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The open-source movement is the largest threat the software giant has ever faced. Does Bill Gates have a plan?
For as long as technologies can remember, there has been “Wintel”, the US$250bil industry dominated by Microsoft’s Windows operating systems and Intel’s microprocessors.
But “Lintel” or the Linux operating system and Intel, is now encroaching on this empire, and behind it is the entire open-source software movement, which threatens to overthrow the Windows industry. Faced with this challenge, Microsoft is showing classic sysmptoms of “incumbents’ desease”
Rather than remaking itself, Microsoft is using legal threats, short term deals, and fear, uncertainty, and doubt to fortify its position. But this strategy probably won’t work. The Linux operating system and the open-source model for software development are far from perfect, but they look increasingly likely to depose Microsoft.
With some improvements, the open-source model could even become the dominant global production model for software. If it does, it will be an irony. The open-source movement was launched 20 years ago by an anti-establishment technologist and for years was ridiculed by the mainstream computer industry.
But it quietly drew more adherents every year, spreading first among iconoclastic hackers because its legal structure and culture offered them freedom from “the suits”- that is, the entire managerial, financial, and legal apparatus of the commercial technology sector.
But now IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel have become supporters of Linux and open-source development. Their goal is to reduce Microsoft’s prices and power by commoditising mass-market software. If it happens, it will be a further irony. Microsoft archieved dominance by imitating the products of others, encouraging the copying of the IBM PC and cannibalising the proprietary computer industry.
But now a revitalised IBM, aided by Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Intel, and Oracle, is fomenting revolution, while Microsoft increasingly resembles the old IBM, an entrenched monopoly that survives by forcing the world to buy its high-priced, aging, increasingly bloated products. (Microsft said in April that one server product will run in Linux – s symbolically significant concession, but hardly a sign that the ship is turning).