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Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Giant versus . . . someone

Back in the days I started working with computers, the operating language was DOS. Now Microsoft had created DOS for IBM, or some such thing. IBM, as I recall licensed it from Microsoft and relabeled some versions. At the same time Digital Research created their own brand of DOS, and there was at least one shareware version on the market at various times, so you had a choice of three or four operating systems. Yet, at heart, they were all DOS. Only the geeks cared which one was on the computer.

Of course, there were Apples, but that is another story.

Apple's picture interface helped prompt Microsoft to develop windows(R). Over the years, Apple has become a specialized niche, while virtually everything else runs on Windows(R), or so Microsoft would have you believe.

There is another desktop operating system. It, too, has been around a long time. It was originally a true geek system. In general, let's call this OS Unix. It came in a variety of flavors. Today's main version is now called Linux, and it also has a variety of flavors, although they are all built on the same core kernel.

Now, as time has passed, there has been this ongoing effort in a small portion of the developers world to convince the guy on the street that Linux is as good as, if not better than Windows(R). What is more, in the last couple of years, the Linux folks have created some good visual interfaces that make one think the computer acts just like an Apple or a Windows(R) machine, which, of course, it does.

The community that backs Linux systems is generally called the Open Source community, since many of the products are really a joint effort and the licensing is "loose" allowing others to modify the software. Presumably this allows for better products.

There has always been a battle between Microsoft and the Open Source community. After all, the goal of Open Source is to displace Microsoft, while the computer giant is in the business of making money for its stockholders. A lot of peope forget about this. The world is not an ideal place, as many geeks would hope. Software is not developed for everyone to play with at a code level.

Software, in general, is developed to make money for its developer / owner. Microsoft is in the business of developing software and selling it to the public to make money to pay the salaries of its employees and pay dividends to its stockholders. If it does not accomplish this, the company's management would change.

Recently, Microsoft has issued a couple of press releases suggesting its continuing friendlieness to the Open Source community. Open Source as a word processor called OpenOffice. Micorsoft has announced it would back the development of an open source project designed to bridge the compatibility gap between Microsoft Office and OpenDocument Format, the format for OpenOffice.

Microsoft also recently announced a partnership aimed at allowing its virtual servers to run Linux based systems.

I have noticed that both of these announcements have been met with much skepticism. Will Microsoft really support Open Source? Why would they?

Well, maybe there is a way for the giant to make some money? I do not want to seem skeptical myself, but Microsoft controls the PCs. True, there are other players, but since the Microsoft operating system is what runs the vast majority of desktops and laptops in the world today, right now, Microsoft has control. They want the computer to continue to evolve so that others will continue to upgrade, purchasing more software products.

If helping other developers, even Open Source developers, will allow Microsoft to achieve this goal, then it is likely the company will assist in the development of what are competing products. It is called business sense.

Not everyone will agree with me. At times I dislike the computer giant as much as the next guy. At other times I love them. The software company does much to help the little developer as well as the competition. There is a sense in which we all are riding the same ship. If the computer disappears, software disappears as well and every software designer and developer will be looking for a new line of work.

It is easy to complain about the giants of the world. It is natural to be skeptical. At the same time, we need to applaud the efforts Microsoft makes to help us all develop our products and get them to market. Be cautious about how far Microsoft goes toward promoting Open Source, but don't count them out of the game.

Jim A


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