Daily archives: March 19, 2005

Microsoft Monopoly fact, fiction, and Open Source opportunity 1

A monopoly essentially means that there is no other choice available. For example where there is only one supplier of coal. With computer software there are many choices available. The main types are Bespoke, Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS), and Open Source. Microsoft are, with very minor exceptions, one of several COTS suppliers.

Therefore how is it that many claims are made that Microsoft have a monopolistic hold on the software market? It is true that sales of Microsoft products account for a large share of the software market in the UK . However because there are other choices available this might suggest that this situation has developed through customer choice rather than supplier design.

What is surprising about this so called monopolistic situation is that in both the Public and Private sectors there are complaints about it, but many of those complaining continue to buy Microsoft products and have had a tendency to ignore other choices. Arguments about Total Cost of Ownership and lack of non-Microsoft skills are frequently quoted to justify this practice.

Compounding the skills argument is the claim that the Education sector must provide the skills the market demands. Thus if many employers mainly buy Microsoft products then they will correspondingly mainly want IT and other staff trained in those products. As a result it is common for employers to insist that IT staff should have Microsoft qualifications and that other staff should be trained in the use of Microsoft products. Indeed there has been a lot of media discussion on the importance of the State Education sector supplying IT training linked to the attainment of software vendor qualifications. Also UK universities are often criticised that the training given to IT undergraduates is too broad and should be more industry focused.

Every cloud has a silver lining and in the case of software the above arguments can be used in favour of Open Source by bringing them out in the Open. It therefore follows that one of the main aims of the Open Source Specialist Group (OSSG) is simply to promote an alternative choice. Ironically informing UK organizations of this choice also has a benefit for Microsoft in that its existence offers proof that they do not have a monopoly.

Mark Elkins