Study: Windows Will Always Top Linux

A Harvard Business School professor tells Datamation why he thinks that Windows will remain dominant over Linux.
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In the fierce battle for market share between Linux and Windows, neither side will be vanquished. But long term, Windows will maintain its dominant position.

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 paper’s conclusion favors Windows, it makes no judgment that Microsoft’s 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-Masanell’s 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 Microsoft’s market strength.

Any uptick in OSS’s 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.

Linux’s 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 aren’t enough to allow it to dominate the market.

Next page: FUD Plays a Role

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