Choosing Vendors: The Linux vs. Microsoft Red Herring

Selecting the best vendor shouldn't be like taking sides in a holy war, argues our guest columnist.


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Posted December 18, 2006

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle

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A few years back I wrote my very first column for an online publication called Linux Pipeline on choosing software wisely. The column was to begin a series of events that changed my life because I used, as an example, a CIO who had chosen Linux for the wrong reasons. Now, to be clear, Linux may have been the right choice. What I was challenging was that the analysis that was done was focused on things that had very little to do which her company’s needs. And the choice was, by her own admission, made because she believed deeply that Linux should be the way the world worked.

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The column’s titled was changed to “Linux is Not Ready For The Enterprise,” it got picked up by SlashDot, which focused on the example and not the message – and you can probably imagine the legendary amount of hate mail that resulted. What was made clear, however, was that there were a huge number of people who were making product decisions based on things that had nothing to do with the needs of their business.

In hindsight, while the dialectic was on Microsoft vs. Linux (though, strangely enough I don't actually recall bringing Microsoft up) it probably should have been on UNIX vs. Linux because, in most cases, the Microsoft offering wasn’t an appropriate replacement for UNIX at the time, either.

For a period of about 18 months, I too lost focus largely because I got angry about what folks were writing and saying about me and the frequent threats to my family and livelihood. What bothered me the most, other than the very real concern that someone might make good on their threats, was that it appeared Linux supporters were putting their love for the product ahead of their job responsibilities. As an ex-internal auditor, that is a huge red flag and much of what I wrote at the time focused on that.

Eventually this quieted down and shortly before Linux Pipeline went away in 2005 I wrote a column called “Time to End Microsoft vs. Linux," where you can also find references to my earlier pieces in the sidebar (but you’ll note that the links are dead).

In that piece you’ll see I argue for a change in tactics by both sides which, in a way, mirrors the recent partnership between Novell and Microsoft. A realization that instead of fueling the battle between the parties, which really doesn’t serve customer interests, what should happen is for the two sides to come together, realize they meet different needs, and see if there is some common ground where both can focus on the needs of the customer.

Linux and Microsoft Sitting in a Tree…

One of the difficulties is that there is so much bad blood between the groups that I often wonder if I’m writing about Israel and Palestine rather than technologies. There are lines that can be crossed that make it incredibly difficult to reach common ground because people just don’t forget some things that are said in anger.

Novell and Microsoft seemed to grok that the best course is to cooperate, almost as if they had read my piece and took the course that should be better, long term, for both the firms and their clients. I’m actually becoming more and more convinced that the battle between the companies was largely created by the Open Source side for visibility and Microsoft simply fell, much like I did, into the trap.

If you look at the revenue sources for both efforts, you’ll see that Microsoft’s revenue largely comes from software and for Linux it is from services. Microsoft’s offerings are best when used in large numbers and generically, and Linux is best when used in small numbers and highly customized. The only area where there is tight similarity is in the embedded offerings of both companies but here both sides are under funded, Linux generically so, and Microsoft because of a very real fear of cannibalizing their full-featured products.

Now Linux and Windows, from a technology standpoint, are vastly different and we can’t even do that subject justice in 100 pages, let alone the space of a column. But, I think, in most cases the decision between Windows and Linux is easy, the decision between UNIX and Linux is vastly harder, and then picking the right distribution harder still. Yet our focus has been on making the easy decision hard rather than the hard decisions easy.

Novell’s apparent reason for partnering with Microsoft is to give them competitive advantage where the decision is hardest. It's hard, from a business perspective, to find fault with that. Vendors that do the right thing for clients, regardless of how painful it is, should generally be favored in my book. But you should still do your homework and pick the best product, service, and hardware for your company.

Next Page: Vendors Who Eat Their Own Cooking

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