By Tim Landgrave
In late September 2003, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) in Washington issued a new report that detailed its "findings" on the state of Internet security. The panel of experts who authored the paper agreed that the Internet security problems faced by corporations, consumers, and government users could not be solved unless these groups made a concerted effort to move away from Microsoft Windows and other Microsoft products. In their opinion, the lack of diversity in computing platforms has made it easy for virus writers and hackers to target systems based on the Windows platform.
With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s desktop PCs running on Windows and a significant share of the enterprise server market as well, Microsoft invites these attacks and, according to the report, doesn’t have the capacity to stop them. So, Mr. or Ms. CIO, is it time to dump Microsoft and move to a radically different computing platform?
Who is the CCIA?
Before you start ripping out your Windows desktops, I think it’s important to consider the source of the information. The CCIA is comprised of a group of Microsoft competitors in the enterprise server and communications market segments, including Sun, Oracle, and IBM. This is the same group that lobbied Washington politicians until it got the DOJ to take Microsoft to court for its monopolistic practices. After nine years of wrangling, what did the DOJ find? Some aggressive marketing and product development practices on Microsoft’s part. What did the taxpayers get for their money from the DOJ investigation? Nothing. What consumers got from Microsoft is exactly what CCIA members don’t want you to have—broadly accessible, affordable, enterprise technology.
Why does the CCIA fear Microsoft?
The CCIA doesn’t want Microsoft to have the same effect on server and middleware software that it did on the desktop. What frustrates me the most about CCIA's propaganda is that many of these "experts" weren’t around in the days before Windows became so popular. They never had to manually configure printer drivers for each piece of software installed on a PC or tweak network settings just to get the PC to talk to crude ARCNet or Ethernet networks. With Windows, Microsoft ushered in an era of innovation by allowing software developers to focus on their products and not have to worry about whether the infrastructure was there for it to run on. The increase in PC sales also drove down the price and led to even more advancements in desktop software development.
Microsoft may not be the most innovative company in the world, but it recognized early on that innovation that languished in a lab was worthless. Innovation needed a standard desktop OS where everyone could take advantage of it and flourish. And here’s the ultimate irony: Even the most die-hard Linux supporters will have to admit that without Microsoft driving down the overall cost of the computing platform, they would not have an inexpensive platform on which to drive Linux. But it’s that same economic equation that has the CCIA worried.
The CCIA is afraid that Microsoft would do to them what its distribution engine did to Apple, Digital Research (remember Gem?), and others on the desktop. The Microsoft modus operandi is pretty simple and predictable: provide software that's aggressively priced and performs acceptably for the 80 percent of the market that finds the performance available with current microprocessor technology. With Windows 2000, Windows 2003, and enterprise products like SQL Server 2000, the assault on the server has already begun. As a result of the pricing and performance inroads that SQL Server has made against Oracle, it first had to drop its expensive per-processor MIPS licensing plan. In the last two years, it's had to drop its price in the medium enterprise space from over $100,000 per processor to around $25,000 per processor just to compete with SQL Server’s $5,000 per-processor pricing. And SQL Server still outperforms Oracle. Does anyone actually believe that Oracle would have changed its pricing without the pressure from Microsoft in the enterprise space?
Now Microsoft has Sun in its sights with the .NET Framework. In the late 80s and early 90s, Microsoft led the developer revolt from COBOL and Assembler on IBM Mainframes to Visual Basic, C, and C++ on desktops and servers. So Sun, IBM, and other key Java partners have made an attempt to recreate the expensive server/expensive developer software and consulting model using Java and J2EE.
IBM Global Services and other J2EE consultancies see their margins beginning to wither as more companies look at the stunning performance and productivity gains that companies have made using Microsoft Windows Servers and the Visual Studio .NET platform. Corporations have finally begun to realize that .NET allows them to develop applications with better price and performance with fewer lines of code than with the equivalent J2EE technology. That’s why it’s so important that those vendors use their CCIA vehicle to obfuscate Microsoft’s server technology message.
Don't get the CCIA "virus"
Clearly, Microsoft needs to continue with its efforts to make the Windows platform less vulnerable to virus attacks. But companies also have to be willing to pay to defend their assets. First, they have to realize that products like Windows 95, Windows 98, and even Windows NT were designed for a moderately connected world. When a company refuses to either provide adequate protection at the firewall or upgrade to a modern, defensible operating system, they’re getting what they deserve. Current Microsoft operating systems like Windows 2000, Windows 2003, and Windows XP can be updated automatically—even using a corporate approval and scheduling process—if configured properly.
Look, we all know that Bill Gates is no choir boy and Microsoft is not the Vatican. But like Henry Ford before him, Gates understands not only the value of putting technology in the hands of the common man, but also how to make money from it. It’s the fact that the money’s coming from the pockets of its members that causes organizations like the CCIA to produce these kinds of reports. So be angry with Microsoft about not working fast enough to solve the virus problems. Then thank Microsoft for continuing to drive innovation up and prices down in the enterprise ecosystem.