Friday, July 4, 2008

German Enterprise Goes Mac

Axel Springer AG, publisher of 150+ newspapers in 30 countries (including Germany's Die Welt) and employer of some 10,000 across Europe, announced today it's switching from its existing Microsoft platform to MacOS X.

There had been a video available of this announcement, but as I write it's offline.

Thoughts on the matter: Springer isn't the first German organization to give Microsoft the cold shoulder. Berlin made a high-profile move toward going Linux, but apparently was thwarted from complete migration. Nevertheless, various German governmental units like Munich[1] and the tax authorities of Lower Saxony (who moved from Sun systems to KDE for reasons of cost, data control, and support for the German language) have made the jump. Whole national governments, such as that in Brazil, have also made the leap. India, described as "a hotbed of Linux talent" for private firms looking to do Linux work, is also a growing locus of government migration to open source alternatives. Chinese compliance with a mandate that government units must use Chinese-produced software apparently supports use of Chinese distributions of Linux, which is in use in numerous departments and agencies there.

Microsoft hasn't taken public defections laying down. When Munich considered a report on why Linux might make good strategic sense, Microsoft lobbyists met with city personnel and laid out arguments why Microsoft's proposals met the report's various analytic criteria, in the exact same order as listed in the report -- despite that acquiring the report violated the city's fair bidding process. Likewise, grassroots efforts to protect state public access to data created by government employees in the United States from lock-in to proprietary file formats through legislation that would require use of the Open Document Format have been systematically assaulted by Microsoft -- successfully.

Any lessons here?

Private companies are better able to organize migrations in line with their preferences, because their decision-making processes are less open and their information potentially less leaky. Major enterprises like IBM and Google have been able to deploy whatever operating systems made sense. Governments wishing to do the same are likely to face serious friction in the form of lobbying and contract leverage.

The good news?

The crazy plans we heard years ago about Microsoft deploying an encrypted database filesystem that would be inaccessible to anything but a licensed Microsoft application, and migrating applications like MS-Word that create oft-used documents to file formats stored in multiple streams that would be impossible to store on any other filesystem, and the pervasive use of encryption and DRM to ensure that nothing but a licensed Microsoft product would be able to access the data placed in such a document by any user ... those seem to have died. First, Microsoft failed to deliver the filesystem. Second, efforts to make file content inaccessible to folks who don't keep up their subscriptions will certainly trigger ODF migrations, as claims that Microsoft supports ongoing data access would be more transparently false.

The promise offered by open-source tools -- avoidance of costly licensing management, avoidance of licensing litigation, avoidance of costly forced upgrades and/or licensing subscriptions, and the ability to apply funds toward value-producing efforts such as ensuring software meets organization-specific needs and ensuring that users are supported in their use of the software -- is likely to get more and more enticing as a growing base of interested organizations systematically improves the quality of the open-source suite of offerings.

What does this mean for Apple? The *nix users who want a high-quality user-interface, organizations with a desire to reduce the overhead of running multiple region-specific software packages by deploying a single image enterprise-wide regardless of local language, and organizations who happen to find Apple's hardware offerings compelling may all benefit from trends that reduce Microsoft-specific lock-in. Organizations with dependence on closed-source software -- many industry-specific tools lack quality open-source replacements -- will be able to consider Apple as a non-Microsoft alternative even if not an entirely OSS alternative: MacOS X depends on the open-source Darwin operating system, but the user interface depends in addition on Apple's Cocoa development environment which is not open source, but instead stands as Apple's principal discriminating feature in comparison to other platforms. To the extent Cocoa is attractive (e.g., for localization), migration to Apple may be of value even if the ability to deploy open-source Unix tools atop Darwin is not of interest.

It'll be interesting to watch how Apple does in enterprise going forward. Historically, Apple's been utterly uninterested in enterprise. However, AT&T and the iPhone may have led to something of a turning point, with Apple now offering Enterprise-specific features (and even admitting it) in order to pursue market with a new device (that is also a Cocoa platform). Pushing enterprise developers to Cocoa is really a small step from pushing them to Macs. Well, in fact, since the iPhone dev tools themselves must run on Macs, it is pushing the enterprise developers onto Macs, which is a small step from advertising Macs to the enterprise.

How the world turns.

If Apple's sales growth continues, it'd be hard for Apple not to end up selling Macs to enterprises in fiscally meaningful numbers. Maybe the Germans aren't weird outliers, but are merely ahead of the curve. If so, Apple's got quite a story ahead of it.

Of course, the story that will hang off Apple's handheld Cocoa platforms is also interesting. Apple will probably sell more of those than it does Macs from June 11 forward. Depending how those mobile buyers consume applications, this could also be the start of an interesting revenue stream as an application reseller. Definitely an interesting time to own Apple shares.

[1] Munich's effort might bear some scrutiny. Some allege it's not so much a movement away from Microsoft than it is a move toward a system that will require more intense IT support (see the comments) in order to grease some local vendors with political connections. The Munich effort, spurred in part by Microsoft's decision to sunset support for the software comprising Munich's installed base, was expected to cause M√ľnchen to pay more for migration to Linux than it would have paid to migrate to a new slew of Microsoft product versions, and according to the comments in the post in this footnote, they overran even that budget. If corruption is behind the migration, it's pretty clear there's no hope for public efficiency regardless the ostensible technological advantages.

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