Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Clouseau de grâce

This was supposed to be impossible:
The French paramilitary police force said Wednesday it is ditching Microsoft for the free Linux operating system, becoming one of the biggest administrations in the world to make the break.

The move completes the gendarmerie's severance from Microsoft which began in 2005 when it moved to open sourcing for office applications such as word processing. It switched to open source Internet browsers in 2006.

....The gendarmerie's 70,000 desktops currently use Microsoft's Windows XP operating system. But these will progressively change over to the Linux system distributed by Ubuntu, explained Colonel Nicolas Geraud, deputy director of the gendarmerie's IT department.

"We will introduce Linux every time we have to replace a desktop computer," he said, "so this year we expect to change 5,000-8,000 to Ubuntu and then 12,000-15,000 over the next four years so that every desktop uses the Linux operating system by 2013-2014."

According to Gary Reback, Paul David, Brian Arthur and the U.S. Dept of Justice antitrust division, they were locked in to Windows and Internet Explorer. Tom Hazlett's Gloat-o-meter goes off, ten years after:
Before he became Mother Teresa, Bill Gates was Darth Vader. As captain of the Evil Empire, he and his minions dominated PC operating systems, vanquishing all rivals. In May of 1998, the US Department of Justice struck back.

In the “antitrust case of the century,” the DoJ accused the Microsoft Corporation of monopolisation. The company was accused of destroying a rival in browserware – Netscape’s Navigator –- to suppress a competitive threat in operating systems – Sun’s Java. With Navigator’s browser becoming popular and ubiquitous, the Java script it embedded would, the DoJ predicted, provide an alternative platform for applications. This would deprive Microsoft’s Windows operating system of control over the computer; independent programmes could gain access simply by launching via Java. Soon Windows would be a trivial layer between valuable stacks of hardware and software applications. Fearing this, Microsoft sought to thwart Netscape and technological progress. So went the theory.

....we can now judge the government’s fundamental assertion in US v Microsoft. Did Microsoft’s tactics serve to protect a Windows monopoly that a targeted antitrust intervention could open to competition?

No. Whether one concludes that the court-imposed sanctions worked, or did not, the answer is the same. If the antitrust enforcers imposed precisely the right measures, Java has done nothing to dent the Windows franchise. If the sanctions were inept or poorly enforced, that is even more directly a failure of the theory that an anti-monopoly law can improve on the “but for” scenario.

But the decade has hardly been a bust for competition. It flourishes on margins unimagined by those who were professing to protect its path. Rivalry has come not from Java, but from a resurgent Apple and the open-source Linux. One is a vertically integrated firm with proprietary innovation; the other a geekdom of code-sharers seeking karma and human capital. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is coughing up market share to Mozilla, Netscape and Opera, browsers that ride comfortably on Windows.

But operating systems and browsers turned out to be a side show. The profits of the decade have been stolen by entrepreneurs who saw what was unfolding over a distant horizon. And then traversed that distance in a flash.

While the DoJ was filing against Microsoft, two youngsters at Stanford were crawling the web. With a search engine that could catalogue and rank the world’s web sites, matching key words while filtering out mish mash, their start-up quickly entered the language as a verb – a really popular verb. You can Google it.

Meanwhile, Apple has been making its own fortune under the shadow of the beast. It is crushing Microsoft in media players, finding its salvation in the holy i-trinity of Pod, Tunes and Phone. Domination of this digital consumer space was right there for the dreaming.

In 1998, operating systems and browsers looked to be the strategic high ground of cyberspace. He who dominated these tools would extract tolls, excluding rivals and squeezing customers. The reality was different. Incredible value was created in applications not then known and party occupying the old position of dominance proved ineffectual as a monopolist and an also-ran as a competitor.

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