Capitulation? Or Strategic Withdrawal?

For the nearly two decades that I've covered this industry, Microsoft has been unbending on one thing -- its source code was the crown jewels, never to be touched or even seen by the commoners. It held that position rigorously,...

January 27, 2006

2 Min Read
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For the nearly two decades that I've covered this industry, Microsoft has been unbending on one thing -- its source code was the crown jewels, never to be touched or even seen by the commoners. It held that position rigorously, even as there came to be a ton more to keep under wraps as Windows grew into a code behemoth, not to mention all the ancillary apps that got thrown into the basic OS mix. So it's no light thing that Microsoft will be opening up some Windows Server code to inspection by third parties, to comply with the antitrust ruling that the European Commission lodged against it two years ago. Oh, we're not talking Linux here: Companies are going to have to pay for the privilege of checking out the code, it'll remain non-modifiable, and Microsoft's own three-letter acronym response to GPL is still NDA. But make no mistake, this is a date to mark down in the ongoing timeline of the information technology industry, as a bellwether of where things are headed -- toward continued openness.

Although the decision must have engendered some real debate up in Redmond, I'll tell you this much: It was inevitable. See, Microsoft is still populated at the top by a ton of really smart people, and if you and I can see that open is the continued wave of the future for its competitors, be sure that Gates/Ballmer/et al could too. Linux is no longer just a fly to be swatted by the Microsoft tail; it's a fully competitive commercial platform that companies don't think twice about using for the most mission-critical tasks now. Sooner or later, the Windows Server ecosystem had to be free to develop outside of the bounds of Microsoft's closed, proprietary approach, to match what Linux can achieve through openness.

In that sense, the EC is doing Microsoft the biggest favor it possibly could -- forcing it into that "come to Jesus" moment that it might have never reached on its own. Now you and your companies can (for a price) get enough understanding of Windows Server's plumbing to develop a slew of new apps that will increase the platform's value to you. Whether those developments are custom to your enterprise or things you want to sell, a community can start to form around such extensions to Windows Server, and that community will spark even more growth for Windows Server -- just as we've seen with Linux. Whether Microsoft finally figured that out on its own (as I suspect) or is simply capitulating to the inevitable, it will eventually prosper either way.

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