That's the chief conclusion of a study authored by two professors at the Harvard Business School, Pankaj Ghemawat and Ramon Casadesus-Masanell. Entitled Dynamic Mixed Duopoly: A Model Motivated by Linux vs. Windows, the paper constructs a theoretical model to examine the Linux-Windows shoot-out. It analyzes the competition between the two OS from a market perspective, weighing everything from piracy to software development models.
Though the papers conclusion favors Windows, it makes no judgment that Microsofts OS is better technologically.
Rather, Dr. Casadesus-Masanell tells Datamation, The model tells us that even if Linux is potentially a much better product than Windows, if Microsoft takes advantage of the power of the installed base (direct and indirect network effects), then the superior product may never become the preferred choice.
The market battle between Linux and Windows calls to mind an earlier competition between Wintel and Macs, he says. Most people would say that Macs were, and still are, better machines. Apple's market share in personal computers, however, is negligible compared to that of Wintel. The implication is that market factors, not an OS's inherent quality, makes or breaks its success in the long term.
The difference is that Linux competes with a very different business model (than Apple or Microsoft itself), but Microsoft's advantage seems too formidable, at least in clients," he says.
Open Source Advantages
The Harvard study notes that Linux has plenty of critical advantages in its competition with Windows.
For instance, some governments and corporations are committed to purchasing and/or promoting Linux. In Casadesus-Masanells view, governments choose OSS (open source software) because its open code allows them to double check that sensitive information is being handled securely. Corporations he cites IBM promote OSS because it acts to lessen Microsofts market strength.
Any uptick in OSSs popularity implies skinnier profits for Microsoft, the study says. Therefore, the larger the price differential between Windows and Linux (with Linux being cheaper), the more precarious is the continued success of Windows, according to theory.
Linuxs chief technological advantage is what the study calls demand-side learning, which means its source code can be endlessly modified by users in response to changing needs.
OSS is thought to harness demand-side learning more effectively than traditional closed models by compressing development cycles, leading to the testing of more use combinations, and providing more of an incentive for users to report problems or fixes than closed models, the study notes.
But, says Casadesus-Masanell, while the model suggests that rapid demand-side learning and a more robust architecture should result in the growth of Linux, these advantages arent enough to allow it to dominate the market.
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