Ozzie: Open Source a more disruptive competitor than Google

I’ve often said that for Microsoft to truly change, Ballmer will have to go. On the other hand, Microsoft should be clinging to some other top level execs with a kung fu grip. Ray Ozzie is one of those execs. The vision and leadership he’s shown over his career is exceptional. He gets it. With that in mind it wasn’t a real surprise to hear him say this:

Google has nothing on open source when it comes to potential competitive threats to Microsoft, according to Redmond’s Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie.

Ozzie fielded a number of questions on his role at Microsoft and the company’s evolving technology strategies during an appearance at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference on May 28. (I listened to his session via the Webcast.)

Ozzie reiterated that it often takes a strong competitor to truly galvanize Microsoft.

“Microsoft has built up a culture of crisis,” Ozzie told conference attendees.

Competitors like his former employer, Lotus, and now, Google, have spurred the company to make changes to its business to stay ahead, Ozzie said. But while Google is a “tremendously strong competitor,” Ozzie acknowledged, “open source was much more potentially disruptive” to Microsoft’s business. (He noted that, unlike Google, many open-source programmers aren’t beholden to shareholders.)

Ozzie said that competing with open source “made Microsoft a much stronger company.” He cited changes Microsoft has made to its business model — such as focusing on making its closed-source software interoperable with open-source products — as directly attributable to that competition.

You see, Google is a company… and Microsoft knows how to compete with companies (although they are proving completely unable to compete on the web, despite both huge efforts and large amounts of cash). Open Source is a movement, and that concept is proving troublesome for many at Redmond. Keep in mind that in my opinion Google would never have been possible without Open Source. Open Source enables companies like Google to exist, and that’s really powerful. It’s literally changing the rules of the game.

So why is Ballmer still in charge? I’m not sure. I thought the failed Yahoo! blunder may be enough to do him in, but it looks like that isn’t going to be the case. In a way, I guess many of us in the OSS world should be happy. The longer he’s around the more time we have to mature and hone our products and skills. It’s hard for a behemoth like MSFT to turn around, but once they do – look out.

–jeremy

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