May 15, 2007

Sun vs. Microsoft, Round #293

The Sun vs. Microsoft wars in the 1990s were a delight to watch. While Scott McNealy has yielded his throne to the ponytailed uber-blogger Jonathan Schwartz, the company's distaste for all things Redmond has not changed much with time. As Microsoft sees its monopoly crumbling around it, due to poorly developed software, distaste for security and a poor user experience, it has taken to grandstanding and puffery against all things which threaten its Windows kingdom.

On Monday, a Fortune article revealed that Microsoft stated free software, including the popular Linux operating system, violates up to 235 of its patents, and it wants to get paid. In fact, Microsoft was to bold as to say the reason people are flocking to free software is due to the quality of the Microsoft software they allegedly copied. If successful, the free software would cease to be free, eliminating a very powerful differentiator from it and the software Borg.

The lines have been drawn, and once again, you see Microsoft on the site of litigation and sabre-rattling, and Sun on the other, arguing for openness and anything that doesn't smack of Windows. That's why Schwartz jumped in with a lengthy, intelligent post titled "Free Advice for the Litigious...", where he recounts how Sun adapted to a world of open source software when their Solaris operating system was under attack. Amusingly, Schwartz manages to teach Microsoft a lesson without mentioning the words "Microsoft" or "Windows" even once.

But he offers this warning: "You would be wise to listen to the customers you're threatening to sue - they can leave you, especially if you give them motivation. Remember, they wouldn't be motivated unless your products were somehow missing the mark."

Customers are always happy to pay for premium quality. Witness the iPod, the Nintendo Wii, LCD televisions and the like. If customers are trying to get around using Microsoft products, it's because they are unhappy with their quality and feel they aren't getting their money's worth. While it'd be foolhardy to claim Sun is without blemish, Schwartz is of course right. Microsoft can only lose by taking the free world to court.