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To read comments to this article, go here
Eternal Coexistence?
Tuesday, June 07 2005 @ 12:23 PM EDT

This is fascinating, although I'm not at all sure modelling is a reliable predictor of the future. It's an interview with two Harvard Business School professors who used economic modelling to try to figure out if Linux can defeat or severely cripple Microsoft. The answer was no. Neither Microsoft nor Linux can get rid of the other, barring, I assume, martial law or some such, as I always say, or out-and-out illegal behavior:

"Using formal economic modelling, professors Pankaj Ghemawat and Ramon Casadesus-Masanell consider the competitive dynamics of the software wars between Microsoft and open source.…

"Ultimately, the authors believe, neither side is likely to be forced from the battlefield—Microsoft has too much market share and OSS offers too many benefits for users. But there are strategies each can use successfully against the other, as they detail in this e-mail interview."

They list a number of things Microsoft can do to stay in the running competitively, most of which they are already doing. What I got from the study is that FUD matters, and so, then, does antiFUD. Getting governments to switch to Linux also matters tremendously, if you are thinking competitively.

But that's just the thing. No one on this side does much of that. It's a very odd war, then, with only one side warring. Linux doesn't war with Microsoft. Nobody that I know cares about that. There probably are some in the community that do, but I don't personally know them. Maybe Red Hat has pins on a map of the world in a "war room" somewhere.

But us users -- and we are the drivers of Linux, even according to the study -- just love software that works, that we can control and understand, and that doesn't spy on us or enable malware behind our backs. I don't care what Microsoft does or doesn't do, as long as it's not trying to hobble or destroy software that I want to use instead of their product. I've never seen how the consumer benefits from a kill-off-the-competition war mentality. It just limits our choices. I understand, that's Microsoft's idea of a good thing. So it's Microsoft that views it as a war, and they only do that because it's their mindset. But if this paper is correct, they are wasting bullets and they might just as well calm down and just do their best to improve their software. Because no matter what they do, Linux is here to stay.

The paper, "Dynamic Mixed Duopoly: A Model Motivated by Linux vs. Windows", will be published in a special issue of Management Science. One point it makes that might interest SCO and ADTI:

One main advantage of open source software is that because users can modify the code directly (as they encounter problems or have new ideas on how to improve it), the development cycle is significantly shorter.

Significantly shorter means development moves more rapidly than in the proprietary software world. Just a little hint.

The professors explain something about their methodology:

First of all, let us make a caveat regarding our approach. Our methodology is formal economic modelling. What this means is that we construct a stylized mathematical model of the relationship. The model captures what we believe are the most important features of the Linux-Windows competitive battle (faster demand-side learning on the part of Linux and an initial installed base advantage for Windows), but makes important assumptions regarding other aspects. Without these simplifications, the model would not be tractable and it would not be possible to obtain results. After having analyzed the base model, we relax some of these assumptions.

In other words, they thought of all the important things that might tip the scales and tested for that. It's like when you go to the doctor with a bad sore throat. There are a number of things the doctor can test you for, to see what made you get a sore throat. But if what is making you sick isn't on his list of things to test for, he can't tell you what you have.

It's the same here. And they seem to have left out the single most important, to me, factor: freedom. Knowing your computer is yours, with no outside force influencing what it does, or hindering you as to what you can do with it -- that is what GNU/Linux means to me. And there isn't a thing Microsoft can do to win that "battle", because their products spy on you and control you every waking second. It's the X factor the Harvard professors didn't think to factor in. In the end, though, thinking globally, it's the factor that, I believe, has the means to tip the scales most powerfully, one way or the other.

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