Should Microsoft Windows Go Open-Source?


Microsoft's Windows platforms need to be more like Linux if the software giant ever hopes to compete against open-source software, including operating systems.  That's the claim being made by InformationWeek's Charles Babcock , who's taken a look at Microsoft's declining revenues for Windows clients and concluded that it's time to toss the operating system--which allegedly nets Microsoft $34 per Windows XP installation--to the open-source wolves.

According to Babcock, sales and licenses for applications like Microsoft Office are the real cash cow for Microsoft.  But how might a free Microsoft Windows operating system ease the bloodletting--defections of customers to open-source solutions for all their computer interactions?

If anything, he suggests that the move to an open-source operating system would be a gesture of courtesy at best.  As it stands, Microsoft no longer holds a proprietary grip on the market with its applications. Customers are free to choose from a plethora of other, more inexpensive options that offer the same functionality as, say, Microsoft Office: Google Docs, OpenOffice, Zoho, to name a few.  Continuing the example, Microsoft no longer dominates with its file formats either--you can thank Open XML for that.

So what makes customers continue to adopt Microsoft's pricy solutions over open-source alternatives?  Babcock doesn't have an answer for that one.  But he does suggest that businesses are already considering hybrid open-source/Microsoft solutions to replace existing Microsoft-only platforms in an effort to curb costs during strenuous economic times.  That's why Microsoft Windows needs to be free -- as a gesture of goodwill, but also as a means for making as much of a marketing and integrated push toward Microsoft applications as the company can muster.  According to Babcock, applications are Microsoft makes its money: four to 12 times as much as its revenue from its operating systems.

The article goes on to discuss Microsoft's losses in the mobile and netbook spaces --familiar topics to anyone who's read these weekly open-source updates on Maximum PC. Babcock is predicting that Windows Mobile will be the first Microsoft OS to jump ship to an open-source model, given the rampant growth and expectations for its competitors: Apple's iPhone, as well as Google's open-source Android mobile operating system and an open-source variant of Nokia's Symbian.

Microsoft has been dabbling in open-source as of late, but more contributing to projects than revolutionizing its own core software.  It's too early to tell whether these experiments are just that, or a precursor to a larger open push from Redmond.  And it's not as if open-source hasn't hit its share of stumbling blocks as well.  But the fact remains that open-source software is starting to fight for every inch of playing field--analogous to how Mozilla Firefox has steadily chipped away at Internet Explorer on the software front.  Microsoft might not be ready to talk open-source come Windows 7, but Babcock's theory of a slow trickle of additional open-source functionality into future iterations of the Windows operating system is a possibility.

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