Will Linux Benefit from Microsoft's SNAFU in Massachusetts?

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Tom Adelstein
Sep. 28, 2005 03:35 PM
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David Berlind over at ZDNet wrote a remarkable article called Did Microsoft send the wrong guy to Massachusetts' ODF hearing?. If you missed this article, you'll have missed the equivalent of what Intel's Andy Grove called an inflection point. This one has the potential to have more impact than the release of the first Pentium processor.

David believes that Microsoft should have sent Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer to the hearing. In light of the continuing anti-trust litigation between Microsoft and the Commonwealth, one has to wonder if either Microsoft executive would have been appropriate.

Shortly after the announcement of the Commonwealth's decision to require the Open Document Format for all state agencies, Australia compelled its entire government to adopt the same. One only has to wonder who else will follow. I would expect all countries across the global to break Redmond's de facto standard.

How does this hurt Microsoft?

Consider it the equivalent of the breakup of a monopoly. What the US Justice Department did not do in court, Massachusetts did in practice. The value of Microsoft Office just fell drastically. Think of the tide retracting from the beach way back into the ocean. If you don't know what that means, then I suggest you run as fast as you can away from the beach and head to high ground immediately.

If I ran Corel, Word Perfect Office Suite would have a patch that made it ODF compatible immediately. Sun Microsystems already released their Star office 8 product with ODF early and expect a few others to follow suit. If you don't like Microsoft's Office productivity suite, you probably won't like their desktop either. It costs too much.

A Different World, Mr. Gates

Today, IT infrastructures stretch beyond the firewall. Vendors and supply chain management touch one end of the value chain, and customers and business partners touch the other end. The regulatory environment touches your infrastructure because of requirements stipulated in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Sarbanes Oxley, DoD 5015.2, Patriot Act, Employee Retirement and Income Security Act, Consumer Product Safety Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, SEC Rule 17a-4, NASD 3010 and 3110 and much case law, to mention only the main ones.

The regulatory environment alone demands resources we did not consider necessary five years ago. Now, even small-to-medium size businesses have to make investments in storage area networks (SANS), back-up facilities and redundant architectures. Requirements for open standards and application security can bring heavy fines and penalties for non-compliance. In February of this year, the SEC levied fines totaling $2.1 million against J.P. Morgan Securities for failing to produce all of the e-mail requested during an inquiry.

The search for an enduring document format led OASIS to invent ODF. Thirty years from now and under current laws and regulations, you just might have to retrieve a document from an archived data warehouse. Massachusetts wanted, no demanded, that ability immediately. Microsoft did not comply.

What About Linux?

Massachusetts plans to roll out Openoffice.org's Productivity Suite to its existing Windows platforms. But as many people understand, Linux has the better desktop environment for Openoffice.org and its cousin Star Office 8. Corel once ported the Wordperfect Office Suite to Linux and can do that again.

When one considers the need to cut IT costs in states, commonwealths and countries, then Linux starts to look even more attractive. Unbundled, Windows doesn't look as good as Linux distributions which come with Openoffice.org as part and parcel of the operating system.

Some Final Thoughts

Microsoft has essentially alienated the rest of the IT industry. I can't remember a single company that had so many people working in harmony against it, including IBM at the height of its arrogance. The Java Community Process provides just one example of an industry working again a company.

With all the pressure aagainst Microsoft, the levees had to experience a breach at some point. On September 23rd, I believe the levee broke. Only time will prove us right or wrong.

Respectfully submitted

Tom Adelstein became an author in 1985 and has published and written non-fiction books, journalistic investigative reports, novels and screen plays prolifically ever since.