Branding Open Source moves heaven and earth to beat Microsoft

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Google's and Amazon's 'homes in the clouds' are to have a new neighbour, the good ol' boys from Seattle.

Microsoft's online-adventure, named Azure (conjuring up images of clear blue and paradoxically cloud-free skies) may however turn out to have an identity crisis comparable to ill fated Windows ME and Vista.

'Cloud Computing' will succeed or fail on the trusting nature of its users, so if social network sites are any guide, it will be a sure-fire bet for the dolts of this world. Microsoft has bravely (or foolishly) opened up yet another competitive front, this time in the sky... where Open Source based rivals dominate.

It will be tough for Microsoft and not least because we will have to forget about their past anti-trust convictions.

This post is not however about the merits or otherwise of cloud computing, this is more generally about the strategic competence of the super-rich. In this case the super rich are Microsoft, Sun and Google. Money gives these companies power, strategy determines how effectively it is wielded.

This blog's contention is that Google and Sun have a plan... but Microsoft does not and they have fallen back on a reactive strategy that will lead to failure.

For example, MS are rightly concerned that Azure links (ie does not take away from) to their lucrative offline 'World of Office'. This world is alien to the online kiddies such as Google and Amazon but was home to the proprietary vendors of the late 20th Century.

The question is can MS put together a coherent strategy to work in both worlds? Meanwhile two other very big beasts have their own plans.

Google

Now everyone knows that Google is first among equals in the cloud space innovating at a dazzling daily pace. It knows what it is trying to achieve and it knows how to do it: take the Open Source paradigm to the web space and feed it with money. Google attacks the MS PC desktop from above (Chrome, Picassa, Google-desktop) and the server market from the clouds.

Sun

Sun... remember them, they're big in corporate servers and hardware. They are not a high profile, 'sexy' company like Google but boy have they been beavering away. Sun is not at home in the sky despite its name. It works on the ground. Sun has also (at last) found a strategy: take the Open Source paradigm and feed it with money and undermine MS on the desktop.

Sun has unobtrusively created-funded-supported arguably THE critical five applications for the offline consumer desktop, GPL'd them and given them away! I hardly noticed Sun's invasion of my laptop but here is what I found today:

  • Sun Java - most popular coding language + cross platform run-time environment
  • Sun Open Office 3 - arguably THE best Office suite, evens handles .docx
  • Sun MySQL - desktop-server most popular database
  • Sun Virtual Box - super-easy, super-effective VM
  • Sun Open Solaris Live - in my CD tray..it was given away with my Linux mag*

* It recognised my wireless card so I am tempted to give it a go and all it needs is a really cool UI (KDE4.2?).

Microsoft

Microsoft is now fighting on at least three commercial fronts: with Windows 7 it hopes to out-UI Apple (no chance); with Azure it goes head to head in the clouds with Google and Amazon, and on the conventional desktop it is, as we saw above, competing with Sun's enterprise-standard free applications.

There is even a fourth battle they could enter and that is the Netbook market. Netbooks are the sole hardware growth sector of the PC industry and are dominated by Open Source offerings.

Will MS attempt to compete here too? Of course they will. Carphone Warehouse's hugely popular Asus' Linux netbook has suddenly been replaced at no extra cost by a Windows XP version (coincindently CW are a little short of funds at present) ditto last year when the Linux OLPC was in financial difficulties just got XP'd.

All in all, a harried reactive strategy creates for MS a bewildering place which looks a lot like a cheque book strategy. Why not, it has worked before. In any case a confused company lashing out in all directions is not a good bet for the future. What next? Buy Yahoo? Who knows.

Summary and why 'branding' was in the title:

MS is under real pressure on too many fronts and has an inchoate strategic vision.

Google and Sun it would appear have a plan which they are following. Open Source software is the vehicle of delivery.

Let the big boys fight in their playground, we may pay a price in as much as the brand creators will wish to associate their free software with their brand, but the GPL really does allow us to benefit from their work and use the code as we wish.

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