Microsoft's Dead Duck

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By Robin Whitlock

Sales of Microsoft’s new smartphone Microsoft Phone 7 are beginning to seriously fall behind those of its competitors according to John Dvorak writing on PC Magazine’s website (1). The problem, he says, is that Microsoft is ‘scared to death’ of Open Source software on the basis that one of the Open Source licenses will push Microsoft further into relying on it. Dvorak finds it interesting that a company which is renowned for lifting other people’s ideas, to the extent of having been sued many times over it, refuses to take advantage of a wide open source of products and code.
Open Source Software (OSS) is software that is available under license enabling the user to study, change and improve the software. One of the most popular OSS systems is Linux which is increasingly being fitted into netbooks. Stephen J. Vaughan-Nichols reported back in 2008 on Computerworld that Microsoft is worried users will start to buy Linux for desktops instead of relying on Windows (1). Microsoft has also shown hostility to another popular OSS brand, Open Office. It is clearly running scared of OSS and the reason seems to be the fact that Microsoft earns revenue from big license fees on its packaged software. Open Source Software on the other hand is free. Not only that, the user can integrate components manufactured by different companies whereas Microsoft users have to rely largely on Microsoft products only (1).

Bill Gates antipathy towards shared software goes back a long way. In an open letter to computer users written in February 1976, Gates more or less accused those who shared Altair BASIC among themselves, of theft. Most people using BASIC never bought the software themselves, he claimed before going on to report that “The amount of royalties we have received from sales to hobbyists makes the time spent on Altair BASIC worth less than $2 an hour”. To Gates, the reason why this was so was obvious. “Why is this?” he asked before answering his own question “as the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?” (2) That attitude hasn’t changed over the years, with Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer describing Open Source as “a cancer” (3).
The result of this antipathy is now clearly visible. Microsoft Phone 7 is failing to impress consumers who are turning to phones equipped with Open Source software such as Linux and Android instead. Dvorak’s opinion is that Microsoft should open a separate department orientated specifically towards Open Source, and Linux and Android in particular, being completely separate from Microsoft’s other divisions. Dvorak believes that Microsoft will have no option to pull the plug on Phone 7, an especially humiliating prospect given the failure of the Microsoft Kin Phone previously.

(1) John Dvorak, ‘Microsoft Phone 7 is dead in the water’, PC Mag, 27th January 2011
(2) Stephen J. Vaughan-Nichols, ‘Why Microsoft is running scared of Linux’, Computerworld website, 7th November 2008
(3) William Henry Gates III, ‘An Open Letter to Hobbyists’, 3rd February 1976, courtesy of blinkenlights website.
(4) Egan Orion, ‘Microsoft’s overtures towards Open Source show how scared it is’, The Enquirer, 2nd August 2007.

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