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Is Linux really such a threat to Microsoft?

I have many questions about the opportunities that exist for Linux in the enterprise, but not many people seem to have have clear answers right now. For example, is Linux really such a threat to Microsoft? If so, in what area is it a threat? Or, in what areas -- say, in next-generation technologies -- will it pose a threat to MS in the future?

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A threat is a subjective matter. It is influenced by the intentions one has. For example, if it was my intention to kill, maim, or injure someone and they were to surround themself with bodyguards, I would see the bodyguards as a threat to the success of my intentions. On the other hand, if I were to just meet that same person casually in the street and had no such intentions, then where would be the threat?

Microsoft will have to speak for themselves on this matter. My ballot is with the customer. Customers want choice. A choice of a single business solution is not much choice. Some people feel threatened by limited choice. Here again, I point out that anyone who does not like a single choice solution can always choose not to play.

If I may phrase your question differently, "Is Linux capable of replacing Microsoft Windows for cerain applications?" My answer would be: "Yes!"

To what extent is Linux being groomed specifically to target replacement? I would argue: "Not much!" Red Hat and SuSE have yet to deliver a server product that is as easily configurable and as easy to manage as is Microsoft Windows Server 2003. The same companies have yet to deliver a workstation product that functions exactly the same way as Microsoft Windows XP professional workstations do. Both Linux companies are (to their credit) trying to carve a niche that is not based on a slug-them-out concept of direct displacement competition.

Microsoft would have less to fear from Linux if their customers were perfectly happy with existing technologies. After all, is it not unhappy customers who seek to switch suppliers in the hope of a better solution?

Linux can perform the tasks of a Microsoft Windows file and print server. It can replace the proxy server. It more than adequately performs any business back-end task. But I would argue that for many businesses Linux may be far from ideal.

Linux can host office automation applications like OpenOffice just as well as Microsoft Windows XP can. But does that make it the logical choice for a desktop user who is buying a new system? We have many questions and issues left to deal with. There are no universal answers.

While I believe that Linux is capable of most things that business and personal consumers use a computer for, the ultimate decision is made by consumers. Until such a time as Linux companies decide to start directly targeting competitive business with a product and support offer that is compelling to consumers, we in essence have a stand-off situation. Until this is resolved, my advice to all parties involved in the so-called threatening circumstances is: "It might be best to put the weapons away. Instead, why don't you focus on making your customers totally happy!"

My money is on the customer. If Linux companies can not woo him to migrate en mass, then all the ballyhoo about "threats" is empty wind!

This was first published in October 2003

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