Microsoft, Apple and the inevitability of openness

Tom Raftery thinks that Microsoft will Open Source Windows (or die!). While I agree with Tom that open source is a better model in a lot of ways, I’m not sure if any of them appeal to Redmond.

I don’t think Microsoft will ever open-source Windows. Not because it wouldn’t make for a faster moving, better product, but it forces Microsoft to lose something they hold quite dearly… control. Interestingly, Apple has banked on ‘control’ even more heavily and are reaping rewards from it (for now anyway).

Tom writes about the benefits of open source:

“With open source development, you are getting the “Wisdom of Crowds” –
the more people involved in the development, the better the end-result”

There are a *lot* of people who would disagree with that statement, although I’m not necessarily one of them. One of the problems with open source development is the scattering of resources and lack of focus. In my opinion it is a good thing to have a BDFL (benevolent dictator for life) type of arrangement within an open source project. Design by committee doesn’t always work too well when it comes to making a better product for the consumer. You need to have someone with focus (like Mr. Jobs at Apple), but without all the pomp and circumstance.

It is interesting to watch the Apple model. They try to lock you in at
every step. And while that keeps me away from Apple, I have to say, it
makes things work a lot smoother for them. They design software for
their device and nothing else. They have a focused design philosophy
which is envied by a lot of people. Is it always the best design? Not
in my opinion. But it does make for consistency.

One point Tom makes that I’ve always felt is more powerful than a lot of people realize is:

“In open source projects the code is written by people who self-select for jobs they have an interest/skillset in”

You have people who are doing things because they enjoy them. They’re specialists by default. Imagine having your workplace filled by people who all want to be there. Who all want to make the best stuff they can. This is what can make for a better product. It also makes for stubborn people who won’t just give up. That is why open-source is not going away any time soon.

I think the growth of the open-source philosophy is inevitable. Apple can try as it might to produce finely designed and overpriced products that lock you into their system. Microsoft can keep heading down the road to forced upgrades that nobody really wants or needs. There is simply nothing compelling to me about either company’s products. But still open-source marches on. And not just on the Linux front. Look at Google. Look at OpenOffice. Look at Firefox. Look at Flickr. It ain’t going away, and it ain’t slowing down. And neither Redmond, nor Cupertino can stop it.

While I don’t think Microsoft will open-source their OS, they had better wake up and do something soon before they become even more irrelevant.

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2 Responses to “Microsoft, Apple and the inevitability of openness”

  1. earl Says:

    Hi Richard,

    I also don’t expect Windows to be opened sourced. I believe the real question is what will follow Windows?

    Some time ago I read an article (can’t remember where) that stated that Vista would be the last generation of Windows, per say, and that Microsoft was looking at a next generation of OS based upon some variant of Unix.

    This would be similar to the path Apple took when they moved from their proprietary OS 9 to the NeXT/BSD Unix based OS 10. MS could support the cut-over phase and older software using virtual PC technology.

    While Apple has locked OS 10 to it’s own hardware the core of the system is still BSD and open source. With the X Environment it will run much of the open source software out there.

    I sometimes have a love/hate thing with Apple. I love OS 10, but hate that it’s locked to only run on Apple hardware. The saving grace is that at least as far as the desktop and laptop computers go, it’s good hardware.

  2. RichardQuerin Says:

    While I don’t own a single Apple product, I have no doubt that it’s good stuff hardware-wise. I’ve read/listened to a lot of Linux users who run it on Apple hardware because it’s high-grade stuff.

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