PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

The Big, the Bad, and the Ugly

August  2003  

When configuring a new PC the other day, rather then just reach for a “default” copy of Windows, I paused and looked long and hard at the latest edition of Suse Linux instead. I made a conscious decision to analyse if this was prejudice or practicality, and to be honest, I’m not 100% certain. I have nothing personal against Microsoft software – like millions of others, I have been an unpaid beta tester for over 15 years and known very little else – but I do relish the unfamiliar sensation that at last, I have a real choice. And that set me thinking, which always a dangerous moment.

For some reason that must have something to do with Bill Gates’ inestimable personal charm, and nothing at all to do with huge financial inducements, European monopoly legislation continues to allow Microsoft to lead a charmed life largely in charge of the directions of the IT industry. Who else can boast of 90%+ market share and not find themselves in the dock for restrictive practises? Correct, no commercial company that you or I can think of – so why is it permitted?

Search me – although one might reasonably speculate that governments find it so much simpler to deal with a single behemoth, than the organised anarchy of the Linux world, that blind eyes are being turned as governments are planning all sorts of invasive legislation to attempt to curb various abuses of the internet. And perhaps the fact that Microsoft pays large taxes hasn’t gone unnoticed, whereas the alternative is revenue free. (Although the considerable amount that central and local government pays for Microsoft Software should be offset).

Perhaps in an effort to avoid rubbing it in, Microsoft is barely advertising at present. After all, it simply doesn’t have to since almost every PC arrives de-facto preinstalled with Microsoft OS and applications. But the other side of this world dominance coin is that there isn’t any more market to conquer in OS and apps, and the only way is down – even at the very best, this aspect of Microsoft’s sales are lashed to the state of the market.

The fact that Linux is free to all intents and purposes is only a small part of the story, as any IT manager will know. The price of software is the least of the challenges facing a commercial IT installation – keeping it all going and meeting users expectations is everything.  And do not forget the cost of compliance – there is no penalty for allowing users to run riot with freeware, whereas if a few hooky copies of Word escape, Mr Plod and his friends may be feeling the collars of all your company’s hard drives.

So the fact that Linux also works as advertised is an essential part of the plot; and the fact that people like IBM and Sun are now endorsing it also helps the brand-aware to accept that there might be such a thing as a free lunch, after all. Indeed, IBM's delight at edging Linux into its marketplace to displace Windows whenever it can barely conceals a real desire to see Microsoft reduced to penury after the way Microsoft abandoned IBM with OS2 in a dead end. But let’s be honest, we’d all enjoy a monopoly if we were allowed to get away one, as IBM and Sun both know very well; and IBM’s only real gripe is that Microsoft took over IBM’s role as the industry’s Monopolist in Chief.

Is Microsoft now looking at extinction in the server and desktop software marketplace? Well, not yet, but the availability of versatile multi-boot partitioning schemes that allows users to choose between Windows and Linux on start up ought to make the migration process more accessible. But the availability of a Hyperos ( that promises to support instant flipping between Windows and Linux will make the biggest contribution yet to encourage the conservative to test the water, as does the availability of truly vast hard drives (180G IBM IDE drives for around £135...) and main RAM of 1GByte or more.

Suspecting that their game is in danger, if not exactly “up”, Micosoft has been edging out into as many ancillary businesses over the past few years, and has latterly been hoovering up GIS and mapping businesses, with Mapblast being a recent victim. (See

Amazingly, Microsoft missed trick and an opportunity to plug a big hole in its software range recently when Sony (who obviously read Computer Shopper and take our advice), concluded a deal to acquire the desktop software assets of Sonic Foundry – which includes the wonderful Vegas video editing software, and the equally competent Sound Forge and Acid audio tools.  Sony paid $18m, so although that’s small change to Sony, it's still slightly more than the RRP. This news was probably cheered by the competition at Adobe, whose venerable Premiere video editing software does not compare favourably; and I would imagine there are even sighs of relief as far up the food chain as Avid and Discreet, since Sony is not exactly synonymous with competent PC software development and marketing.

Of course, the next Press Release I read may well announce “Microsoft Acquires Sony” – which would actually be a sound strategic move, given Microsoft’s ambitions to escape the OS hegemony with games machinery and media in general. Although maybe Bill is waiting to find the remnants of AOL/Time Warner posted up on eBay so he can get in the Guinness Book of World again, this time for the biggest PayPal transaction of all time.

So then,  what OS did I eventually install..? A multi-partition Windows/Suse Linux configuration. Which installation was the more painless? Both about the same. Which seems more stable? Linux, of course. Which one has all the apps installed ? Blast. As usual this is where the romance stops and reality gets in the way; would someone please remind application developers to port everything to Linux? Thanks!