How Microsoft Can Compete Against Open Source

November 12, 2005 at 10:16 am | Posted in rant | 108 Comments

Dear Robert,

I thought heavily about calling you on the phone and having this as voice conversation because I didn’t want to go on the record publicly about it (most of my real friends are in Open Source) and I don’t really need the flames that will, inevitably, be directed at me regarding this but … oh well. And that felt cowardly. I’d send it to Bill or Steve but, honestly, to me you are Microsoft. So here goes.

1. Fork the Issues On Competition Between Client Side Software versus Server Side Software

Open Source software is, honestly, wildly different between client side software and server side software. I bloody well love server side open source software. I built my company on it and I rely on it *by the minute*. But — and this is what’s going to get me flamed to a toasty crisp — when it comes to open source GUI software, the Emperor’s clothes are, sadly, missing. We all boldly claim that Open Source is better engineered, runs faster, etc. And, in the area of the desktop, I’m just finding that not to be true. My experience using Open Source software on the client side i.e. GUI apps basically, well, sucks camel balls (not all of the time but a large part of it). By and large my open source GUI apps:

  • Crash; Example: Gaim. If I leave Gaim on “Automatically Reconnect” then if it encounters and problems, well, it tends to just plain die.
  • Use way too much memory: FireFox. Yes I’m a tabaholic. I’ve admitted that and I’m in a 12 step program for it. Right now I’ve got maybe 20 tabs open spread across 8 browser windows and FireFox is using 125,104K of RAM. I have a hard time understanding why 20 tabs opening relatively small web pages uses 125 megs of RAM.  And it doesn’t reclaim the memory when you close a tab (this is a long standing bug). I’ve seen similar memory characteristics in other Mozilla apps (and other Open Source apps).
  • Fail oddly. Thunderbird is an interesting mail client. For me it consistently refuses to send messages if its been running too long so I constantly have to exit mail just to send a message. This happens regardless of whether or not I’m using my Feedster mail server or my (cursedly required) Yahoo DSL mail server.  Yes I have a large mailstore but I find it hard to believe that the size of my mailbox affects whether or not I can connect to a mail server.  I do believe that the regular problems that Thunderbird has saving drafts is related to that and I’ll take the heat for it (or at least not blame them; it could be the OS responding too slowly as it seeks for the right spot to write the mail).

So if I was Microsoft I’d promote the client side of the business with a FACT (not FUD) based compaign around something like this:

Microsoft Desktop: It Just Works Better 

And do the classical studies on how the stuff actually does work better. 

2.  Attack Open Source Server Software By Hiring Away the Developers

Given that Microsoft is one of the leading employers of software engineers world wide, and is a company with $$$ that always needs engineers, if I worked for Microsoft, I’d say this:

  • Let’s analyze the leading open source server tools that take $$$ away from us (heck our commit logs are public; its easy to figure out who’s actually making a difference)
  • Task our recruiters to locate, romance and recruit them

Open source developers are, generally, poor as church mice.  Yes there’s someone like Greg Stein from the Apache project (also ex-Microsoft) who’s done quite well for himself and is now at Google but then you have someone like John Coggeshall, a buddy and really good member of the PHP community.  I’d describe John as a “soldier” in the Open Source wars.  He’s not Rasmus; He’s not Linus but he’s still important.  If you hire John (and John is now a real adult with real cash needs) then you just (minorly) attacked the PHP project at its core.  Now someone else will rise up and not everyone will join but, when you come right down to it, car payments are car payments, people get married, have kids, etc.  And you’re hiring good software engineers anyway — why not hire the people who would otherwise compete with you?

All my best.





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  1. […] Scott Johnson took a chance of making his open-source-loving friends mad by posting some advice for Microsoft on his blog. Filed under: Microsoft, Blog Stuff @ 4:16 pm # […]

  2. FYI – I just opened 20 tabs using IE7. Nothing especially heavyweight about the pages. TaskManager shows that iexplore.exe is now using 141,548k.
    However, it did drop down to 53,556k when I closed all other tabs (except this one).
    So, I don’t think you can pick on Mozilla for the memory usage, but they definitely should clean up better. I’m still not sure if it is a completely fair comparison, as Firefox is designed to be multi-platform, whereas IE is written specifically for Windows. So maybe you could argue that multi-platform applications aren’t as good as single platform applications – the availability of the source code being less relevant.

  3. Hi Joshua,

    I’m not using IE 7 so I can’t speak to it. What I can speak to is that the memory issues in Firefox are derived from memory issues in Mozilla and they’re long outstanding. Yes that’s a point — multi-platform apps are rarely as good as single platform but, usually, that’s at the UI level not something as **fundamental** as releasing memory.


  4. “Microsoft Desktop: It Just Works Better”

    Useless idea. 98% of people who read this will either think, “Better than the Mac? That’s not true” or “Better than the Linux desktop? Everyone already knows that.”

    What is yor goal? To sell more Windows desktops and hold off Linux? Well, Windows is already doing pretty well here, so what is the point?

    If you want to help Microsoft, then you need an idea for it on the server, and there the problem is that open source often “Just Works Better”

  5. OSX is a ram hog, I wouldn’t just blame Mozilla or take a single shot at windows, the one thing Apple does better than open source or MS, is convince the public than they can do no wrong.


  6. Joe, WTF? Why did you turn a conversation about MS & OS GUI aps into an Apple attack? Got a little chip on your shoulder? BTW, if you look back in the 1990s I think the public and everyone else thought Apple could do no right. RAM’s pretty cheap these days. A lot cheaper than a compromised, hijacked PC.

  7. gaim has never crashed on me with auto reconnect.
    My Thunderbird is up for weeks (months?) at a time.
    My Firefox is typically not tab whored to hell and back, so I can’t really compare there.

    We all use things differently.
    We all have different configurations, and thus, also have different results.
    I’m sorry you’re having problems with gaim, but I’m not, and I’m happy with it.

    Try using something like Opera, I’m told it has a smaller memory footprint.

    If not, please use Microsoft products, or products designed for Microsoft applications.
    Use whatever works best for you.

    Not everyone has the same results as you, and you think Microsoft should present it as ‘fact’.
    Fact for you, not for everyone else.

  8. Even I will admit, since being a recent mac convert, that having professional grade desktop software really makes a difference. It seems to me that 99% of OSS stuff doesn’t have refinement when it comes to memory or resource usage, user interface design and user experience design. By default, programmers make interfaces for themselves, not for the common user.

  9. […] You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your ownsite. […]

  10. 20 tabs in Maxthon yields 35,000K memory usage according to Task Manager, although it fluctuates a bit. It seems to flush its working set fairly often, though I’ve seen no performance issues because of that. Seems like a well-written app. And keep in mind, it’s hosting 20 instances of IE in those tabs.

    Joshua – I’m guessing that you’re reporting with IE7 beta 1. I have a hunch that beta 2 will be better in that area.

  11. I think Scott is right on this one.
    BUT in the end it does not matter for the common enduser, if the memory footprint is 150,000K or 5,000K. What matters to him is if the application does what he expects it to do. And if it is good it even baffles him that the Application fullfils even more needs. And I think it is about the this enduser if he is at home or working in a company with an Appliation, usually he is not that geeky as expected.


  12. Ok, I agree that open source isn’t especially strong in the GUI department. But I currently work mostly on two machines – one MS Windows, one Linux. I fairly regularly run into GUI issues on each of these machines, in fact there’s little to choose between them. The best of open source is certainly comparable to the best MS offer. One significant difference is that when an application does crash on the Linux machine, the rest of the system keeps running just fine. On the MS machine it usually needs a reboot. Regarding memory, it’s rare I have problems clearly attributable to this – occasionally with big images in Photoshop. I’ve currently (quite typically) got 29 FireFox tabs open, the Task Manager says it’s using 92k, I’m not experiencing any perfomance issues even though this is a 5-year old laptop.

    So when you suggest:

    * Microsoft Desktop: It Just Works Better

    I say fine, MS would have a strong position *if they could make that true*.

  13. How Microsoft Can Compete Against Open Source

    Scott Johnson, a cofounder of writes an open letter to Robert Scoble articulating his ideas on How Microsoft Can Compete Against Open Source. Interesting read and makes a lot of sense.

  14. […] [Source: FuzzyBlog] […]

  15. Some Open Source client apps don’t even come close to analysts’ (misleading) praise and user feature expectations. As an example, I’ve found 2.0 Base to be unable to correctly import to its native data engine (HSQLDB) CSV text files having more than 64K rows if the text contains ASCII chars > 127, or Unicode or UTF-8 encoding.

    Reporting capabilities are extremely limited and form design lacks the flexibility of Microsoft Access and other commercial desktop database platforms.

    My conclusion is that the developers shipped OOo 2.0 Base long before it was ready for public consumption.

    ZDNet’s George Ou reports that OOo 2.0 consumes substantially more memory and opens large word-processing and spreadsheet documents more slowly than its Microsoft Office counterparts.

    Details and links are at


  16. nice text, thanks!

  17. The next version of MS Office will be breath of fresh UI air. There will be no comparison between Office 12 and OOo. Even now, the best thing one can say about OOo is that it’s cheaper than Office ’97.

  18. A VERY good read, thank you!

    I guess one reason MS “does not” hire open source developers is that open source developers (at least the very visible lead developers) can’t afford to lose face : how can you explain the volte face if till yesterday, you’ve been putting “M$ is 666” in the code comments and on your blog and now, gasp, are an MS employee?

    The other choice : of going Open Source with their own server line, is too risky: I’d just steal SQL Server 2005 code and make it better. Because I can. It’s quite possible that in the cross-pollination, the open source product actually ends up doing better.

  19. I’d like to comment as a user and IT Admin is that for me, after trying several different Open source alternatives MS Desktop software just keeps coming up better in terms of software support. And yes, Office 12 looks like it is going to be a massive breath of fresh air that is well needed and OOo does not have the resources to do what MS is doing with Office 12. I think Microsoft in terms of desktop at the moment, is slowing loosing ground, but come end of next year, with the new OS, Office and whatnot out, it’s going to be a tough cookie to overtake in terms of desktop.

  20. Nothing new there – server side software is a lot easier than desktop software. Most open source server side software is written to Unix apis. Microsoft’s pointless incompatibility with unix (path delimiters and other apis) costs them here.

    Offering open source developers jobs is something to try, but keep in mind that most open source developers are either filling a hole or taking revenge on the establishment by destroying a cash flow. Working for microsoft would be a retraction of the belief that motivated open source development in the first place.

    I certainly would stop writing code and switch careers before I would accept a position with a company like Microsoft based on their past anti-competitive behavior and shrinkwrapped arrogance.

  21. In regards to GUI and cross-platform development :

    Enough said.

  22. […] You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your ownsite. […]

  23. Ok here’s a round up reply to comments:

    vijucat — You likely will never get the very visible lead developers. But think of OSS developers that aren’t the lead developers as mercenaries. Mercenaries will generally work for money. And if they won’t when they’re in college, they likely will once they have real bills to pay, etc.

    Michael Martine — Interesting. I’m still running Office 2K myself so I’m curious.

    women — thank you for the nice comment!

    Roger Jennings — I’m not an OO user so I can’t confirm or deny what you say but the comment on memory consumptions / implied leaks is certainly inline with my OSS GUI apps observations. As an ex GUI developer, I know damn well that finding / fixing memory leaks in GUI apps is annoyingly hard and time consuming.

    Microsoft Future Watch — I responded on your blog.

    Bieber Labs — Thank you!

    Danny — I certainly hear you on the restart issue. I’ve been a violent critic of Microsoft in this regard. Right now I can’t sync my new Treo 650 because it requires me to restart my laptop and shutting down my 51 putty sessions AIN’T worth it. And, lest anything think I’ve ever been easy on MS, check out my previous blog

    Martin Koose — I agree that the end user doesn’t give a camel turd whether its 5 megs or 5000 megs but they do care that things don’t crash and if apps use too much memory, even these days, they tend to crash.

    Brandon Paddock — Good news on maxathon. I’ll take a look when I can.

    I’ll follow up on more of the comments a bit later. Need to caffeinate.

  24. […]  This is for this post. […]

  25. What, no response to my comment Mr. Fuzzy? 😛

  26. Ok. More responses to each comment:

    Nick Gerakines — *chuckle*. Given the interfaces that i have personally both created and enforced on the public, clearly I’m guilty of this. Disclaimer: Nick’s a Feedster employee.

    VxJasonxV — I’m glad you don’t have the problems that I do. I wish I didn’t have the problems that I did but I’ve now seen this repeatedly on multiple machines, multiple platforms. I’m not saying that MS should present it as fact — I just think that there’s a window here, where, if they didn’t use FUD but took the time to ask the honest questions of is it better or not on a gui front, they could attack OSS more effectively.

    Paul — Thanks for the comment about OSX. This was in no means supposed to be about apple at all. Appreciated.

    More in a bit.

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