Entry Barriers to the Operating System Market

This letter to the editor of Linux Weekly News, in response to their comments about a statement made in a Microsoft legal brief, was published in their 22-Oct-1998 issue.

Microsoft said:

Market entry costs are very low and profit opportunities vast in software platform technology, leading to constant efforts to unseat the incumbent leader (witness the advance of Linux, a new version of UNIX developed by a single individual).

Date: 15 Oct 1998 23:23:54 -0000
From: Eric Smith <eric@brouhaha.com>
To: editor@lwn.net
Subject: Microsoft claims of not having a monopoly.

Microsoft claims not to have a monopoly, and cites Linux as an example, further claiming that it was developed by one person. You refuted the one person claim in your 15-Oct-1998 issue, but you didn't carry it far enough.

Although I certainly don't want to downplay Linus Torvald's role in leading the development of the Linux kernel, not even the kernel was developed by a single individual. And for an apples-to-apples comparison, it is not realistic to compare the Linux kernel (by itself) to Microsoft Windows, since Windows (of any flavor) is much more than a kernel. The contents of a typical Linux distribution have taken more resources to develop than *ANY* one corporation can muster, even Microsoft.

Citing Linux as evidence that "Market entry costs are very low and profit opportunities vast in software platform technology" is thus completely absurd. There has not been (and will never be) an accounting for the cost of development of Linux, but it has been astronomical. The fact that it was largely a volunteer effort does not in any way support the notion that it was "low cost". If anything, the Linux experience demonstrates that even with thousands of engineers developing an operating system, it still may not be possible to effectively compete with Microsoft.

Of course, many of us in the Linux community would like to believe that Linux will eventually offer effective competition for Microsoft, and we are optimistic about it, but it will likely still take at least several years for this to happen.

Eric Smith

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Last updated October 25, 1998

Copyright 1998 Eric Smith


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