What if Microsoft Ignored Linux?

In its epic battle with Linux, Redmond has made some serious mistakes. Is there such a thing as a successful Microsoft Linux strategy?
Posted February 16, 2007

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle

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Let’s be clear, Linux really isn’t the most lucrative platform on the market. It goes on the least expensive hardware, and much of what goes into it appears subsidized by other revenue streams. The marketing, such that it is, appears largely voluntary. The organizations that sit at the center, like the Linux Foundation, seem constantly underfunded or in the process of downsizing or changing leadership in preparation for downsizing.

Governments seem to like it a lot, probably because they see a lot of similarity in the OSS structure to their own, where progress is hardly a priority and often seems more like something to be avoided. The question of when the next major Linux release will occur is perennial. And in an environment where the next major license can’t even be decided on, the concept of a major OS release is virtually impossible to accomplish.

Linux is, in effect, cheap UNIX and much like the guy who has a cup out asking for donations lives on the generosity of others like HP and IBM. But Oracle recently demonstrated that this generosity may result in some unintended consequences if the “generous” company suddenly realizes they can take the corner and the cup any time they want.

There is no FUD in this. Linux isn’t changing much and there is no risk of Linux going away, so there is no Uncertainty. And nothing I’ve said should create Fear unless you’re trying to actually make money on Linux, and in that case I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. And I haven’t introduced any Doubt – you either know this to be true or don’t get out much.

I only set this up to say that Microsoft clearly wanted to beat Linux and with vastly more resources and supposedly more experience pretty much got its butt kicked up and down the court. This is kind of like a top tennis player going against an eight-year-old and losing badly.

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So now let’s introduce some FUD and ask the question: What would happen if Microsoft got its act together and came up with an effective anti-Linux strategy instead of the pro-Linux strategy they now have?

What, you think Microsoft has always had an anti-Linux strategy? Look at the results: virtually every time Microsoft attacks Linux it ends up stronger and more entrenched than before Microsoft took action.

Microsoft’s Error

The mistake I constantly see Microsoft making with Linux is the same mistake I’ve seen Microsoft competitors make when competing with Microsoft: focusing on the competition and not the customer.

This mistake is even a bigger problem with Linux because it isn’t a product from a company; not really, it’s seen as a collaborative offering created by the customers themselves. When you attack it, as SCO found out painfully, you end up attacking the very people you may want to sign the check for the stuff you sell – and that isn’t particularly smart.

So, what does the customer currently using Linux want? They want a good value, they want control of their own shop, they want to trust what they get and who is providing it, and they want to participate in decisions that affect them. They currently see Microsoft as too expensive, forcing them to upgrade or pay for products they don’t yet feel they need. Partially as a result, they don’t trust the company, and they feel that Microsoft doesn’t listen to them when they complain.

For Microsoft to attack Linux doesn’t fix these kinds of impressions. Because the attack is focused on IT’s own fix, it is often seen as an attack on them. And the Linux community, made up to a large extent by IT types, moves to defend the platform.

Next Page: Imagining a Successful Microsoft Linux Strategy

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