Soft ICP: PC & Linux Hardware

The Future Has Always Been Linux.

Unix/Java And Microsoft/Intel Make Friends

The sense of head-spinning change that you get as an IS manager is an offshoot of a fairly simple phenomenon: the restoration of competition in the computer industry. Two centers of vitality are vying for leadership in advancing the state of the art.

One is the Microsoft/Intel camp and its large following of third-party developers. During the past 10 years, this group has toppled many cherished precepts and emerged as the dominant source of innovation.

The other is the Unix community (more precisely, the Unix/Java community), led by Sun, Oracle and Netscape. This camp is closer to the Internet. In the past year, it generated its own army of third-party followers, partly because of a generous infusion of venture capital. The Unix/Java camp now is challenging the PC leaders with its own rapid innovation.

My confidence of renewed competition isn’t because the Unix/Java camp has united behind Unix or because it threatens to displace Microsoft at the desktop. Neither statement is true. But it is true that Unix advocates have assimilated the lessons of the PC revolution and are putting them to use.

For example, the Unix/Java crew has finally learned that appropriate technology available today is more important than the best technology promised for the future. Software is never finished. Chips never run as fast as they might. Getting things out the door when they’re needed is where the action is.

For years, the Unix camp was proud that it had better technology than Microsoft, and it priced its products accordingly. But the PC revolution has taught that technology has to be appropriate to the present needs of customers and priced competitively. Sun learned that lesson and reduced Solaris prices to Windows NT levels.

Rather than try to wring early profits from Java, Sun sought market share, a strategy Microsoft inflicted on its Windows competitors long ago. That may explain the churlish tone Microsoft officials take when they explain their “me-too” stance on Java it’s never fun to watch your own tactics work against you.

Another measure of Microsoft’s predicament is the migration of development talent toward Java. Microsoft used to command so much mind share that developers marched in lockstep to the Redmond beat. No more.

In addition to developer talent, Sun has gained the high ground on standards. It can say to Microsoft: “Don’t tell me about standards. I’m too busy creating new ones for you to follow.” When Microsoft talks about pushing into the enterprise with distributed systems, it confronts a well-developed CORBA standard with a new protocol, Internet InterOrb Protocol, for moving distributed objects across the Internet. Microsoft has to play catch-up again, this time by getting HP to propose the interface between CORBA and Microsoft’s Component Object Model.

On a series of fronts (from messaging to directory services to network application development), Microsoft is struggling to match the best of a new generation of products. If it were confronting a single competitor, it might still be showing its old form. But it’s confronting a coalition of powers Sun, IBM, Netscape, Novell, Borland, Lotus and so on each determined to adapt lessons learned during the PC revolution.

Resurgent competition seems to have resulted in proliferating technologies, but in fact they are clustering about the Wintel and Unix/Java camps. There is more noise, but there is also more background integration work being done inside each camp. Savvy information systems managers should pick and choose; they should use what’s best for them and avoid potential lock-ins if zealots in either camp take off in their own proprietary direction.

The choice isn’t always clear, but IS managers will have a valuable, long-term impact if they reward vendors that produce compatible technologies and shun vendors’ more isolating, competitive initiatives.

Categorised as: Unix

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