Charles Ferguson of TechnologyReview.com writes an excellent analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of open source software and the Linux development process. “For as long as most technologists can remember, there has been “Wintel,” the $250 billion industry dominated by Microsoft’s Windows operating systems and Intel’s microprocessors. But “Lintel,” or the Linux operating system and Intel, is now encroaching on this empire, and behind it is the entire open-source software movement, which threatens to overthrow the Windows industry. Faced with this challenge, Microsoft is showing classic symptoms of “incumbents’ disease.” Rather than remaking itself, Microsoft is using legal threats, short-term deals, and fear, uncertainty, and doubt to fortify its position. But this strategy probably won’t work. The Linux operating system and the open-source model for software development are far from perfect, but they look increasingly likely to depose Microsoft.
With some improvements, the open-source model could even become the dominant global production model for software. If it does, it will be an irony. The open-source movement was launched 20 years ago by an antiestablishment technologist and for years was ridiculed by the mainstream computer industry. But it quietly drew more adherents every year, spreading first among iconoclastic hackers because its legal structure and culture offered them freedom from “the suits”–that is, the entire managerial, financial, and legal apparatus of the commercial technology sector. But now IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel have become supporters of Linux and open-source development. Their goal is to reduce Microsoft”s prices and power by commoditizing mass-market software.”
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