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October 7, 2007

Is it time to open source Microsoft Windows?

Given the importance of the Microsoft Windows platform in global IT, perhaps it is time for Windows to be opened up and made open source. Indeed, while some may consider such a move unthinkable, a number of benefits could be had from it, for both Microsoft and the global IT world.

By CBR Staff Writer

The Windows operating system (OS) has grown to be a major ‘beast’ – one that brings as much headache as joy to Microsoft. Yes, it is the mainstay of its monopoly of the desktop and a key platform on which revenue-earning products are based, but as each new client OS release delivers diminishing returns (feature-wise), the rush to buy the latest version is not what it was. The sheer size of the OS, necessary to maintain backwards compatibility as well as add novel features, requires a major resource effort. So, it is more the products that follow the OS than the OS itself that benefit Microsoft the most.

The growing dependence on IT by all sectors – business, government, and consumers – suggests that a case can be made that the OS should be open for the benefit of all communities, and the argument for open source software (OSS) is strongest where it concerns IT infrastructure and development, so can the unthinkable actually be a good move for Microsoft: open sourcing Windows?

Bill Gates had a particular dislike for OSS, but given that his role at Microsoft is being steadily reduced, there may be others at Microsoft that see a viable business proposition in the idea of an open Windows. It would, at a stroke, deal with the antitrust rulings against it – both current and future. It would pull in developer support to spread the cost and burden of maintaining the ‘beast,’ and would still allow Microsoft to reap the benefits of products based on the platform.

The opening up of the OS to competition would be balanced by the increase in adoption of Windows by those hitherto unhappy to be locked in to a proprietary OS, and it would certainly cause many adopters of Linux to pause for thought.

The client division within Microsoft, which accounts for the various client-side Windows editions, is worth about 27% of total revenue (total turnover was $51 billion in fiscal 2007) – a substantial sum, but of course a support service built on an open source Windows platform would recoup some of that amount. There would be some interesting revitalizing aspects to the move that would benefit Microsoft. The Windows platform could compete equally with other non-proprietary OSs such as Linux and Solaris, and would allow a global developer community to attend to some of those persistent security doubts about Windows. An open source client-side Windows would benefit both Microsoft and global IT.

Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com)

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