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The Inevitability of Open Source Windows June 12, 2008

Posted by rm42 in Computers, Linux, Windows.

The FOSS (Free/Open Source Software) Community knows, thanks to leaked Microsoft internal documents, that since about 1998 Microsoft has been in a sort of war against them. Because of this, it is not surprising that the FOSS community has looked at Microsoft with suspicion and has vilified it to no end. But, is Microsoft really evil?

The reality is that Microsoft is just a company. It is a company that was at the right place at the right time (when the PC was created) and this brought a lot of success. Of course, there was a lot of hard work and good talent involved. In some respects, Microsoft may have even been a positive force in the world, since it was instrumental in bringing down the price of computing at a time in which this was very expensive. However, with that success came a lot of power.

As we all know, power can be a good thing, when used wisely and benevolently, or can be a bad thing, when used shortsightedly an selfishly. Unfortunately, corporations are, by their very nature, selfish and shortsighted. I am not saying that all people inside of Microsoft are bad people. I am sure that, for the most part, most people at Microsoft are just your average, mostly honest, hardworking people. But, it is not in the best interest of “the company” to be generous and meek. So, management has sometimes seen fit to use their power in ways that benefit “the company” at the expense of every one else.

For example, lets take the case of the Linux operating system. With the advent of the Internet, creating a powerful high quality operating system through collaboration is now possible. People from all over the world can now cooperate to create a software pool that everyone in the world can benefit from. Because it is freely available to all at no cost, poor people can more easily afford to own an up to date computer for their computing needs. Since the code is open to all and there are no hidden APIs, companies can build programs that run on that operating system knowing that they are competing on a level playing field. Knowledge is available to all and passed on to new generations rather than locked-in within a single increasingly more powerful corporation. Doesn’t this sound like a good thing for mankind?

But, the above is not in Microsoft’s best interest as a company. Therefore, Microsoft has been fighting tooth and nail the growth and adoption of Linux. Is Microsoft evil because of this? Well, lets just say that, while Microsoft’s success was due in large part for being at the right place at the right time, it now finds itself in the way of progress and the betterment of mankind. Worst yet for Microsoft is that, as time goes on, the inadequacy of its proprietary model, for a world in which technology has become so intertwined with our lives, becomes more and more evident. Computers and the internet are the railroad and freeways of today, except that what is being moved are ideas. Everyone needs computers (increasingly so) and therefore everyone has a stake. Too much control by one company is not in everyone’s best interest.

This realization seems to be very widespread now. The European Union competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, is pushing hard for Europe to get out of the proprietary treadmill. I remember when, in 2002, the FOSS world rejoiced at seeing a congressman from Peru very clearly articulate, masterfully really, the advantages of “free software” over proprietary software in a response to a letter sent by the General Manager of Microsoft in Peru. That letter must have sent chills up the spine of Microsoft’s management. I can only imagine what they must now be thinking about Mrs. Kroes position expressed publicly at a recent a conference in Brussels. If this trend continues, and there is no indication that it won’t, it seems that Microsoft is due for being replaced outright as the primary provider for the world’s operating systems and basic business applications. Is there anything Microsoft can do to avoid this?

There are several strategies Microsoft has been implementing to stem the growth and adoption of FOSS (For example, see here, or here). All of them, however, have proved to be only temporary stop-gaps, with very limited success. Even the threat of patent warfare seems to be a strategy that is not expected by Microsoft to be overly successful, otherwise we would be hearing a lot more about it. So, what can we expect Microsoft’s next big move to be?

Microsoft is going to become an OSS company, not a FOSS company. (See what the “F” stands for here.) We are already seeing the early signs of this. They have created a couple of open source licenses and have submitted them for approval successfully with the Open Source Initiative. Microsoft has pledged to become a more open company. Although the said pledge has been received with a lot of skepticism, I think they really mean it. They have to. Microsoft is now hard at work trying to convince the world that they really have changed. Is all this going to be enough? I don’t think so. They have to still go a little further. Lets see why.

What are the advantages that FOSS is offering to the world?

  1. A level playing field for software vendors. No hidden APIs. Everyone gets the updates and information about new features at the same time. Everyone has the same documentation and the same access to the OS developers.
  2. The possibility of accessing the code by the user. This is especially important when the user is a government, sometimes for security reasons. However, it can also be important in the context of education. This also allows the user to choose who to receive support from.
  3. An expanded potential for innovation and software improvement. This is because, since everyone has access to the code, innovations, fixes, and improvements, can come from anyone in the world, sometimes from the least expected places.

So, can Microsoft match that? Well, what if Microsoft offered Windows, or a version of Windows, as an open source product? They already have open source licenses that they feel comfortable with (albeit not definable as free software). They would of course retain the copyright and trademark. “But, but, then other people can compile the Windows source code and bypass purchasing it from us”, I hear Mr. Ballmer say. Yes, but Microsoft could still sell proprietary add-ons and applications since only the base OS needs to be open. They would retain the advantage of being the company most familiar with the code and of being the maintainers of the standard implementation, which would make them the premier company to offer support for it. They could offer money to those that contribute code to the Windows base. In one fell swoop Microsoft would eradicate some of the most important advantages Linux has over Windows as far as governments, third party software developers, and the general public goes. What does Microsoft lose in doing this? They lose some advantages over third party vendors that used to give them an edge. They would have to rework their way of making money from Windows around support. But, at least they are able to stay in business and are not tossed out altogether. I think it is only a matter of time before this happens. What do you think?


1. Robert Pogson - June 13, 2008

Nope. Not a chance. That is the last thing M$ will do. If they opened their code, they would lose monopoly, something they will never do because it leverages them into IT all over the world, a multiplier. If they let themselves become open to competition, they would have to do honest work for a living and profit margins would fall to the level of their competitors. They would have to lose 50% of market share or more before they might even think of dropping secrecy. They have locked-in so much of the world that it could take ten years to come to that and even then, they can just raise prices to their locked-in customers indefinitely. In five years, M$ is likely to cease to be a global company, dealing mostly with US locked-in businesses and consumers but they can charge as much as they want in that market for another ten years, most likely. In the rest of the world, their FUD does not fly.

2. theyoungmessiah - June 13, 2008

The way I look at it the majority of people using the PC, or Mac for that matter, have no idea what an operating system is. That pretty much rules out Linux, we can assume that it is not user friendly enough for the mainstream. I am not saying this is exclusively limited to the operating systems and software, but this is where their general market lies (excluding the hardware :Xbox and keyboards etc..) the majority of other programs and hardware are made for Mac or PC. Sure there could be a bundle of new companies to arise if Microsoft went OSS, but then Microsoft would lose, stocks would drop… you are basically getting mad at them for making bundles of money. Look at it this way; the norm right now is Mac and PC developers are willing to pay a little to make stuff for their stuff. It would be incredibly difficult for another operating system or company like Linux to gain enough popularity to compete for the mainstream. Windows will not feel the pressure anytime soon either. They’ve lasted this long haven’t they?
So don’t feel as if they are being unfair to the masses… they are a company that supplies a product. Their whole structure is built around making money. Unfair?-yes, but “lifes not fair” otherwise wed be living in a communist, oil free, world.

3. dbcowboy - June 15, 2008

I see Microsoft like a bank robber who got caught and convicted but was allowed to keep the money. Thats wrong. The company is a convicted monopolist and it continues to use alot of the illegally aquired money, position and patents to grow its monopoly even bigger. I think Microsoft should give to the public all the patents it aquired from the date it was convicted. And for me… I avoid purchasing all Microsoft products. My last notable purchases include mac book pro, eee pc (linux), iphone, logitech mouse. Plus I have directly influenced friends to buy 24inch iMac, 17inch Macbook and a regular Macbook. Politically Linux is my favorate while Apple gives me some commericial apps not Yet allowed on Linux.

4. Don - June 15, 2008

I agree that a lot of people do not know what an OS is. Computers to them are appliances. Having said that, many computer *appliances* are now being shipped with Linux as an OS. The EEE PC proved that people like using easy-to-use preloaded computing appliances. So, by your premise, this trend is likely to continue and expand – perhaps eventually displacing proprietary OS’s like Microsoft’s or Apple’s offerings – due to the superior value and security of Linux.

In terms of the discussions above, re: *is Microsoft evil?* and *what is fair?*, I would propose that safeguarding human rights and freedoms is the only *fair* thing. People have a right to be treated with respect, and not as if they are criminals until proven innocent. People have a right not to be controlled or molded into a pattern that generates a revenue stream for a select few rich companies. People should be free to grow and develop their minds and interests, while helping others do the same.

Since Microsoft in particular (and also Apple in many cases) steps on all these rights, while actively stifling innovation of others in the FOSS community, I would have to answer that this is NOT fair, and also that Microsoft, if not inherently evil due to its management structure, at least reliably acts in evil, self-serving, and non-cooperative ways. Thus, I would not expect that the leopard would suddenly change its spots and offer up open-source windows to the masses. So the best solution IMHO is to use a common denominator, like FOSS and/or OSS to level the playing field. I commend the EC for pioneering this necessary change to the IT landscape. The people of our world are much more than meal-tickets for Microsoft and Apple. People are important and valuable in their own right, and deserve to be given the freedoms and cooperation that the model of FOSS provides.

5. Busterdog - June 15, 2008

What MS needs to do is pull an OSX. Grab BSD, make it the base, or even Linux. Create a Windows window manager to replace X and sell apps that only work in their WM. If Apple can do it, so can MS. Why not?

6. Roger Henderson - June 15, 2008

I think you are correct, and I’m sure Ballmer has considered this is where MS might end up.
Software in general is becoming Operating System agnostic – mainly due to the web and SOA. As this occurs, more and more people can move to other OS’s – it doesn’t matter if it is Mac, Linux, BSD to Microsoft.

As this happens MS will start seeing income from the twin towers of Windows and Office eroding as the lock-in is diluted and then dissolved.

Eventually, to ensure they retain market share and therefore leverage, they will be forced to give Windows away for free, and then open source it.

@Robert Pogson: Are you aware that MS has already given up the ‘secret’ file formats for a large chunk of its software?

7. HAhah - June 15, 2008

even if they opened up windows, no one is going to touch it. the code sucks like [blip] linux is built for the internet. microsoft windows code is in a total mess. they cant fix it and they know it very well. windows is eol.

they need to dump windows. its beyond any hope. but they wont…it hard to forget the billions they made. its all down in drain.

they are going to keep fighting linux, but in the end they will loose a lot.

i predict that microsoft will die a slow and painfull death fight foss, which companies like google. apple, redhat ..run over them with a rollercoster.

they need to fire the nightmare called ballmer.

8. Dani - June 15, 2008

Don’t confuse making Windows open source with making open source run on windows, More than half of the downloads from our BitNami project are for Windows, for example.

9. Bob Robertson - June 15, 2008

I agree with Hahaha, Microsoft will never “open source” Windows.

First, they would have to admit they were wrong. Can you imagine any of the egotists in charge of Microsoft ever admitting they were wrong?

Second, it’s crap code. They know it, but up comes point one again. To release their code would be to let everyone see just how awful it is.

Their development model is insane, with horrid levels of integration and dependency between projects, yet no communication. “My manager has to speak with his manager, who then speaks with their manager…”

Were Windows code ever to be freed, the only beneficiary would be WINE. Every other project would look at the code and say something like, “We tried that way years ago, and now do something else.”

10. TripleII - June 15, 2008

theyoungmessiah, have you used Mandriva One, OpenSuse, Ubuntu? If you think it is harder than windows (especially Vista), you need to come forward from 2004. Not a slam, but, but Linux (no CLI needed, for my over 40+ newbie friends and family) base was completed (essentially) in 2004-2005. Most have focused only on usability/ease of use since. It is truly amazing (and a world away from when I started in 1998 with Linux).

I have to agree with HAhah, Windows itself won’t be open source, ever. Nobody would want it, not when Linux base is obviously so much better. MS may open source projects that leverage it’s monopoly (i.e. try to pull back folks already using LAMP, etc, where it is in second place), but let’s face it, Windows open sourced, Linux would have seamless app compatibility for EVERY app, better than Windows, in 8 weeks, tops. It would be the death of Windows.


11. TechGeek - June 16, 2008

First, Windows is doomed by its sheer size. 10-15 Gigs for a plain install and 2 gigs of ram to run it well is just ridiculous. We see that the trend right now is small appliances that do limited things. People dont need quad core pcs to check their email, watch video, surf the web and type messages. Win XP is getting older and not getting new features unlike Linux.

Second, the PC as we know it is going away. People who are in IT will still use full PC’s but mom and dad will start using appliances. If you talk to anyone who does tech support for a living, most people dont know how to use their computer. As a result, they end up getting viruses and spyware. Appliances have the chance of changing this.

12. Alwitt Qin - June 16, 2008

Veru useful post here…

13. A Scott - June 16, 2008

This is a real bind for Microsoft. In the server/database/software development tools market Microsoft never stood a chance with their domination strategy (i.e. Windows Server 2003 has to be set up as a domain controller to be a database server) based on sub-standard, proprietry products. Marketing was heavily targeted at corporate mentalilty rather than the freedom, quality and productivity that Open Source offers.

In emerging markets Microsoft cannot compete with Open Source and it is chasing it’s own tail by inflicting Vista on it’s traditional home/small business markets.

Microsoft’s only hope is to open up and integrate with Open Source. As a professional software developer I will not consider Microsoft development tools until it becomes an honest player and stops spending millions trying to sell sub-standard products. Will this happen ? Not while Steve Ballmer is around .


14. TexMoon - June 16, 2008
15. Dr.Vet.Cumpanasu Florin - April 19, 2010

We started our project on LINUX because is open source
The Romanian Group for Innovation in Veterinarian Medicine
We intend to initiate, develop and implement projects which imply:
Building a supportive environment for veterinarian students
-IT and veterinarian support for students that initiates projects
-awards and research scholarships
-employment Assistance or clinic practice assistance

Veterinarians support
-free publicity for veterinarian clinics
-bringing diversity in veterinarian field of activity

Animal Protection
-improving the balance between animal welfare and medical research (the 3Rs especially research refinement)
-media manipulation regarding Child Protection, Animal Protection and Medical Assistance

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