Abstract Art

Microsoft is smart. Very smart. I've been concerned lately that many people in the open source community don't realize this. I've been starting to feel like some of us might be "fighting the last war" without noticing that the battlefield is shifting.

Microsoft is smart. Very smart. I’ve been concerned lately that many people in the open source community don’t realize this. I’ve been starting to feel like some of us might be “fighting the last war” without noticing that the battlefield is shifting.

Hindsight, as we all know, is 20/20. It’s easy for us to look back and mock IBM for allowing DOS to become the standard OS in the 1980s and Microsoft to become the powerhouse it is today. The problem with this view is that, at the time, no one thought software had any value. IBM and many other companies thought the game was hardware. In the early days, IBM used to give away the source code to the OS that accompanied their mainframes (Sound familiar?) But Bill Gates thought software did have value, and he proved himself right.

Nowadays, it seems most people’s attention is focused on the operating system wars — Microsoft vs. Linux. My fear is that just as IBM was fighting the last war in the 1980s, many of us focused on the “OS wars” run the risk of repeating that mistake.

One thing that Microsoft has always been extremely good at is identifying and controlling the level of abstraction at which most programmers will be writing their programs. That’s why when IBM focused on hardware and the BIOS, Microsoft focused on DOS. They knew that most programs would be written to DOS APIs, not to the hardware directly. In fact, you might say that Microsoft has made controlling these abstraction layers an art (Ouch, bad pun — see title).

Recently, Microsoft began to fundamentally shift their entire corporate strategy towards their .NET platform. One can assume that they now believe the layer programmers are writing to is the browser and its associated standards (HTML, XML, Java, JavaScript, VBScript, ActiveX Controls, etc.) They wish to ensure that, no matter what future devices people use to access the Internet, every one of them will be .NET equipped and ready to run Microsoft applications.

In a networked environment, it’s much harder to exercise strict control over how programmers write applications, because much of what can be done on the client can also be done on the server. Without controlling both ends, Microsoft can’t exercise the control that it currently has over desktop standards. Even so, if Microsoft leverages .NET to make Office a network-centric application, they will have a head start on controlling the direction of future standards. If everyone needs their browser to be able to access Microsoft applications, Microsoft will retain control over the programming standards of tomorrow.

To make things even more interesting, Microsoft has begun to enlist help in their effort to make .NET ubiquitous. In October, they invested $135 million in the Corel Corporation. Corel has mostly transformed itself into a Linux company by this time, so there is speculation that this investment will lead to an implementation of .NET on Linux.

The OS war is yesterday’s news, and the battlefield has shifted. Microsoft sees this, and if we in the Linux community don’t do something about it, Microsoft is going to outsmart everyone yet again. If we let Microsoft stake out the battlefields and determine how the game will be played before we do, we are handing them a huge advantage. I have the utmost respect for Microsoft, but I want to see Linux win in a fair fight.

See you next month,

Adam Signature

Adam M. Goodman

Editor & Publisher

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