Microsoft as in Free

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IBM, Red Hat, Canonical/Ubuntu, and Novell announced an initiative at LinuxWorld today in San Fransisco to create a Microsoft-free environment. The strategy is simple: undercut Vista and Office in the enterprise with a software stack of Lotus Notes, Symphony, and Sametime. The only problem is: it won’t work.

Two reasons: Google and Microsoft. Google has trained the market to understand the power of the ad-supported on-demand Internet Operating System, an iterative platform for destabilizing hardware-based solutions in favor of just-in-time cloud-based services with most of the punch and zero to half the cost. I’ll get to Microsoft in a minute.

So IBM repurposes Sun’s OpenOffice code base and forks it with proprietary extensions. Understandable given IBM’s continued battle with Sun over development platforms (Eclipse vs. NetBeans) and the enmity over controlling Java. But braindead too, because watch Google in the social space, where its investments in open standards (OpenID, OAuth, Open Social, Firefox) pay rapid dividends while the older generation struggles not so much with in-fighting but the lack of speed that mixed motives engenders.

In short order, Google has smoked out MySpace, Facebook, and even Microsoft with its partner-first-compete-later approach. Look at today’s integration of Google’s DoubleClick In-Stream video ad serving technology into Microsoft Silverlight 2 video player technology, just in time for the rollout of Those who’ve been playing the home game may notice that Google just went rich with Microsoft. Of course, DoubleCLick works with Flash, Real Media, and Windows Media. But Silverlight is cross-platform, folks, which means it’s the future home of an on-demand Office.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it’s the battle of the hairballs between an aging OpenOffice and a Lotus Symphony destined for a freebie bundle with Notes on IBM Global Service corporate invasions. But what if when they actually get there and Microsoft is sitting there with a hosted developer platform that, as Ray Ozzie reportedly told the recent Financial Analysts meeting, would appeal not just to commercial but open source developers. And tellingly that the strategy would be fully delineated by the end of fiscal’09 on June 30.

It’s not hard to read between the lines here. IBM competes today with Google Apps, then with Silverlight Office Lite, and finally with Apple and Android when it tries to go mobile. Delta’s announcement of full WiFi on its 330 planes by summer ’09 is just in time to make a hairball play completely dead in the water or the air. I doubt IBM and its partners recognized the pun in Microsoft-free until it was too late.

  • till

    Man, I got confused how you cut from Microsoft to IBM to Google back to Microsoft and then to Delta. When you wrote, “two reasons”, I’d call that an understatement.

    Anyway, back to Linux – look at Ubuntu. It works for many people. And honestly, people don’t care if they use Windows, Mac or Linux. They just want every file they get to open and display right.

    And I think we are almost there – well maybe some of those darn XLS’ are still an issue so let’s hope this initiative can tackle this problem and embrace OPEN standards, and then it will work.

    And cut IBM some slack. They are big, and they are slow. :) They are doing a lot in the “open” space though. It’s not all proprietory. It’s just not as easy to move in it when you are a giant of a company.

  • Avatar

    Totally agree. with the advent of Microsoft new hosted services, Software plus services strategy using Office Live for Office and the yet to come Silverlight 3.0 (more than likely since it will bring AIR and Google Gears like functionality from what it is known) powered Live Office Suite this so called “pact” will be like shooting rubber bullets to a armored car. what would be the point of that?.

  • Nick W

    It’s all a bit cloak and dagger, and I had to read it twice but wow, IBM must be really pissed at this..

    Thanks Steve, great job!

  • More Cowbell and the Art of Shin She

    My take: IBM, king of porting applications (a first level requirement for any product there) re-announced that they ported to Linux. It was done along time ago. Hell, they had Notes working on a Posix kernel in 1997. No big whoop.

    My guess: 1. Ray Ozzie and the band will give us Groove on steroids operating within a browser. This will include video players, presentation tools, a word processor, all based on XML, XAML, etc.

    2. Google will create fud with lots of new stuff like they always do yet still rely upon advertising revenue to fund everything.

    3. Corporate America will continue not to trust OpenSource and Linux except for continual testing – just in case something good comes out.

  • Jeff

    I fear that you are giving the corporate/enterprise market far too much credit. These large corporate environments are mostly still run by the same class of “old generation” hairballs that are running IBM. It is going to take forever for large (and multi-national) corporates to start trusting their data to generic hosting environments that are run externally – no matter who is running them (MS, IBM, Google, etc.). Open-source has been around for a lot longer than cloud computing and even with analysts like Gartner, Forrester (whom enterprises seem to trust) vouching for open-source based strategies, it still is taking forever for the enterprise environment to adapt.
    On the other hand – I agree that the “Microsoft-free” approach has little chances of success as well. Overall, the status-quo is the preferred comfort zone for the majority of large corporate environments – which means Windows, MS Office, Exchange/Lotus Notes, etc.

  • Sally

    Did you hear about

    They search 100 Linux Beta tester but they’re using a novel approach for recruiting them. If you’re interested, the way to sign up is to visit the Memopal wiki

    I read about it this article:

  • Jake Berger


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