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Monday, July 25, 2005
  big impact- How open-source grew
Power shift

It is not clear that Microsoft can do anything to stop the open-source encroachment onto the desktop. Many of Microsoft’s PC products are now mature. Few users need any additional functionality, and Office exhibits very slow technical progress.

Equally important, Microsoft has grown heavily dependent upon high prices and forced upgrades for its revenue growth and profitability. But many groups simply cannot afford Microsoft’s prices: Students, poor people, educational institutions and the majority of the developing world.

Microsoft’s products now represent a significant fraction of the total cost of a new desktop personal computer.

Not only is Linux free or cheap, but because it is smaller than Windows and runs on many more devices, it can run on every inexpensive hardware.

Sensing a power shift, multinational companies and government bodies such as the European Union are beginning to insists that Microsoft provide open interfaces – that is, public descriptions of its software that let other programs interoperate with it.

China, in particular, is determined to avoid dependence upon proprietary American software. It is concerned about trade disputes, about building its own software industry, and also about vulnerability to “back doors” that could be used for espionage. This last fear is not entirely irrational. Although there are no publicly known cases of espionage against China involving software, other technologies have been so employed.

Five years ago China purchased a new, unused Boeing jet and hired US contractors to refit it in Texas as China’s equivalent of Air Force One. Upon taking possession of the plane, Chinese security officers found that it harboured more than two dozen highly sophisticated, satellite-controlled listening devices, hidden everywhere from the bathrooms to the headboard of the presidential bed.

Geopolitical paranoia, however is not the principal reason for the success of open-source. The most commonly cited explanation is that evolutionary, decentralised, voluntary efforts can yield better results than those ordered by hierarchical management.

-how open-source grew-


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