Microsoft vs. Linux: Question of tactics?

Article: Microsoft vs. Open Source: Who Will Win?
Q&A with: Ramon Casadesus-Masanell and Pankaj Ghemawat
Published: June 6, 2005
Author: Sean Silverthorne
Web site address: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/4834.html

This is my first time to read an article sourced from two academics (Harvard professors at that) pitting software giant/monopolist Microsoft against software-freedom-loving Linux community. Put more technically, the professors venture into comparing the ability of each entity to outdo the other in terms of their basic strength plus possible more tactics, legal or otherwise.

According to the interview, Microsoft, on the one hand, prides itself in its large “install base”. (This pride is not necessarily morally upright given the fear-uncertainty-doubt (FUD) and embrace-extend-extinguish tactics Redmond has unleashed over the years to maintain its superiority.) On the other hand, Linux is better known for its “demand-side learning”, that is, Linux users have the freedom to improve or introduce improvements to the software applications without extrinsic inhibiting factors.

The professors made a caveat that their research into Microsoft vs. Open Source is not a comprehensive one as it deals mainly with the “formal economic modelling”. That is, other factors have not been considered (yet) like organizational ones.

What is interesting to note from the article is that the professors argue that neither of the protagonists can ever make the other bite the dust, so to speak. Although, quite confusingly, they maintain that ‘duopoly’ is not a good prescription as having two competing operating systems is not socially beneficial and will only divide the developer community.

They argue that ‘nobody can oust Linux’. But they are quick to provide Microsoft a set of ‘tips’ for it to maintain its supremacy against the free-software alternatives, even to the point of advising the giant to ‘give away’ binaries to non-profit organizations, governments and schools on which to develop software applications.

Lastly, the professors aver that software piracy, as their research shows, has worked for Microsoft and that Linux will only fight a fiercer battle if it focuses only on the ‘forward-looking’ users. This is because Microsoft is pretty adept at tactics like “price discrimination”. Likewise, they imply that Linux’s survival lies in the non-stop financial support of organizations or individual benefactors.

The professors’ noble attempts are indeed meritorious. This is not in terms of the validity of their observations, findings, tentative conclusions, or what not, but in terms of the challenge they pose to FOSS advocates like me who believe that Linux greatly benefits from:

  1. Software piracy that is actively cracked down by Microsoft in the clothing of the Business Software Alliance (BSA);
  2. Forward looking users who see beyond the user-friendliness of proprietary softwares; and,
  3. Factors other than the continuing external funding support.
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One comment

  1. Dong, I guess the evolutionarily stable state is maintained through a kind of host-parasite situation, not necessarily FOSS v. MS but maybe FOSS v. Proprietary. The “duopoly” should work with what MS was pushing last LinuxWorld conference: interoperability (which other developers are already doing). And I didn’t think “duopoloy” was detrimental either – maybe the authors were more concerned about globalist economics rather than social diversity.

    I’m with you on the point that FOSS benefits from piracy crackdowns!

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