What Microsoft Still Does Not Get


At first, I thought this Computerworld UK story about software vendors “challenging” proposed EU guidelines was just a typical Microsoft whine about the imminent loss of its stranglehold over the government sector in Europe.

It is such a bad loser: after having abused its monopoly position for years, essentially telling the world and his or her dog to like it or lump it, it now runs screaming to teacher as soon as there is any suggestion of the playground daring to stand up to its bullying.

But I was wrong; the following comments are no mere knee-jerk whinge, but provide us with a profound insight into the troubled soul of the Redmond behemoth:

"The objective of stimulating the local software industry in Holland is a good one," said Hans Bos, national technical officer for Microsoft in the Netherlands. However, he added that Microsoft's products also stimulate the local market by providing others with a platform to build on.

"The Dutch government wants to create a level playing field by giving an advantage to open source. We think this is discrimination and it is short sighted: what will they do in the future when a different business model comes along? Why give a leg up to one business model in such a dynamic market," he asked.

It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of familiarity by the first paragraph, which is pretty standard FUD – the idea that we must allow Microsoft to pullulate, so that the associated software ecosystem that lives off it will flourish (call it the “engorged fleas on a fat rat” argument).

This is nonsense, of course. Leaving aside the fact that not inconsiderable sums of money are constantly flowing out of Europe when people pay again and again for the pleasure of viewing ever-slower instantiations of the Blue Screen of Death, there is also the fact that Microsoft has a track record of stomping all over its “partners” by bundling more and more programs with Windows.

Once you commit yourself to that ecosystem, you are dependent on Microsoft, and helpless if it decides unilaterally to change the terms on which it lets you exist, or even to snuff you out by competing against you.

Open source companies, by contrast, are independent, because the ecosystem they inhabit is not a monoculture. If you get riled with Red Hat, say, you can always develop for Ubuntu - or vice versa. If you are miffed with MySQL, you can start supporting PostreSQL and so on.

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