Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Deeply entangled with MSFT

For all the fist waving and teeth gnashing that comes out of the EU, it's remarkable that they cannot seem to follow their own rules. Last year, the European Commission instituted a policy meant to promote the purchase of open-source software. In so doing, they were hoping to reduce their overall reliance on Microsoft products. But it hasn't quite worked out that way. Departments and ministries are still demanding documents in MS Word and spreadsheets in Excel.

Is there a market-based solution to this? I don't know that there is. Interoperability is a technological imperative. And early adopters are severely handicapped by the lack of compatibility between open source solutions and Microsoft. And even though open source solutions have been around for long enough that we don't have to call them "early adopters" anymore, the power of Microsoft's incumbency is huge. And therein lies the risk of moving a single organization to an open source platform. Unless some external agent forces a move, no single firm will take that risk.

Is that a bad thing? I don't know. As a society, we gain tremendous efficiencies as a result of having a de facto unified standard. The price we pay for these efficiencies can be seen in poor quality (Vista, IE7), monopoly pricing (Office Pro 2007) and inflexibility (MSN Messenger). Are those efficiencies worth these costs? What would a world without Microsoft look like? I'm not sure it would be all that wonderful, to be honest.

There is an amusing side note on the EU's problem with Microsoft... Apparently, a study indicated that the costs of moving to open source outweighed the benefits. So they believe it "may be time for a new study." (Christos Ellinides, director of corporate IT solutions and services for the European Commission). In other words, the empirical data doesn't fit the hypothesis, so we must find new data.

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