A lot of open source advocates like to rage against the machine at Microsoft, but when a former Microsoft Research employee says that Windows 7 won't stop Linux from market domination, that's an opinion to note. Keith Curtis, author of the book After the Software Wars, says just that. But he goes further. He thinks Microsoft and its customers would be better off if the company ditched Windows and instead built its own version of the Linux operating system.
These topics came up yesterday during my interview with Curtis for Network World's Panorama Podcast series. It was an interesting conversation with someone who has crossed over worlds, from Microsoft employee to free software advocate. But it raised as many questions in my mind as it answered. For instance (at 13:10 in the interview), I asked Curtis how he thinks Microsoft can meet its obligations to employees, shareholders and customers while also morphing itself from a proprietary software maker to an open source company. His answer was surprising: Microsoft Linux. He noted that Ubuntu was started with about $10 million -- an amount that Microsoft could lose unnoticed in the cushions of a couch.
"I think we could all be running Microsoft Linux. I sent an e-mail to Steve Ballmer about this and he said he wasn't interested," he quips, but is only partially joking. "Microsoft could very easily dominate the Linux market if they wanted to. I don't think they should release all their source code ... nobody would use it."
Given the likelihood of Microsoft Linux (zippo), I asked him if he thought the IT industry, with its giant Microsoft ecosystem, would somehow be better off if Microsoft vanished rather than having the folks in Redmond figure out how to become more open.
"There is an ecosystem around Microsoft but if you look at the ISV ecosystem, that's mostly disappeared. When I joined Microsoft in '93, there would be boxes of software that people would install. But that's almost gone. Microsoft's partners are service providers and hardware vendors. ... whether Microsoft should whither away is a difficult question. I just look at their code bases and the world doesn't need any of their code bases. From the day I started using Linux, I no longer used one line of Microsoft code -- it's been four years now."
I am not a programmer, but as a user and a journalist who has spent over 20 years covering the IT industry, I can see how the open source model, where source code is visible to all, makes a lot of sense. Along with that, the various open source licenses that allow anyone to change code, as long as they keep the code visible, also make sense.
But I also worry about this idea that "open" software must also somehow be "free" software. If someone wants to give it away, that's up to the individual. Shareware and freeware have been around as long as the personal computer itself. However, I can't reconcile requiring programmers to donate their work, leaving them to figure out how to earn a living with some kind of subscription or services model.
Curtis doesn't see it that way. He says the programming can become similar to lawyer-ing (listen to him at 3:25 mark). Lawyers get paid a pretty penny by clients that need their expertise, but they don't own the documents they produce -- those go into the public record as part of court cases. "As long as software has bugs, as long as computers stink, there will be a market for computer programmers," he says.
We also discuss what it will take to get Linux to become a popular choice for mainstream consumers who today buy Windows or Macs and why driverless cars are made possible by free software.
It was a lot to chew on. What do you think? Could Redmond own the open source world if it released Microsoft Linux?
Like this post? Check out these others.
- Are you ready for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2?
- Torvalds offers a thumbs-up to Windows 7
- Microsoft, Dell, Spectrum Bridge launch first public white spaces network
- 7 tools for Windows 7 rollouts
- Patch Tuesday whopper: 13 patches (8 critical), plus one surprise patch for XML
- Just How Much Is Riding on Windows 7 For Microsoft?
- More on Computer System Responsiveness
- A guide to the many planned versions of SharePoint 2010
- Hosting PHP on Windows Makes More Sense than Ever
- Huddle offers Microsoft-Office friendly alternative to Google Apps
Plus, visit the Microsoft Subnet web site for more news, blogs, podcasts. Subscribe to all Microsoft Subnet bloggers. Sign up for the bi-weekly Microsoft newsletter. (Click on News/Microsoft News Alert.)
Follow All Microsoft Subnet bloggers on Twitter
Follow Julie Bort on Twitter
Julie Bort is the editor of Microsoft Subnet and Network World's Online Community Editor. She also writes the Open Source Subnet blog and is the editor responsible for the Cisco Subnet and Open Source Subnet web sites. If you have an idea for a blog, or a news tip on Microsoft, Cisco or Open Source technologies, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 970-482-6454 or follow Julie on Twitter @Julie188.
The Microsoft Subnet blog is the official blog of the Network World's Microsoft Subnet community. Microsoft Subnet is the independent voice of Microsoft customers and is your gateway to daily Microsoft news, blogs, opinion, books, prize giveaways and more. Visit the Microsoft Subnet index page daily, and while you are there, subscribe to the Microsoft newsletter.
Policy on comments: Respectful discussion is welcomed! However comments that use inappropriate language, consist of name calling or personal attacks, or include accusations of wrongdoing are not appropriate. Those comments will be deleted or edited