The Emerging Dell-Linux-Apple War

As Microsoft stumbles, vendors jockey for position. But each competitor struggles with its own set of problems.
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While we spend a lot of time talking about Linux vs. Windows and Windows vs. the MacOS, the real battle for the Windows desktop alternative may be the preliminary round between the MacOS and Linux. That battle really kicks off this year with Apple stepping up their effort sharply with the Leopard, and Dell becoming aggressive (with others likely to follow) with SUSE Linux (though this choice may change).

These two platforms have distinct advantages and disadvantages against each other and the winner will likely be the solution that walks away with the greatest number of advantages and the least number of disadvantages.

Let’s set the stage to see why both sides suddenly see Microsoft as extremely vulnerable, and why it may not be as vulnerable as it seems. (Realize perception rules and is driving this change).

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Problems with Microsoft in General and Vista in Particular

For some time Microsoft has been showing signs that things aren’t going well. Vista was late, and they had to delay it even more to ensure that Dell was not unfairly advantaged. From Dell’s perspective, Dell was penalized because they had a model that was more efficient than its competitors and they believe that Microsoft contributed, with intent, to them missing their quarter and having to both fire their CEO and bring the founder back from retirement.

To suggest that Michael Dell is upset with Microsoft would be to vastly understate the situation. Livid would probably be more accurate. And as we rolled to the launch, Dell in particular was becoming more and more upset that Microsoft was not listening to them and certainly not being responsive to their needs.

When Vista arrived it was incomplete. Key parts remain missing, the promised marketing plan doesn’t appear to be effective, and sales are not meeting the requirements of the OEMs who were depending on it to significantly drive up hardware sales. Microsoft lengthened the period of time that Windows XP would be supported, against the OEMs’ wishes.

At CES, after working very hard to get systems ready for Bill Gates’ keynote, the OEMs saw Microsoft’s Xbox 360 take center stage and get positioned as a media center PC-like product and a competitor for their own offerings. Microsoft has not allowed the OEMs to use PCs as Media Extenders and Xbox 360 game players so they can compete.

As a result, Dell, and other OEMs, now view Microsoft as a problem, and increasingly a competitor they have to deal with, and each is trying to come up with a way to do that individually. At some point I do expect them to organize and address this issue in some kind group fashion. Until then they appear to be trying to help create a competitor to Windows, and since Apple won’t license, Linux, ready or not, is the next in line.

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