A Crack in the Armor

Over the past three and a half years, I've spent a good amount of time worrying about ways that Microsoft's long-term plans and strategies could hurt the market share of Linux and Open Source. Well, about a week ago, I was having a conversation with Jeremy Zawodny (one of our senior editors), and he raised some points that made me realize something: it might just be Microsoft's turn to be really worried. But not about Linux. (At least, not directly.) No, if I were Microsoft, I'd be much more worried about a little piece of software known as Apache.

Over the past three and a half years, I’ve spent a good amount of time worrying about ways that Microsoft’s long-term plans and strategies could hurt the market share of Linux and Open Source. Well, about a week ago, I was having a conversation with Jeremy Zawodny (one of our senior editors), and he raised some points that made me realize something: it might just be Microsoft’s turn to be really worried. But not about Linux. (At least, not directly.) No, if I were Microsoft, I’d be much more worried about a little piece of software known as Apache.

Now, I’ve never really believed that Linux or Open Source represented substantial threats to any of Microsoft’s entrenched franchises on the desktop. And as I said, until this past week, I’ve been much more worried about the threat that Windows and .NET pose to Linux on the server. But there is something very serious going on here with Apache 2.0.

With 2.0, Apache’s performance on Windows is now equal to its performance on Linux/Unix. By reaching parity, there’s no longer a penalty for deploying Web-based applications on Apache/ Windows. And of course, once you move Apache over to Windows, you’ve also got to take the whole rest of the Open Source computing stack along with it (Apache brings with it tools like MySQL, Perl, Python, PHP, Ruby, Java, etc.).

That is definitely not what Microsoft wants to see.

But it was the example Jeremy used that really brought the whole thing home for me. Remember back in 1995, when everyone would go out and buy a Windows 95 desktop machine, but then go home and download and install Netscape on it? That really flipped Microsoft out. They realized that if the browser represented a new programming interface, and they didn’t have control of the browser’s APIs, they could eventually lose some degree of control over the future direction of Windows.

So, they went out and developed Internet Exporer (IE) and gave it away for free with Windows itself. Microsoft also transformed IE into the best browser on the market. The net result? They “cut off Netscape’s air supply” (read as “revenue”), and made Netscape into a marginal player.

Now think again about the threat that Apache represents to Microsoft. If Web developers prefer Apache to Microsoft IIS, they’ll buy Windows servers and download and install Apache, just like people did with Netscape on Windows 95. Only now, Microsoft can’t cut off Apache’s air supply, because it’s already a free product. Worse, Apache brings with it a slew of free tools, which threatens their Visual Studio franchise. Moreover, once you’ve got Apache running your whole Web site on Windows, it’s not that far of a leap to swap out Windows and swap in Linux. Microsoft can’t be too happy about the prospect of any of this.

Microsoft is probably the best company in the history of companies when it comes to battling corporate enemies. But unfortunately for them, this is not the kind of fight they’re used to having. It’s less like fighting an enemy and more like fighting the weather. You can’t really do it. At best, you can prepare for it, and in some cases you can even turn it to your advantage. (Think wind mills in Holland and solar power.) If I worked in Redmond right now, I’d be thinking very hard about ways that I might be able to do just that.


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Adam M. Goodman


Editor & Publisher

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