After battling a number of competitors in the open market, it seemed like Microsoft’s path to total dominance was paved in gold. Founder Bill Gates had the company high-flying admits a time of intense competition in the 1990′s. But when they stepped into the 21st century, they were in a shadow of an enemy that was more formidable than any of the previous ones Microsoft had to fight off.
Nope, it’s not Apple. It’s not really a company, in fact. It’s about the open source movement.
With the development of truly free software for the community, Microsoft found an opponent hard to fight. Microsoft couldn’t simply use its capital power to drive open source out — it’s not that easy. Of course, free is not good for Microsoft. Just like any other company, they need to make their share of revenue in order to survive in the open market. In an interview with the Chicago Sun Times, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, noted “if you use any open-source software, you have to make the rest of your software open source. If the government wants to put something in the public domain, it should. Linux is not in the public domain. Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches. That’s the way that the license works.”
Those are some strong words, Steve — labeling Linux, the symbol of the open-source movement, cancer. Microsoft continued to oppose open-source activities as the enemy of American capitalistic values. The open-source movement, however, continued to gain momentum. Let’s fast forward to today, where Microsoft is pushed to deliver quality operating systems due in part to pressure from the open source community. After launching Windows XP in 2001, Microsoft went to work on a new operating system codenamed Longhorn, which was supposed to be a revolutionary OS upgrade. A new OS name and a few years later, Microsoft found itself scaling back and delaying the product. They are by no means screwed as long as they deliver a quality product. But they are most certainly behind. That’s when Microsoft started to change paths.
Recently, Microsoft extended a hand out to Mozilla’s Firefox team in a cooperative software development project. “In the past the company has only invited commercial software developers to these labs,” noted Sam Ramji, director of Open Source Labs at Microsoft, in a Mozilla Development Planning Post. “I’m committed to evolving our thinking beyond commercial companies to include open source projects, so I went to the non-trivial effort of getting slots for non-commercial open source projects.” Mozilla accepted the invitation for some one on one support and development for Windows Vista.
Such cooperative work usually does not turn heads — it happens all the time. Mozilla and Microsoft, however, are at it head to head as Firefox makes a strong push at Microsoft’s Internet Explorer prowess. Although Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still owns nearly three quarters of the shares, IE is clearly not as strong as it once was. Under the slogan “rediscover the web”, Firefox’s growth continues to keep Microsoft awake at night. This goes back to Microsoft’s aversion towards open-source projects. Microsoft actively opposed open-source movements (especially Linux) through much of the 1990s. Why change strategies now?
My first thought: Cool! I never knew Microsoft had an open-source lab!
But really now, what I want to elaborate here is what affects it will have on Microsoft’s philosophy. Their reaching out to Mozilla is without a doubt, bold. Microsoft put a lot of promise and anticipation into their new generation browser, Internet Explorer 7, but to openly develop Firefox onto their new generation OS is unheard of. Sure, many of the improvements in Internet Explorer 7 over its predecessor, version 6.0, are taken from what Firefox has. Most notably, tabbed browser is the major addition to IE7. But to extend an open hand to Mozilla? Perhaps Microsoft will further accept open-source software as a viable coexisting movement?
More importantly, what will this mean for Microsoft’s future? I would think that this isn’t much of a precedent as much as it is recognition of Mozilla Firefox’s strength. Obviously, all future Microsoft operating systems will continue to be sold with a price-tag and closed-source. I would also expect most of Microsoft’s applications to be sold as it is today. That said, in my opinion, I think Microsoft’s recognition of Firefox is a big plus for the consumers. Even though Microsoft would have to swallow their own words, cooperative development is always good for the consumers and the market. Come together and work for a common goal — classic definition of teamwork. I’ll leave you all with a quote from Alexander Graham Bell, the pioneer and foremost inventor of the modern telephone:
“Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds. I may be given credit for having blazed the trail, but when I look at the subsequent developments I feel the credit is due to others rather than to myself.”
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