Keeping to my series on why Linux has failed to put a dent in Microsoft's ownership of the desktop I have to point out another feature I see lacking in Linux. Linux has not yet had a real advocate who understands the business environment in the way Gates did for Microsoft.
It is inescapable that Microsoft still owns the business desktop, there is no rational person who can question the fact that the vast vast majority of business users are on Windows XP with Office 2003 right now, and that Vista and Office 2007 come in second. Mac is in third and Linux users are pretty rare. In my own blogging I see very very few Linux machines that visit my blogs, maybe 1 or 2 out a hundred.
So why is this?
Of course Linux is so much better, the fact that Linux is better and free is the starting premises of my discourse. Nothing I say would make many sense without starting from Linux is better.
The question is why is something that is both better, cheaper, and cooler so far behind?
The line of arguing I am getting at comes from a recent distance course I audited on Marx's Capital. Technical innovation is an element accumulating Capital. But technical innovation is highly risky. There is always a chance that a business may fail to innovate enough and fall behind its rivals. But perhaps more likely there is a chance that a technical innovation will become outdated before the ROI (Return) is greater than the TCO (Cost).
Companies are going to invest in IT hoping to get the highest ROI-TCO. So there is a pressue to reduce cost of ownership while increase return.
Open Source software promises to reduce Total Cost of Ownership well beyond anything Microsoft can offer. It would be much cheaper to do a desktop refresh to Debian boxes with Open Office than to refresh to Windows XP with Office 2007. The Linux Open Source would present training costs, but these would be on the order of moving to Vista and Office 2007 so in the long run moving to Linux and Open Office has a strong promise of lower cost of ownership than Microsoft.
So why continue to use Microsoft?
Often people come back with the "people are use to Microsoft." I have these strange habit in IT, I test things. IT contains few Scientists for its many politicians and philosophers: testing ideas is actually very rare.
Over the past 2 years I have been training several people in blogging for some volunteer work I do. I always train them on my Linux laptop. I have yet to even have anyone seem to notice that there was much of a difference. A company could easily create a Linux Desktop that most users would have no idea was not Windows.
So again, what is the reason for the continuing popularity and growth of the Microsoft stack?
My theory is that it is a misunderstanding by most IT observers as to the role of IT. Companies generally buy IT not because they see it as a cost saver, but because an exceptional company somewhere years ago saw it as a cost saver. IT purchases cluster in a herd, but this is not mindless herd instinct, its "rational" in its own way.
With Microsoft I know a great deal about how my IT is going to evolve. I know that I need to refresh my hardware machines every 5 to 7 years or they will not run the new software, which is fine because machines start to run down over time. I know that Office, SharePoint, SQL, Windows, Exchange will be updated every 2 to 4 years with new service packs released every 6 months. I can plan my business and as long as we all use Microsoft we can all plan our business out over the next 10 years without really having to worry too much about some new tech out of left field.
If this was all replaced by Linux and Open Source then YES! YES! YES! YES! innovation would happen faster and faster and faster. There would be more products to fit needs and upgrades would come on the market daily rather than yearly.
THAT IS THE PROBLEM. People who understand IT would have better and better tools available every few weeks, but a business owner would not be able to structure a plan of costs for say a 3 year period. Open Source would produce such a hot house of innovation that it would make last years plans for IT and business function useless.