going to be some years and a few versions before it's going to be up to speed in supporting an operating system. As for IBM Their new Lotus Symphony product isn't out of BETA and no-one sensible is going to run version 1 apart from themselves, however I'm met at least 5 guys from IBM this month and not one of them was running Linux or Lotus Symphony. What happened to dog-food?

From a purely business perspective what is the advantage of switching to a stack that isn't Microsoft? It saves money!? How can you save money you've already spent! The simple fact is you already have a Windows and Office version sitting on your hard-disk and if they are reasonably recent they aren't going to go out of support for a few years yet. (Worth checking out however here) ... and to be honest, if it still works when it goes out of support is it really life or death? From a security and a support angle, it wouldn't be very professional of me to recommend that you don't keep any of your software that's out of date but I do get it when people say ... actually it works and I don't want to upgrade. However if you do find yourself needing support, Microsoft is probably the last place you will look for it as there are so many, blogs, webpages, forums with content all over the Internet with lots of people that have experienced the same problem as you and put it up onto the Internet for all the world to see. It's going to take Microsoft's competitors years to get as embedded as this. This is the real legacy and testament to Microsoft's software, so lets hope that CIO's have half a brain and spot this.

However, no wonder I'm utterly, utterly sick of Microsoft! When every 3 years or so trying to resell me pretty much what I've already got. For instance I discovered a machine recently running Excel 97 the other day and yes lots has changed since then but really over 10 years worth of code by a phalanx of developers? I bet I could pretty much run most of the roles in the company that demand Excel on 97 today. However Microsoft has got us to (re)pay three times since then no wonder why we are looking for the next 'upgrade' to cost less. Ultimately what I saw was a great deal of refinement and no great strides in innovation. Don't tell me toolbars are a great innovation in spreadsheets because it even sounds lame.

Perhaps Microsoft has engineered unwittingly their own fate with their plan, some would say greed, but if you asking companies to pay for a yearly subscription you going to have to keep coming up with something to show for it. However given half a change any number of IT firms would love to be in Microsoft position and will happily emulate them any day. But licence cost is the main reason for the raise of Linux and it's the thing that will stop it. Get the price right and most people will buy the best-of-breed, the safe bet, the old familiar and it's pretty much these feelings that keeps Microsoft in the game now and ofcource it's easy to justify £500 every 3-4 years if it's one of your most frequently used tools. I don't need a Gartner lecture on TCO to tell me that.

So what about innovation? That's what drives us forward really? Do companies sit on laurels no ofcourse not but they do like to sweat the asset and get there money back and if that's a few times over then so be it, all power to the good. Only now when the threat level is raising does big bold makeovers happen but still underneath it's the same old program familiar to many. The winning formula.

This isn't a bad thing, people like continuity but is it enough? I say no but I'm in a minority. If innovation isn't radical enough, then don't make me upgrade. It was innovation and price that made Microsoft, it's no-risk, innovation and price that's going to make me move, so keep innovating and keep the price down is the wnning formula.

What about interoperability? Thwarting vendor-lock in? But what if the majority of people have been using the same file formats as each other and have been getting along just fine, is vendor lock-in such a problem then? Well it seems only a problem for software companies that aren't Microsoft.

Don't get me wrong, I like competition but I don't like to see needless duplication of effort it's annoy specially as there is so many problems to solve in IT. For my mind the Office problem has been cracked so instead of thinking about more innovation in that space so many vendors have decided to hit Microsoft straight on. So are you telling me the office of the future is still going to be using the Word-processor, spreadsheet and desktop database as primary tools???? do you see my issue? Geez, I hope not. I would like to think we can get cleverer than that and this is why I like the direction that collaboration tools are going, the barrier here is that only afew people actually understand them and there benefits so the ROI models are abit thin on the ground. So, IT companies please just get cleverer, look at Apple, they ask the question, how can I make this thing better?

So, if there is so much innovation to be had, why are so many companies and the other big boys in particular trying to beat Microsoft at their own and well established game? Perhaps they feel the only way that they can get going is to get a percentage of the space first. If that percentage comes from the market leader then so much the better. Hey when you're at the top the only way is down?

As you can see I'm disappointed in all the players in IT right now in equal measures. They all seem to have lost the reason why companies win and that is good products/services at the right price instead they want to chase dreams that ultimately do little for the customer other than fulfil an IT Exec's ego. The complete stack is one of those dreams and for many of us wish it could just stay that way.

Posted on Monday, February 11, 2008 10:53 PM | Back to top


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