Microsoft goes toe to toe with Open source and the EU… (again)


Microsoft is again in deep water with the European Commission and open source Linux users world wide. The company has come under attack for its implementation of mechanisms that prevent other operating systems running on hardware pre shipped with Windows 8. Microsoft has had the monopoly in PC software for over 2 decades, is it not time that they have up their crown?

Microsoft has been the dominant force in the PC market for nearly 20 years, the chances are if you’ve bought any computer that isn’t a Mac – it has windows on it. Since the launch of the first computers a race had existed between the likes of Apple and Microsoft to produce the most intuitive and easy to use user interface for their platforms. At the time computers were seen as hard to use machines that required hours of programming. The race was on to identify and market the best operating system to provide easy and efficient interfaces the mass market could utilise. Apple restricted their sales and eventual market share by licensing their operating system for use only on Macintosh computers. Microsoft saw otherwise and Bill Gates and Co. adopted the method of selling their OS to various manufacturers. This would ensure that Microsoft, in years to come, continued to hold market dominance.

As the years passed both ecosystems developed and Microsoft release several new iterations of their OS ‘Windows’ each time building upon new technologies and making use of the introduction of networks and the Internet. By the late 90’s Microsoft had a market share that had the industry in a strangle hold. Versions of Windows such as, Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows ME took the PC market by storm and allowed for Microsoft to assume the position it currently enjoys. The most notable launch of a Microsoft operating system was Windows XP in 2001 – which has now gone on to be the most popular operating system ever. A new interface, security features, network capabilities and ease of use pushed Microsoft even further ahead of the pack.

Windows XP was the first ‘truly’ consumer-orientated PC operating system. Previous versions  of Windows had been commonly used in business scenarios – but Windows XP would allow Microsoft to control an industry for a decade. Which brings us roughly to today. Yes since the 2001 launch Microsoft has turned out Vista – which later led to a rise in Windows XP sales – as well as Windows 7, a much sought after upgrade from the headaches of Vista. But now we see Microsoft in a new light – Windows 8 is their first attempts at entering the tablet market with dedicated software. And so far it has been a bumpy ride.

Microsoft launched Windows 8 in 2012 to a rather stagnated PC market – Windows 8 is there attempt at regaining market share that has windows8actually been lost to the likes of Apple’s iPad and Open Source software such as Linux. Microsoft has therefore implemented a UEFI, or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface into all Windows 8 tablets and PC’s that ship with a certified Windows 8 logo. A UEFI is a replacement for the older BIOS that had shipped with all Windows PC’s until recently. Mainly designed to protect data – the UEFI prevents rootkits (programs),malware and other drivers that have not received an authenticated signature from running during the boot up process. Microsoft has named this system ‘ Secure Boot’ and has touted it has another reason that Windows 8 is one of the best OS’ out there.

However in doing so, Microsoft has alienated and singled out users who would have otherwise installed open source operating systems such as Linux on their machines. In short Linux is a distribution label of several operating systems that are classed as ‘open source’ by means that they are free to download, free from corporate prohibitions and free from tied down costs. Derived from the UNIX operating kernel that the Mac runs on, Linux was born out of academic research and defiance against buying corporate ‘knock-offs’ such as Windows.  Linux has several popular distributions of operating systems that include: Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian and even Android. But now users who had thought of installing such software on their shiny new windows tablet will have to think twice.

Microsoft has offered a $50 payout for developers to have their OS certified with a signed key to run on Windows machines but this has unsurprisingly not seen a great take up. A group of 8,000  Spanish Linux developers have subsequently  filed a complaint to the European Commission about the mechanism that locks out  popular Linux operating systems. Previously Microsoft has been in the firing line with the EU over unfair competition claims – the failure to provide users with a choice of web browser by default had caused claims that Microsoft were abusing their market position.

Microsoft have for years been at the top of the market in shares. They account for the largest proportion of users on the planet. Their market grip has so far – I believe – been beneficial to the consumer. In a way that has encouraged innovation and development of such CBSGatesoperating systems like Linux to offer an alternative to the mainstream OS’. Nevertheless these smaller start ups do not posses the financial brute to protect their individuality. It is one thing for a company to be domineering  in an industry but another to abuse their position, wealth and power to eliminate smaller challengers in efforts to regain a fading stance. Microsoft has been accused of this before – and can be seen to be do it again. This is not how they will win back consumers from the likes of the tablets and mobile devices. Bill Gates, co founder of  multibillion dollar company – now Chairman, has himself questioned the innovation and thought processes at Microsoft after his departure to concentrate on more philanthropic ventures:

“He [Ballmer] and I are not satisfied that in terms of breakthrough things that we’re doing everything possible,”

Microsoft need a serious rethink – their current plan of mitigating their competition through technological barriers will get them in some sticky trouble. Microsoft can be praised for the wide adoption of PC’s and their now everyday place in most homes. Microsoft needs to get back on the right path – and in some ways Windows 8 is still rather a test. I feel that they do not know where they are heading at the moment  – undecided in fully embracing mobile computing or to stick with the mouse and keyboard for the foreseeable future. Either way they had better make their minds ups soon – because the competition is catching up.