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Linux, China, HP, Apple and Other 'Outside the Box' Stories

By Rob Enderle
Dec 8, 2003 10:51 AM PT

Last week was looking relatively uneventful until I got a copy of SCO CEO Darl McBride's "Open Letter" in which he argues that the Linux GPL is unconstitutional. Now, for some of you, you red-lined the letter and spent the next several hours posting your pronounced disagreement with this position to online bulletin boards. I have to admit that my first response to the letter was that McBride's brain had taken a trip and left his body behind. But if you throw out the assumption that McBride has completely lost his mind and read between the letter's lines, another story comes out.

Linux, China, HP, Apple and Other 'Outside the Box' Stories

Much of the foundation on which SCO is building its case is the rights the company acquired to Unix, and much of the company's exposure involves its own participation in distributing Linux, which might kill those rights. If SCO can break or invalidate the GPL, the company's chances go up sharply. It is clear that, going forward, much of the company's effort will be placed on this task.

While McBride's arguments focus on the GPL, the not-so-subtle message is that the entire Linux effort is anti-American. His use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is both creative and -- given that this act is incredibly broad -- might actually get some traction. My personal hope is that the traction it gets results in the repeal of the DMCA, but it was an interesting card to play nevertheless.

While McBride doesn't come right out and call Red Hat and the international group of open-source software supporters communists, he comes very close, and, as you would expect, he positions SCO on the side of god and country. With the major news services beginning to become aware of the relatively violent threats against SCO, the environment is ripe for what is looking very much like a mud-slinging political campaign that could favor SCO.

McBride appears to be targeting the general populace and doing what I think is a reasonable job of branding open source as a group of thugs out to attack capitalism and the American way.

China Goes After All the Cookies

Speaking of the American way: If you were watching, China just passed a wireless security standard and is requiring all vendors that sell in that country to support it. The country's public position is that the standards bodies didn't step up to this problem quickly enough -- which I have to agree with. However, the new standard has a back door to which only the Chinese government has a key.

This is part of a larger effort on China's part to seize the standards initiatives surrounding the technology market so that they will favor China. China appears to believe that the Western world can't get its act together, and the country has watched how Japan played this phenomenon to its advantage in the consumer-electronics market. China seems to have concluded that it can play this game as well as, if not better than, its Asian neighbor.

It is hard to believe the other governments won't see this coming and throw their collective bodies at the effort to fight the China threat. It will be interesting to see whether others copy China to both improve their access to otherwise-secure communications and to favor their own domestic technology providers. The end result could be a disaster for multinational companies and anyone who regularly travels internationally.

HP Wins on Indemnification

Thinking about multinational companies, a major CIO survey was recently released to the financial analyst community by Citibank. In this survey, they measured the CIOs' intentions to buy from the major multinational OEMs, including IBM, Dell and HP.

What is interesting is that HP now is clearly favored for Linux. In my read of the results -- given that IBM's investment in Linux is well over HP's, and Dell's relative investment is comparatively insignificant -- IBM is off between 25 and 50 percent from where the company should be.

I believe the difference is indemnification. HP has it. IBM not only doesn't have it, but the cloud over the company from the litigation is pushing buyers to Dell. Because HP clearly appears to be favored by the industry, expect HP to gain the undisputed lead in the Linux market next year unless something happens.

CIOs remain an incredibly conservative group, and most are vendor agnostic, which means they favor the path with the least risk. This is not surprising if you've ever seen the turnover stats that surround the CIO job. Both Dell and HP are solidly on this path, which is fascinating because IBM traditionally has been synonymous with low risk. The company is the original "no one ever lost their job from choosing it" company.

Apple: Good Products, Bad Company

Speaking of losing one's job as a result of a vendor choice, some of you might recall that the only IT department I've ever seen fired was fired as a result of choosing Apple. I've been getting a lot of feedback from Apple supporters, and many seem to agree with my position that you can love the products but hate the company. This attitude seems to permeate experienced IT buyers, who seem to have a good memory of how they were abandoned by Apple a few short years ago without so much as an apology.

Currently, folks seem particularly upset that they are buying brand-new machines and then still have to pay for an upgrade to the latest version of the Apple operating system. Apple's closed nature isn't being missed by many: More and more seem to realize that iTunes only works with the iPod, making it likely they might have to, at some future point, repurchase all of the music they have already purchased online through iTunes should they ever want to use that music on something else.

This impression that Apple is out to lunch from an open-systems perspective is enhanced by Steve Jobs publicly saying that the Tablet PC is a niche product. This is sadly ironic, given that Apple gave up the PDA market to Palm and Microsoft as a result of one of his decisions. Like a lot of CEOs, Jobs seems to think it is more important not to admit he was wrong than to correct a mistake. If Bill Gates had done the same thing with the Internet, we likely would be looking at a much smaller and weaker Microsoft today.

Right now, Apple has nothing like the Media Center PC and nothing like the Tablet PC. The iPod is terrible as a PDA, the company has no smartphone, and you'll find more cool stuff in a Gateway store than in an Apple store today -- although I still think Apple does a better job of presenting what it does manufacture. I'm thinking that maybe it's time, given the failed switcher campaign and the mass move of PC vendors into the consumer electronics segment, that Jobs stopped sitting around milking his installed base and started thinking outside the box.

Of course, when thinking of swinging for the fence, I come back to McBride and the Chinese government -- and I have to admit that I admire their willingness to think out of the box. Then again, there is often a thin line between thinking outside of the box and going completely bonkers.

Rob Enderle, a TechNewsWorld columnist, is the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a company founded on the concept of providing a unique perspective on personal technology products and trends.

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