History (and standards) are written by the winners

by Matt Asay

The Open Solutions Alliance launched the other day at LinuxWorld. If you read my InfoWorld blog, you know that I'm not a big fan of the OSA. But it's not personal to the OSA. I just don't believe these sorts of organizations provide any value to the industry, though they occasionally provide momentary value to their members.

Why? Because customers don't buy from committees. They buy from companies.

In many cases, they wish those companies' products worked better with other products they buy. But what they really seem to want, if history shows anything, is for the market to naturally rally around a leader. Microsoft is a good example.

Microsoft makes some excellent products, and some that aren't as good. (Just like anyone.) But on the balance, the company makes good software that a great deal of people want to buy. To maintain its leadership position, the company has enabled other companies to build on it as a platform and make money from add-on/tie-in/integrated products. The richer the ecosystem, the richer Microsoft's bank account.

Only recently has the company awakened to its open source ecosystem (and the associated opportunity) with a lab set up specifically to enable interoperability, but even slow learners learn. :-)

This is the sort of interoperability that the market cares about. Not whether Alfresco is interoperable with Compiere or MuleSource - we have few customers in common at this point. It's when customer counts dramatically increase that interoperability really matters to buyers, and at that point an industry organization set up to enable interoperability is somewhat pointless. Why did JBoss partner with Microsoft? Because more than 50% of its customers use Microsoft Windows. Same with SugarCRM. And MySQL. And Zend. And...you get the point.

But OSDL, OSA, and others may not, so I'll restate it: the point that interoperability matters to customers is the point that an industry organization becomes immaterial.

Remember United Linux? It was an effort by the also-ran Linux vendors to counter Red Hat's dominance. It never took off because customers didn't want to buy from an industry organization. They clearly wanted to buy from Red Hat.

Customers interested in a full suite of software (for BI or whatever else) aren't going to look to a disparate band of small-time open source vendors to provide it. They're going to look to market leaders and a single company to provide it. That's why it's critical for open source vendors, as Microsoft learned long ago, to build a compelling product (or suite of products) and win. Everyone wants to be interoperable with a winner.

That's the goal. To write history, not to be history. Love Microsoft or hate it, it's writing history. Industry organizations...? You know what I think.


The Hater
2007-02-21 14:50:28
Oh, I don't know...it worked for a little while with IE years and years ago, but now they have Molly over there telling them how much they suck for not following standards written by others.


I guess I would say that I agree with you when looking at narrow-minded short term results, but completely disagree with you otherwise. Standards of credit card offers got written by consumers, standards of medication testing certainly didn't come from the venders, and Microsoft's good OS functionality didn't come from internal designers at any point in the company's history.

People use Microsoft in corporations, because they don't really, when it comes down to it, have a choice. They use it reluctantly and with much profanity.