Linux: Revolution from Below?

10Dec07

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, a long-time commenter on all things Linux, is predicting that Linux will take over the low end of the PC market over the next year or so. He sees a convergence of new products and services that will finally push the business PC market over a tipping point into widespread adoption of Linux desktops for business use.

The new products and services he is looking at are things like Walmart’s new $200 Linux PC, the Google Apps office software suite, the Asus Eee PC, and the OLPC, which are all radical price-cutting efforts that take advantage of both the free-to-modify and free-as-in-beer characteristics of Linux and FLOSS software. This emergence of Linux from several different directions, but with a common theme of cost cutting, suggests to Vaughan-Nichols that Linux may finally have found a niche that can lead it out of the server room and into the cube farm.

If that does occur, the Microsoft monopoly will collapse about as quickly as the Communist bloc did in the 1990s, because Microsoft will lose one of the greatest benefits it has to offer to business executives. Economists like to talk about how Microsoft is propped up by network externalities that arise from being the de facto standard for hardware drivers and third party software applications. But the most powerful network benefit that Microsoft offers to business executives has always been the benefit of safety in numbers. “No one ever got fired for going with Microsoft.”

If Linux and FLOSS find a niche in cost cutting, then business executives will see their peers boosting profits, winning kudos, and getting promotions by adopting Linux. It will be possible, for any given business decision, that choosing Microsoft might be the wrong decision. It will be possible that someone, at some point, could get fired for going with Microsoft.

Suddenly, executives will need to actually invest some time and energy comparing Microsoft to Linux. Once that happens, Microsoft is toast.

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