Sunday, August 28, 2011

Unlocking the Microsoft Deathgrip on the Desktop?

At VMworld, I had lunch with an Enterprise CIO who told me that they had just written a high 8-figure check to Microsoft for a new ELA. While part of this included Server-side licensing for business applications and databases, the more interesting piece to me was the effects on desktop usage. The statement that really started the interesting part of our conversation was, "We have quite a few Mac users these days, but unfortunately they cost me just as much (in licensing) as any PC user I have."

Huh? How could that be?

Explanation: Any Mac user that uses an Outlook / Exchange account, accesses an IIS webserver, accesses an applications with a SQL database, authorizes via Microsoft AS or uses Microsoft Office (PC or Mac version) is taking up the same level of ELA licenses that a full-blown Windows PC user consumes.

We then talked about about the variety of SaaS or Microsoft-alternative products available in the marketplace. While some of them were being used, the bulk of them were not because of all the user-level retraining or interoperability issues. Getting out from those expensive handcuffs was going to be extremely difficult for them.
So then the conversation went in two different directions:

  1. Are they actively considering strategies to create a desktop environment that is free of Microsoft licensing? Whether this is bundled SaaS applications, or alternative products.
  2. Considering that there is so little (successful) innovation coming from Microsoft these days, how many companies are actively trying to unlock their desktop deathgrip with alternative offerings?
We spent the next hour trying to figure out how a company would transition from a traditional Microsoft desktop to something else. The list we came up with looked something like this:
  • Target new graduates who may not have built up Microsoft-specific application skills or expectations (eg. users of Google Docs, etc.)
  • Target users that could use alternative devices as their primary device (eg. tablet, smartphone, kiosk)
  • Allow/Encourage groups within the business to BYOSA (Bring Your Own SaaS Application) to evaluate if any of them could become lighthouse examples for other groups within the business. 
  • Push on vendors (Google, VMware, etc.) to accelerate their bundling of SaaS applications, to better emulate the integration that exists within Microsoft Office.
  • Begin internally mandating that any new application-development (or acquisition) uses open-source alternatives (Linux, MySQL, CloudFoundry, Java, Ruby, etc.). This could be done internally, or using external cloud resources. 
The high-level conclusion we had was that it would be somewhat painful, but that there needed to be small pockets of users that went "cold turkey" without Microsoft to get a movement going. And solutions that targeted a "happy middle ground" were going to be filled with too much frustration and too little innovation. It wouldn't accomplish the ultimate goal of trying to find more cost-effective alternatives.

The alternative (or in some cases better) options are out there, but it's going to take a different mindset than "it's like Microsoft , please start using it" to make the transition possible. I left the lunch still amazed that a company that's doing so little innovation is able to keep such a stranglehold on a market space that should be filled with innovation that's driven by tablets and smartphones. 

I'd love to hear alternative ideas (or successful implementations) to our little brainstorming session.


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