It’s been easy to think that the FOSS world has little to worry about from Microsoft these days. By the time Steve Ballmer was forced out a few years back, the company seemed to be a basket case. Windows was becoming less relevant by the minute, many consumers were sparing themselves the expense of Office by adopting LibreOffice and OpenOffice and efforts to launch Windows Phone were going nowhere, even after Steven Elop drove Nokia to the brink of bankruptcy, allowing Redmond to purchase the Finnish company’s once unstoppable phone business at fire sale prices.
Although some have been trying to sound the alarm, many of us have been lulled into complacency brought by a belief that Microsoft is no longer a real threat and that we are now free to concentrate all of our energies on growing Linux and FOSS, which is basically all we’ve wanted to do.
The trouble is that the fat lady has not yet sung.
Our problems with Microsoft are not yet over. For sure, Windows isn’t the monopoly it once was, but it’s still a monopoly. And while MS Office installations have been shrinking for several years, the cloud version, Office 365, has been doing quite well, thank you, and is poised to do even better under Windows 10, which seeks to be a Chromebook on steroids.
While many of us have been busy ridiculing Redmond for its “we love Linux” claims, Satya Nadella and his team might be quietly engineering a sneak attack, hoping we won’t know what hit us until it’s too late.
On Saturday, Matt Weinberger published a piece in Business Insider in which he opines that Nadella’s Microsoft is working to “swap one monopoly for another.” The new monopoly, according to Weinberger’s thinking, would be Office, and he cites Redmond’s efforts to make the online version of the productivity suite accessible on Android and iOS devices.
“Office workers and students both rely on Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and the rest of the suite. Google Apps (recently rebranded Google for Work) is providing some solid competition, particularly in smaller businesses and tech startups, but almost every big business in the world still has thousands of Office licenses.
“Rather than force Windows on users to make them use Office, Microsoft’s new game plan is to make Office irresistible to anybody, no matter what device they’re using.”
Microsoft has learned its lesson, he says. They’re prepared to take on any new device that comes along. The minute Firefox OS begins to gain traction, Office will be there with an app. Ditto if Shuttleworth’s dream of a commercially viable Ubuntu Phone is realized.
“If the iPhone bubble ever bursts, and we move to getting chips implanted in our heads, you’d better believe Nadella will task a team to getting Microsoft Word running on our corpus callosum.”
None of this would be too worrisome if not for a software suite that Microsoft has been quietly pushing on its enterprise customers, a product that looks to be every inch a Trojan Horse designed to eventually garner dominance for Windows Phone and to keep enterprise customers from moving away from Windows on their workstations.
The suite is a cloud based subscription service called Microsoft Enterprise Mobility, and it’s the type of service Windows based IT departments are sure to adopt. The service basically allows a company’s IT guys and gals to manage both the PCs and mobile devices on the company’s network. Kevin Turner, Microsoft’s COO, has great plans for it, claiming it’ll be Redmond’s next billion dollar business.
At first glance, it doesn’t look to be very threatening.
According to Microsoft, it will “Keep your employees productive on their favorite apps and devices — and your company data protected.” It helps a company manage and protect all mobile devices, no matter what platform they’re running. It includes Azure Active Directory Premium, which helps a company’s employees manages most, if not all, of their passwords, and Azure Rights Management, which password protects Office documents.
It seems harmless enough, especially when considering that many of the services included were until recently already available as Windows apps. But now its in the cloud, doesn’t require Windows to run and will help manage all devices, regardless of operating system.
Make no mistake: the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite is potentially dangerous, not because of what it can do now, but because of what it very well might be able to do in the future, after it’s use becomes ubiquitous in the enterprise, which is likely as this is the sort of thing that Microsoft IT departments love to deploy.
It’s not hard to imagine that after the Mobility Suite becomes an indispensable part of many IT departments, we’ll hear from Microsoft that while the suite can do an excellent job of protecting all devices regardless of operating system, due to built in integration it can do an even better job of protecting company data on devices running Windows — perhaps even with added functions — by utilizing hidden APIs built into Windows.
This would help solidify Microsoft’s hold on enterprise workstations. It would also cause many security cautious IT departments to encourage their employees to move away from Android, iOS and other mobile platforms in favor of Windows Phone. This is all conjecture, of course, but it’s not unlike tricks Microsoft has used in the past.
It also won’t be successful, as long as open source companies keep a wary eye on Redmond’s activities while developing open source “mobility suites” that are more effective and less expensive than Redmond’s offering. I’m sure Red Hat is up to the challenge, as are others.
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