The Why Behind Microsoft's OSS Strategy?
Feb 01, 2008, 23:30 (25 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)
By Brian Proffitt
When Sam Ramji, Director of Platform Technology Strategy and the
Open Source Software Lab at Microsoft, describes his company's open
source strategy, I believe him. Every word.
If that surprises you, or shocks you, it shouldn't. In fact, I
think you should listen to what he has to say, too. I believe
conversation with Mary Jo Foley gives us a vital clue into what
Microsoft is really doing regarding open source and Linux.
Ramji is an honest man. The problem is, he isn't telling us the
Let me emphasize: I do not think that Ramji is being dishonest.
An honest man will not immediately tell you his social security
number if you ask for it. Honesty does not mean being stupid or
careless. And, say what you want about Ramji and his employers,
they are not stupid.
What they are not telling you is the why behind all of this. Why
are they establishing an open source policy in the first place? Why
not start a misleading marketing plan and discredit Linux and its
fellow open source applications right out of business?
Well, for one thing, they have. And, for the most part, it did
not work. People in IT looked at the Get the Facts campaign and
decided that facts were something the campaign seriously lacked. In
the end, all it seemed to do was bring more attention to Linux than
before, leading many IT organizations to come to the conclusion
that Linux is indeed a viable alternative.
But I have a theory running around in my brain that makes me
wonder: if Microsoft's FUD has the opposite of the intended affect,
is that a clear loss for Microsoft?
Here's what I think might be happening here. This delves into
the realm of speculation, and if someone wants to rebut this line
of reasoning, feel free. I would especially welcome feedback from
The standard line of thought in the Linux community about
Microsoft is that they want to crush Linux like a bug, and anything
that they do has that sole end-goal in mind. Goodness knows they
have done a lot to perpetuate that over the years: the "cancer"
remark, the alleged infringing patents, the constant swipes at
quality. Pretty convincing, I must say.
But ponder this for a second: what if the competitive attitude
has been artificially heightened? What if all along Microsoft has
played up Linux and open source as a real competitor because
Microsoft needs a competitor to have more business options?
I know, get out the strait jackets. Bear with me for a bit.
What made this click for me was Foley's interpretation of
Ramji's PowerPoint slide that was the centerpiece of her article.
She indicated that Microsoft's strategy is to get itself into a
position of being a provider of an alternative to the LAMP
(Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP/Perl) stack--a WAMP stack, if you will.
That got me wondering: why is is important that Microsoft gets a
WAMP stack going?
The obvious answer is that Microsoft wants to dominate yet
another aspect of IT in its eerie imitation of the Borg. Another
possibility is that by shifting itself into the *AMP arena as a
viable competitor to LAMP, Microsoft can try to shed the perception
that it is a monopoly. If it can convince customers and government
watchdogs that it is really competing with LAMP, then it can do
things it really can't do now, such as lower prices, introduce new
sales agreements, and the like.
Think about it: if Microsoft tried to slash its prices right
now, several government entities could cry foul and accuse it of
monopolistic behavior. But if Redmond can demonstrate that it is
not a monopoly, that it does indeed face stiff competition in the
*AMP space, then it can legitimately make business decisions to
How does one face a competitor? By entering that competitor's
field of play. Microsoft, for now, has a solid lock on the home
desktop, and a pretty strong presence on the business desktop
(though that is changing rapidly). It needs, however, to move into
new markets--the LAMP space being one of them. LAMP is an area
where Microsoft has not dominated. But it wants to, badly.
It could lower prices to try to compete with LAMP installs, but
competing with free is hard to do, especially with the European
Union watching your every move. (That old monopoly bugaboo,
So it appears to me that Microsoft is trying to do two things:
enter the *AMP space and enter it in such a way that it is on the
levelest playing field Microsoft can manage. That means using open
If you're using the same technology as your competitors, then
suddenly not only can you position products against each other, but
now you can make a legitimate claim to price adjustments. Because
hey, you're using open source software, too, and you're just trying
to pass on the savings to the customers. Now the price difference
is less, and Microsoft has neatly avoided any claims of unfair
Even better... if you use open source technology and contribute
to it for others to use, you potentially could help make your
competitors stronger. And if your failed marketing campaign just
happens to send more business to our opponent... in this situation,
that might not be a clear loss, because it could also change a
government's perception of Redmond being unfair.
And perception is what this game is all about. No one
could seriously argue that open source needs some sort of
bolstering effort from Microsoft. But in the land o' perception,
the image of a Boy Scout walking an old lady across the street
looks heartwarming and kind. The fact that the old lady
might be a triathelon racer is not usually taken into account.
I will admit that this may be a reach. But I also think, with
Microsoft's ongoing legal woes and the threat of the LAMP space
forever closed to them using their traditional business practices,
this whole notion of competing with open source on open source
terms does not sound so far fetched.
If this is the plan, the OSS community should be ready to