Tales From the Microsoft Safety Net

If there's one thing I can count on, it's Windows IT Pro UPDATE readers: You've always been a wellspring of valuable information, and on those occasions where I'm explicitly looking for feedback, you've always been good about giving it. In last week's editorial, "Do You Really Want to Escape the Microsoft Safety Net?", I discussed the growing value of open-source software and services that compete with Microsoft's core products and pondered why more businesses weren't jumping ship. I received a lot of responses, all of which are appreciated. Here are some comments and feedback from readers.

There seems to be a consensus of sorts that Microsoft is indeed the new IBM and that the old phrase "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" could be altered using Microsoft's name instead. This speaks to my point that Microsoft, today, is essentially a tradition in business. And users, it seems, don't adapt well to change either, making Linux on the desktop a nonstarter for many.

Quite a few readers discussed experimenting with Linux and other open-source alternatives, and almost all of them highlighted the fact that some niggling problem always stopped those experiments from becoming deployments. "We frequently run into some caveat--a loss of functionality, loss of support from a critical application, etc.--that brings us back to Microsoft," A. Hamberg wrote, regarding server-side solutions.

Some readers were quick to point out some of the technical advances that occurred in various open-source projects years ago. For example, various Linux versions have long sported the type of 3D desktop interface that Microsoft is only now pushing in Windows Vista. This is likely true, but it's unclear whether this type of innovation--or at least technical advancement--would ever have an effect on typical businesses. My take on this is that overall cost--including the cost of management and support--is a far bigger factor once you agree on baselines for functionality, reliability, and security. As open source matures, cost will likely become the most important overall factor in any technology decision.

On the flipside, a number of readers pointed at technologies such as the Tablet PC as examples of how Microsoft is indeed innovating in ways that are relevant to their businesses. And open-source adherents won't like this characterization, but I've always felt that much of the open-source work I see is created simply to be a Microsoft alternative. Is anyone out there actually trying to determine what customers need, or is copying Microsoft pretty much the business plan?

Additionally, there seems to be a decided lack of open-source support and management talent out there, which likely contributes to Microsoft's continued domination. Microsoft has arguably done a great job nurturing its certification programs and the independent support channels that keep the Microsoft ecosystem going.

It should be noted that not everyone appreciated the column. A Mr. Serebin noted that the collective "we" at Penton are becoming "PC World quality," and that I should simply change my email address to "[email protected]" to better identify my marketing of Microsoft products. I think I've been critical enough of Microsoft and its products over the years to not let that one get under my skin, but, hey, fair enough. One of the problems with a weekly newsletter that's length-constrained is that I often don't have the room to explore certain topics to the technical depth I'd prefer. Indeed, I'm out of space once again. Thanks for all the great feedback; I'm sure this is something we'll revisit in the future.

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