In the spirit of election season it seems as though heavy favorite Microsoft has put its underdog opponent directly in the crosshairs. The software giant recently issued a short video (think political mudslinging) wherein they directly attack the credibility of their very small open source ‘competitor’, OpenOffice. The ominous theme of the segment consists mostly of testimonials from a range of disgruntled users, all of whom described a dreary tale about how OpenOffice strangled their productivity, sabotaged their budget, or caused their students to get bad grades. Not a very pleasant viewing experience if you are a developer, supporter or user of OpenOffice, but exactly the kind of tactics that would bring a smile to the face of political pundits anywhere.
Politics aside, I’ve know about the open source office suite for some time and have never really thought about taking a serious look, but the mere ferocity of the video compelled me to go directly from YouTube to openoffice.org. I assume my actions were not the intended response Microsoft was after, but in all fairness, what did they expect me to do? When a company owns roughly 94% of a market and then launches an attack like this on such a small player it creates a significant amount of attention and intrigue. Depending on how reporters and bloggers continue to spin this, it could actually be good news for OpenOffice.
When I first heard about this video I was surprised to think Microsoft would try and deliver a blow to a company that owns such an infinitesimal slice of the overall office productivity market. In his column for The Register on October 15, 2010, Matt Asay noted, “It may be convenient for the company to fetishize old markets as it seeks to move its market share needle from 94 per cent to 94.3 per cent. But who cares? Microsoft could claim every single dedicated OpenOffice user and it wouldn’t even ripple the surface of its revenue.”
Some might say that Microsoft is up to its old tricks by trying to stifle the advancement of anything they consider a viable threat. Perhaps this latest stunt is another way of raising the red flag to antitrust authorities because they feel their industry dominance is under attack. Maybe it’s just the perennial heavyweight flexing its muscles while it knows it still can. But in all honesty, is it really so strange for a market Goliath to try and swat at a competitive bee? Even if this particular bee has the chance to sting it’s not really going to hurt, but nobody likes to get stung.
Regardless, I’m fairly certain Microsoft doesn’t make moves like this because they want to ruin the reputation of businesses that use open source development, and it’s no secret that the company is in fact a supporter of open source initiatives. HotWax Media and Microsoft even stood side by side as sponsors last year at ApacheCon US 2009, and we look forward to seeing them again in the years to come. In the end, I like that we’re on the same side when it comes to supporting enterprise open source software through their involvement with the Apache Software Foundation (ASF).
But Microsoft is a huge company with numerous internal factions, and there is never a dull moment in the open source software movement. In this case, however, it appears to be just another serving of the same old FUD we have all seen before.
Jared Matkin is a staff writer for HotWax Media with a background in PR, Branding and Marketing. He’s also a light-hearted and an opinionated character who will join other HotWax Media employees and advisors in periodically posting his thoughts on topics ranging from enterprise eCommerce to business and technology.