I had a friend tell me a funny thing today. He suggested that good software would put IT admins out of basis. “The depend on bad software for their jobs,” he laughed.
While he was obviously joking, there’s some truth to his comment. If software worked perfectly, there would be no need for vendors to support it (write once, runs forever), or for IT workers to manage it.
However, this has not proven to be the case in the real world. As IT has become easier to use (and cheaper), it has expanded the market, not killed it. Take a look at Microsoft if you don’t believe me.
Microsoft, in a very real sense, is all about taking the heavy lifting out of IT. Microsoft has a range of products that are designed to interact seamlessly with each other. They don’t always live up to this promise, but that is the promise of Microsoft: IT solutions for the average person, as I’ve written before.
Some scorn Microsoft for this. Others, like me, chide Microsoft for locking customers in and competitors out with its end-to-end solutions. I’m sure there’s truth to what I’ve written on the subject, but I also believe that Microsoft genuinely sees huge market opportunity in making IT easier to use. Microsoft, as I once heard Jason Matusow say, bakes solutions into its software, removing (as much as possible) the most expensive part of the software purchase: consulting to make it useful.
Interestingly, he has also pointed out that open source has historically focused on islands of functionality that don’t necessarily work well together without consulting. This is changing, but it’s a valid criticism if you look at the past open source market.
On this note, I believe we in the open source world have a lot to learn from Microsoft. It’s important to recognize that most developers and IT administrators aren’t Linus Torvalds. They’re average, like you and I. The biggest market opportunity is in serving the needs of the average person, as Microsoft has learned. Open source needs to learn this same lesson. I believe that we are, but Microsoft may well show the way forward.