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May 15, 2006


Jon Collins

Good to meet you this week - keep in touch!

Robert Coop


I've been thinking about MS and the OSS community for some time now, and the same thought keeps occurring to me. I'm sure there's some fatal flaw here that I'm not seeing, but I'd love the opportunity to hear what you think about this:

Microsoft is often accused of pissing off their user base and risking corporate and government conversions to competitors due to them continually trying to create vendor lock-in. Here's an idea that sounds like the absolute worst thing (from MS's point of view), but I'm starting to think it is the most profitable thing that MS could do, and would guarantee MS's future prosperity in a way that nothing else could:

Make MS products open source. MS faces the most competition in the markets dominated by elite users such as computer science majors and the like, so why not join the competition? If that were to happen, MS would instantly gain thousands of pro-bono security reviewers, feature implementers, etc.; they'd have all the benefits that open source projects have. I would bet anything that a team (it would be wise for MS to start it) would form to port MS operating systems onto the Linux kernel. ODF would be written into all Office apps, and the best part is that MS would stand to lose nothing. The open source environment has a way of coalescing around the most mature applications. How many OpenOffice developers would love nothing more than to work all the features they love about OO into Office? If MS truly GPL'd their software, they would gain unstoppable momentum. Developers, developers, developers!

I know, I know, here's the obvious reason this would never work: MS doesn't want to give away their software. The kicker is, people would buy the packaged and supported official OS, even if they could roll their own for free. Look at the Red Hat business model; corporations and other large entities want support, and they want a large company holding their hand and telling them that it will be OK. My parents aren't going to download tarballs and compile Vista because the majority of people will happily pay for convenience. OK, so other people can roll their own MS based packages and try to sell them, you say? MS has the most brand-awareness that has ever existed. Ubuntu's Ubunista (now with Office 2007 and Exchange!) will not out sell Microsoft's CollabOS, because people will buy what they know best. The media hype around the decision will leave the average user with the thought that MS has done something to make their product even greater, not with the thought that they can now go to someone they've never heard about and buy MS Office.

It seems to me that MS would retain the majority of their customers, be given the labor that would transform their products into the best software that exists for free, gain market share in the tech crowd as their products mature, and steal developers from their OSS competitors. All at the same time. What am I missing here?

So, I would greatly appreciate it if you would shoot me a reply, either here, via e-mail, or even in person if you think it's worth talking about. My e-mail address is rcoop at yew tee kay dot eee dee yew, minus the phonetics (see my sig).

Robert Coop
University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Good to hear that Microsoft has openly embraced open source. I live in hope that Microsoft can go that extra mile and port the Microsoft Experience to other platforms.

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When we win it's with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler's sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Rainer Maria Rilke