Friday, March 23, 2007

The worst time in history to choose Microsoft

I've just heard of a company (which shall remain nameless) that has decided to move to Microsoft for their SharePoint collaboration stack, and that pretty much implies that they will be using Microsoft technology pervasively throughout their organisation.

Why, I asked my contact.

Because we've debated this for too long and we need to make a decision and move on, he said matter-of-factly.

I would normally accept this pragmatic wisdom, but I could not help raising an important point. Isn't this precisely the wrong time to be moving towards Microsoft, I asked, when the story in the non-Microsoft (read: Open Source) world has never looked better?

To pre-empt the usual "corporate" arguments against Open Source, I pointed out to him that much of the Open Source software seen today is in fact erstwhile commercial software that has been newly released as Open Source. Examples are OpenOffice.org (ex-StarOffice), Firefox (ex-Netscape), Fedora Directory Server (formerly Netscape Directory Server), Ingres, TerraCotta (clustering software), Eclipse, etc. What's more, the stream of goodies doesn't seem to be ending. Java itself will be Open Sourced this year. So will Sun's portal server. Why, so will Microsoft's FoxPro!

Third parties are rushing in to build integrated stacks from these excellent software products, and offering support at a price. Think Unisys and SpikeSource.

When so much proven software is "falling off the back of a truck", is this organisation's timing wrong in choosing this point in history to look elsewhere?

The software industry's very model seems to be evolving towards "free software, paid services". Shouldn't they be targetting this future instead of the old model of software license fees?

I don't know if my arguments will make any difference to this company, but articulating them has strengthened my conviction that this is the worst time in history to be choosing Microsoft, or any proprietary software vendor, for that matter.

It's like formulating business and/or IT strategy in 1994 without taking the Internet into account. Two years later, people would look at you and go, "What were you thinking?"

We can see the trend towards commercially-supported Open Source taking shape before our eyes today. If we lock ourselves into a multi-year licensing arrangement with Microsoft today, will we end up looking foolish tomorrow when the trend becomes the norm?

1 comment:

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