Sunday, April 16, 2006

Baseless Gushing Over Open Source's Potential to Erode Windows

So, apparently Novell had their Brainshare conference recently. Novell, a company with no direction if there ever was one, was all glib about its new Novell SUSE Desktop build. Novell reminds me of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where one guy gets completely pruned in a joust, only to claim it's a flesh wound. Novell hobbles along on bleeding stubs of legs and tout how they are coming out to take command of the desktop if only 47 variable happen to line up properly.

I've not read Jon Oltsik's column before but it's amazing to me that people with his kind of reasoning can be selected as featured writers. I guess perhaps when you need material to advocate a weak, poorly-thought-out position, you take what editorial content you can get. Here's a high level summary of his argument:

1. Microsoft used to be considered inferior to OS/2, WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3.

2. Microsoft overcame that problem by "offering good enough technology, superior pricing and attractive bundling."

3. Microsoft gained its dominant position as a result.

4. At Brainshare, Novell unveiled a beta of their SUSE desktop Windows XP hegemony-killer. It is certain to have broader appeal.

5. The SUSE desktop comes loaded with OpenOffice and says Oltsik, "...I'm sure some of the bells and whistles Microsoft bakes in are missing, but there aren't any obvious functionality gaps. In other words, it's good enough for the majority of employees whose jobs depend on doing basic stuff."

6. The new desktop has improved interoperability with Windows.

7. It's cheaper than Windows XP and therefore offers a better value and lower TCO.

Then Oltsik's article takes an utterly comedic turn:
Novell isn't capable of leading the Linux desktop charge on its own, but there are plenty of others in the industry more than willing to help. IBM could certainly move the market if it evangelized Linux and offered hand-holding migration services in the process. (Author's note: It would be somewhat Shakespearian to think that a combination of IBM, Lotus and Novell would lead a successful Linux desktop assault.) There's no love lost between Microsoft and Oracle, so I'm sure Larry Ellison could be persuaded to support this effort. Intel and AMD want to sell boxes, so Linux desktops are just fine.
I laughed out loud when I read this. It was so naively honest and the implications of what he admits are apparently lost on him.

Novell doesn't have the brawn necessary to appeal to the market in any meaningful way.

Oltsik fantasizes a consortium between Novell, IBM, Oracle, Intel and AMD to unseat Microsoft. "If only this would happen, Bill Gates would be undone..."

Oltsik's argument is predicated on the alignment of quite a few stars to unseat Microsoft. The man even admits that he doesn't fully understand Microsoft's offerings by asserting that Open Office is roughly equivalent to Microsoft Office and that the gaps between the two are inconsequential. While he is correct that for small and home offices, Open Office may be an adequate suite, he does not appreciate that for mid-sized businesses and corporations, Microsoft Office provides substantially more value than Open Office (see my articles from the past two weeks on what Microsoft is doing with integrating Office, Windows, SharePoint and its business applications).

Novell is a paragraph and a footnote in the history of IT. They have been marginalized by Windows and their only solution to the loss of market share is to pin their hopes on a phantom chance that the open source movement can propel them back to relevance.

As I write this, I have a remote access session to my computer at work and I am downloading a VMWare image of the Novell SUSE Desktop image. When I get back to work tomorrow, I will be able to play with it. I will be able to assess just how easy it is to integrate into a domain, add printer drivers and so on. I am anxious to find out if SUSE Desktop truly does integrate in a Windows environment or if it has limited interoperability and is therefore meaningful only to small businesses using a SOHO network with no AD domain.