Thursday, June 21, 2007

Throwing in the Towel - Linux on the server = yes. Linux on the desktop = not if I don't have to

Linux Linux Everywhere. Except where you can see it.

There is a lot of discussion in the media about Linux and Microsoft. The recent agreements between Microsoft and various Linux distros came as quite a surprise for some people, as there is a significant difference in the business model and philosophy of open source software versus commercial software. "Microsoft has announced a partnership with Novell and will help promote Linux. This is stunning. This is like Red Sox fans announcing they're going to root for the Yankees." ( But for others, these agreements simply underscore the reality of the market at large: Windows wins on the desktop. It's not because of functionality or because it's superior technology or because of the cost. It's because of momentum. This is the same reason why Intuit QuickBooks wins when it comes to smb accounting. MOMENTUM. It's the most important thing right now, and it is being leveraged quite nicely.

Take Microsoft, for example. First, they market against Linux. Then, they see the server market numbers being impacted in a big way with Linux sales for servers, so they figure out a way to make that market theirs (at least partially). What this does, in effect, is acknowledge that maybe Linux is a good thing to use on some servers, as long the desktop still runs Windows. Put your "partners" where you want them; where you can possibly control them. That way, you can still fulfill your primary mission - keep your products squarely in front of the end-user. And there are way more desktops than servers in most enterprises. Volume = Momentum. Also, the end-user works directly with their desktop and gets to experience operating the OS and applications running on it. Not so much with servers. Familiarity = Momentum.

Intuit has also taken this approach, and it's going to work for them. The Intuit team apparently heard the message coming loud and clear from the Linux community: "I really need QuickBooks on Linux", and has taken the steps necessary to satisfy the requirements of the market. Sort of.

"Answering the call for an open source option from Information Technology professionals, Intuit Inc. announced that businesses will soon be able to operate QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions from Linux servers." (Intuit press release). Amazing. But, again, it underscores the defacto standard that exists in the market: Windows runs on the desktop. Intuit is willing to acknowledge (as Microsoft did) that maybe servers are OK for running Linux. Maybe servers with Linux are even a good idea. But the application that the user sees? It's a Windows desktop application. The desktop OS that the user must run? It's Windows. Go figure.

Note that it is only the Enterprise Solutions which will be available with a Linux database server. While the QuickBooks Pro/Premier versions utilize the same Sybase database engine, Intuit must have figured that their requirement to support Linux sits only at the Enterprise level rather than the entry-level or smb markets. Maybe they, like Microsoft, believe that only larger companies need or want Linux, and only at that the server level. Again, it is momentum. Intuit essentially owns the small business accounting market, and they will continue to fight to keep it. By softening to the Linux community, at least at some level, they gain users and access to new markets without compromising their primary goal: keep the product squarely in front of the end-user.

It's not really surprising to see either Microsoft or Intuit take this approach. I fully expect other Windows-platform applications to follow this route, and to possibly make their servers available for Linux platform while keeping the client-side in Windows. It allows them to capture a growing segment of the IT market while not increasing their development (or IP?) exposure dramatically. It is typically much more cost efficient to develop to a single platform than to try to support multiple platforms well. With the Microsoft/Linux "alliance", there is an element of safety now for Microsoft-platform developers who wish to incorporate Linux support in their products. And while this all looks good for Linux platform adoption at the server level, the desktop space is still pretty much locked up with Windows (no pun intended).