Getting Snarky

I've been sitting here watching the latest snipe-fest between Sun and Microsoft. This is really nothing new. It's common to see the two of them heckling away at each other on any given day. However, this latest volley of invective caught my attention more than usual. Why? Because it made me take a step back and think about the underlying forces that are driving the initiatives both companies are advancing.

I’ve been sitting here watching the latest snipe-fest between Sun and Microsoft. This is really nothing new. It’s common to see the two of them heckling away at each other on any given day. However, this latest volley of invective caught my attention more than usual. Why? Because it made me take a step back and think about the underlying forces that are driving the initiatives both companies are advancing.

In case you haven’t heard, the most recent Sun/Microsoft “debate” (and I use the term extremely loosely) revolves around all sorts of issues related to Web services. For the uninitiated, Web services are the next generation of Web-centric applications that both companies believe represent the future of software development.

Sun and Microsoft are pushing different strategies to enable programmers to write these applications and end users to take advantage of them. Microsoft is backing their .NET platform, while Sun has created a new umbrella for all their Web-centric initiatives that is called Sun ONE.

There is a “question and answer” exchange between Microsoft’s PR agency and Sun regarding the two competing initiatives posted on Sun’s Web site at http://www.sun.com/dot-com/realitycheck/headsup010205.html.

After reading that posting, I started to find the whole situation kind of amusing, because I think they might both be barking up the wrong tree. While they sit there saying snarky things about each other, the foundation upon which both companies built their businesses is shifting beneath their feet.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. This will not be another “open source changes everything” column. I’m not going to engage in any philosophical arguments regarding open vs. closed source. However, I do think there are certain inescapable realities that both Microsoft and Sun are going to need to face up to.

Here’s the basic problem for both Sun and Microsoft (and any other vendor of proprietary tools): The dawning of the Internet age has caused all corporations to redesign their information infrastructure around the open standards that allowed the Internet to reach critical mass in the first place. Adherence to these open standards has created a much greater demand for open systems and tools that are not owned or controlled by any one company, and demand for those products has done a great deal to foster the commercial acceptance of the open source movement. Unfortunately, the more open the systems and tools are, the less opportunity any single vendor has to lock a customer into that company’s systems and solutions.

The bottom line for both Microsoft and Sun is that truly open standards erode their competitive advantages.

On the other hand, the open source phenomenon has not exactly proved itself a wonderful standalone business model either. Companies that have based their business models on selling open source software have had trouble making money because their stuff is too open. All of them are attempting to develop new revenue streams that do not come from selling the software itself.

In any case, all this bickering between Sun and Microsoft isn’t going to alter the fact that the open nature of the Internet is changing the rules for all companies that develop and sell software — and it’s not yet clear how any of this is going to shake out in the end.

See you next month,

Adam Signature

Adam M. Goodman

President & Publisher

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