I came up with an idea this week: What if Microsoft made Windows open source? Before you accuse of me of link baiting, I believe this idea has merit for several reasons. It will reduce the cost of development, put the power of the community behind supporting what's become an endless and expensive project and let Microsoft concentrate on enterprise solutions and cloud initiatives.
The Future is in the Cloud
Microsoft's future plans are clearly in the cloud. One of the big announcements at the Professional Developer's Conference last Fall, in addition to Windows 7, was Azure, a comprehensive cloud platform that includes end user application services like Office Live, Exchange Live and Sharepoint Online; development tools like Live Services and .NET services all built on top of Windows Azure, which acts as the cloud services *operating system.*
Let's face it, whether it's social network services like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn or Google services like Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar; more computing is being done in the cloud. Once you move the majority of your applications to the web, a desktop OS becomes far less important because all you really need is a core set of functions and a browser. Microsoft clearly recognizes this.
That's not to say that all applications could live in the cloud because certain applications such as Adobe's Creative Suite Tools (Photoshop, Dreamweaver, et. al.) need to run on the desktop. The desktop OS won't go away, but it won't need to be as comprehensive or bloated as it is today. A core set of services will suffice to get the job done and that same open source kernel I'm suggesting could be the answer.
It's a Cheaper Way to Produce an OS
The Linux development community has shown the power of a committed community of developers. If (and that's a big if) you could put the energy and resources of a committed open source community behind Windows, Microsoft would no longer have to worry about expensive extended development cycles. It could still coordinate the production of the code, but the community could take over much of the heavy lifting to produce different parts of the core.
Microsoft could then put together add-on modules (as could members of the community) to provide additional functionality for verticals and different user types such as a student, small business and so forth. Microsoft could also market itself as the preeminent Windows company and still make lots of money in consulting and customization services. It would get them out the desktop OS business, which as you might have noticed, has increasingly become an albatross around their corporate necks in recent years, and let them concentrate on developing Azure and on products like the extremely popular Sharepoint to act as a lynch pin application in the enterprise.
There are probably a host of legal and technical issues I've likely glossed over, not to mention the PR issues around a move like this, but it could get the EU off its legal back in one bold stroke.
What's more, as the OS becomes more commoditized, it makes less sense to put so much effort into Windows. Making Windows open source frees the company from a product that's expensive to develop and which will become less relevant over time as more computing heads to the cloud.
What do you think of this idea? Leave a comment and let me know (but be polite, please).