State of the Empire

How long do Empires last, and what are the signs of one falling?

From the time I installed my first Linux distribution (good ol’ Slackware, when I was probably 12) I was fascinated with the question of why Linux wasn’t as widely used as Microsoft Windows. Obviously, for my rather unsophisticated mind of the day, this was a simple matter of what *I* thought was better. Back then the idea of considering broader market dynamics as a way to analyze why Windows was more popular than Linux was clearly not the top thing on my mind, and aside from the fact I didn’t even know what “market dynamics” meant I was much more interested in trying out new versions of the Linux kernel. It is kind of quaint (or sad, depending on how you look at it) to recall myself actually thinking “I don’t understand why more people don’t use this!” at precisely the same time I was in the midst of downloading the bootdsk.144 file from the internet over my 14.4 modem. Ahh Memories.

Sixteen years later much has changed, while many things have stayed the same. No more DOS or Windows for Workgroups 3.11, no more bootdsk.144 or floppies for that matter, we have Vista and Ubuntu, and that other guy Apple has returned with a vengeance. No doubt, if I showed my 12 year old self the Ubuntu of today he would be certain of the fact that it must now be winning the war against Microsoft. However, he would be quite surprised to hear that Microsoft, more than 20 years into their monopoly, after multiple anti-competitive legal challenges, and after missing such “minor” technological shifts such as the internet, still manages to maintain a 90%+ market share.

Remarkable stuff for Microsoft, but alas all good things come to an end and even the strongest empires have lost their way at one point or another. Now that I am infinitely wiser than my old self I thought it would be a good idea to revisit those market dynamics I so foolishly left out of my analysis when I was 12. Over the next few weeks I’ll write up some of the most interesting current trends and market events which, when taken together, I believe pose the most imminent threat to the Microsoft empire and the greatest opportunity thus far for Linux.

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