Ballmer Names Microsoft Top Enemies.

12-Jan-01 - The list is rather different from back in early 2000, when only AOL was considered a significant threat to the Redmond giant's plans.

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Here's the line-up according to Microsoft president Steve Balmer (the subtitles are mine):
  1. Linux - The rock: invading Microsoft territory from below.
  2. Unix - The hard place: unyielding in the enterprise space above.
  3. Oracle - The database giant that won't give ground.
  4. Sun - Big, powerful Unix boxes stymie Windows 2000.
  5. AOL - Still the king.

Analysis

Linux - "Little Unix"

Microsoft is finally admitting the obvious - they have a problem. Linux is aggressively chipping away the critical small server space Microsoft took away from Novell. It's way cheaper, faster (except on very high end Intel servers), more stable, easier to administer, and runs on more hardware platforms. Now, with the 2.4 kernel out, it's going to be horning in on the low end enterprise space Microsoft is counting on for Windows 2000 Data Center.

Most important of all, Linux has developer momentum behind it, the factor Microsoft itself has used to win other operating system wars. If more businesses start looking seriously at Linux for the desktop as well as the server, Windows could be in very big trouble indeed.

Unix - "Big Linux"

Almost every magazine columnist predicted Windows NT (now 2000) would hit Unix hard, quickly driving it from the enterprise market. Well, NT hit the Unix market hard, like a bug hitting a windshield.

How could the columnists be so wrong again? Easy. All they know is PCs. All they read is Microsoft press releases. NT runs on PCs with a pretty "point-and-click" interface. Unix runs on mysterious heavy hardware and has a cryptic command line interface. Obviously nobody would want it. Case closed.

The fact is, Unix boxes scale way bigger than the Intel servers NT/2000 runs on, and are way more stable, cost effective, secure, standards compliant and reliable. The cryptic command line interface makes them easy to manage from a central locations. All these considerations are important to a substantial business.

Oracle

Oracle is the dominant database engine, supporting the data systems of most larger companies. Oracle has three huge advantage over Microsoft's SQL Server: it's well established, there are plenty of major applications that run on it, and it runs on Unix boxes (see above). SQL Server, running only on Intel based NT/2000 servers, just isn't in the ball park.

Oracle does run on NT/2000 servers also, and this brings up another problem. It runs on them, but it doesn't run all that well on them. This means companies that want to run Oracle based applications will generally chose a Unix box rather than an NT/2000 box. Only a really hard core "Microsoft Only" shop considers Oracle on Windows.

In recognition of this situation, Steve Balmer bit the bullet last month and asked for a meeting with Microsoft arch enemy #1, Larry Ellison, to discuss getting Oracle to run better on Windows 2000. If Larry was in good form, he probably used the same line Microsoft used on OS/2: "show me the market share and I'll make our product run better". Of course, without running better it isn't going to show the market share.

Oracle has every reason not to bother making it's database run better on Windows 2000. If they help Windows get into the enterprise, it will probably bring SQL server right along with it.

Sun Microsystems

Once again, the "U" word (are you starting to see a pattern here?). Sun makes heavy hardware just below the mainframe level, and it all runs Unix (Solaris, a version of System V Unix). These are 64-bit computers (not 32-bit like the Intel ones Windows runs on) supporting up to 64 CPUs each, and 64-Gigabytes of RAM, and they're outfitted with disk storage to match.

Here again, Microsoft is blocked from the enterprise and ISP markets by a strong and firmly entrenched competitor who isn't about to give ground. Sun is run by Microsoft arch enemy #2, Scott McNealy, and he's expressed considerable disinterest in making machines that would run Windows.

AOL

When Windows95 came out featuring desktop links to Microsoft's MSN Internet service, the popular prediction was that AOL would soon be running a distant second to the Redmond giant. That didn't happen, because MSN didn't provide the content or the service (if you can imagine service worse than AOL) and didn't have the momentum or the marketing flare.

Now, many years later, AOL is still #1 by a very wide margin, and MSN is being "relaunched" for about the fifth time, and is reduced to making up phony numbers to show it's significant.

Microsoft dearly wants this consumer space, which is why AOL was the number one threat the last few years - before they realized certain other things were bigger threats. Look for AOL to retain its lead for quite some time - Microsoft just doesn't understand content very well.

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