Ever see the bumper sticker that says: "So many pedestrians, so little time"? At Microsoft, it might go like this: "So many nonbelievers, so much to do." As my colleague John Foley describes in great detail following his exclusive interview with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the company is dealing with various challenges: delays in significant products, relentless legal battles with the European Union (more on that otherworldly outfit in a moment), and the impressive growth in corporate adoption of Linux and various open-source products and services (see story, "Up For A Fight").
Meanwhile, the company is battling Sony and others in the consumer market; AOL and Yahoo and others in the online market; enterprise application vendors in the small and midsize business market; malicious saboteurs throughout the universe; daffy lawmakers, overzealous attorneys general, hucksters posing as advocates, and sullen competitors that want the government to legislate parity in the software industry; and perhaps most important of all, business customers who feel the company's pricing and licensing strategies are too rigid.
As cerebral Hall of Fame football coach Chuck Noll once said of his outlook after his Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls in six years: "Our challenges are many, and they are great."
Well, life is like that--where opportunities are big, competition is fierce. And that's how it should be. But I'd like to focus on two of the many and great challenges in front of Microsoft: the mandarins of the European Union, and Linux. We've covered the company's battle with the EU extensively, and you can find that coverage and related material at informationweek.com/techcenters/sw/windows, so I'll take another tack and share with you some, uh, "lofty" thinking on a separate matter raised by the EU last week. It seems that these same busybodies who are trying to strong-arm Microsoft into having to develop for Europe a stripped-down version of Windows--with APIs made available to competitors--also are devising a series of regulations that would, and I kid you not, require mountain-climbing centers to post signs saying that mountains are high and that falls from said mountains could be less than good for the faller's health. As BBC News reported on March 23, this lunacy is an unintended consequence of the extension of perfectly reasonable workplace- safety rules to mountain climbing. Here's how this grand plan was described by Tory minister Jonathan Evans: "If this legislation is implemented as it currently stands, then [mountaineering] activity centres will be legally compelled to post signs to tell people they are up high. This is madness--most people know that when they climb a mountain they will be up high." So let us all take comfort in knowing that these very same sharp minds are doing their darnedest to set product strategy for Microsoft in Europe. Good luck, Microsoft.
Back on planet Earth, though, Linux is continuing its rapid advance as a global phenomenon, and two moves last week involving IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Novell could very likely accelerate that rate of adoption by businesses. HP will now offer Linux on its entire range of hardware, from data-center systems to PCs. IBM, meanwhile, is now giving customers the option of having Linux preloaded on all IBM server hardware, from the eServer iSeries to BladeCenter systems (see "IBM To Offer Preloaded SuSE Linux On All Servers," March 24, 2004). Unlike Microsoft's adventures in Kafkaland with the EU, this Linux explosion is tangible, rational, and urgent. And it raises once again what could be the most intriguing question facing Microsoft today (and it's not, "How many EU bureaucrats can dance on a line of code?"): Will the company take specific steps to make it relatively easy for customers to integrate Windows with Linux? In my view, as for the proposed Microsoft bumper sticker at the top of this column, the company could win over a whole lot of believers and ultimately benefit its worldwide Windows business if it takes the path of always doing what makes life easier for customers. Even when it comes to Linux.
Editor in Chief