LinuxWorld is going to be pretty major this week. We can expect some particularly aggressive announcements from HP concerning open source software (OSS) stacks in its products. IBM plans to maintain its Linux drumbeat, while trying to further popularize its POWER microprocessor in the Linux domain. From Novell we’ll get some news around the Linux 2.6 kernel in the shape of the next release of SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, which promises major scalability enhacements in terms of database use, as well as a continued focus on management tooling for Linux infrastructures in the shape of ZENworks. Oracle, for one, has already demonstrated some pretty hardcore 2.6 kernel-based TPC-C numbers in conjunction with NEC.
The only major IT player that is unlikely to be at the show in force is Microsoft. Although it is increasingly looking to open source methods and practices to improve its time to market and community mind share in specific areas, Linux is still a no-no. As LinuxWorld moves beyond its Linux roots to engage with a host of other OSS platforms Microsoft will be pulled into its center of gravity. As my business partner Stephen O’Grady explained to a reporter the other day, Microsoft is getting far closer to OSS, particularly through its emerging relationship with the Open Source Development Network (OSDN).
Basically – if you want to know how things are changing at Microsoft listen to the sensible voice of OSS at the firm–Jason Matusow–rather than the guys running the company, who keep letting rhetoric get in the way of the facts–think Communism, Cancer and claims of crappy insecure code. Jason on the other hand is going full steam ahead to open Microsoft up, through its “shared source initiative”. Put it this way, look at what Microsoft does, not what Steve and Bill say, to understand the company’s softening stance towards an approach that is proving itself every day. More eyeballs, less upfront investment, more industry standards, there are some very interesting approaches emerging.
The fact is that the distinctions between open source and “proprietary” or “commercial” software are unsustainable; perhaps even ludicrous. OSS has won this war in the same way that free market economic theory has triumphed over other political ideas. Successful companies will need to adopt and take the middleground, as all software companies increasingly package a mixture of open source and proprietary code to deliver services to customers. Who is Clinton? Blair? Dubya? Which firm will steal the middleground and make it its own? Now is not the time for ideology, but pragmatism. I believe the OSS movement is unstoppable, a patent war notwithstanding. There are some interesting parallels between IT and competing political movements– It it used to be that mutual annhilation was the threat that kept America and Russia from pressing the button marked “Dr Strangelove Scenario”. Today the same applies in tech–if Microsoft goes to war against open source using patent methods we can expect the Big Daddy of patent holding–IBM–to hit back hard. Neither company can really countenance this doomsday scenario.
All in all then we can expect some bad news for Microsoft from its competitors this week at LinuxWorld. But in the long run Microsoft will Embrace and Extend open source. The dynamics forcing down margins in software and hardware are set to continue–this will hurt the bottom lines of companies across the sector. Let the best packager/account controller win. For customers meanwhile keep bargaining, keep negotiating, and drive down those software licensing charges–use OSS to keep vendors on their toes. Cheaper software, that is the world its becoming.