The Linux vs. Windows case study presented Windows as the incumbent platform with a first mover advantage and Linux as the challenger. I would like to take a different approach to analyzing these two platforms and see what we can learn. If we assume that the history of Linux starts in 1991, Linux is following in the footsteps of Windows. But if we consider the hereditary connection between Linux and Unix, the story of Linux now starts in 1969, and Windows becomes the challenger following in the footsteps of Unix.
When you look at the history of AT&T and Microsoft you start to see a lot of parallels. AT&T and Microsoft both managed Unix and Windows as a proprietary platforms. AT&T and Microsoft both faced major regulatory challenges with AT&T’s forced breakup in 1982 and Microsoft’s antitrust ruling in 1998. Viewed in this context, Microsoft has been following in AT&T’s footsteps. This begs the question, is Microsoft doomed to repeat with Windows the same mistakes AT&T made with Unix?
My research into this question provided an answer that I didn’t expect. The histories of AT&T and Microsoft are very similar with their management of Unix and Windows, but they have one critical difference. That is their relationship with Apple. This opens an opportunity to look at the first mover and second mover advantages these companies have employed managing their products.
When discussing Linux it is impossible to ignore Unix. When discussing Unix it is impossible to ignore Bell Labs. And when discussing Bell Labs it is impossible to ignore the breakup of AT&T and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. When we consider the hereditary connection between Linux and Unix, and the long history of this platform, Linux becomes the incumbent platform and Windows becomes the challenger platform. The Case Study and Class Discussion
The Case Study focused largely on Linux as an Open Source application, and asked us to analyze if an Open Source shared platform had advantages over the Windows proprietary platform. The case study also focused largely on the economics of competing against Free and the difference between shared and proprietary platforms. The case study presented Windows as the incumbent platform and Linux as the challenger, and did not go into First Mover or Second Mover advantages. The class discussion was interesting, not only because of the insight provided into the case study and the diversity of opinions, but also because the distinction between Linux and Unix was not very well defined. Several people identified Apple’s OS X and FreeBSD as variants of Linux. The statement that OS X is a variant of Linux is incorrect,
but has some elements of truth . Are Linux and Unix the same thing? The answer is Yes and No. (Aamond 2008). OS X, FreeBSD, and Linux do have a shared heritage with Unix (See Figure 1).
This slight mistake saying that OS X was a version of Linux sparked my interest in researching the longer history of Unix. Most frameworks for analyzing a product don’t account for the long lived products like Unix. This lead me to the next point of research with The Long Tail.
The Long Tail
Chris Anderson of WIRED magazine describes four inflection points in the life of a product (Anderson 2007). These inflection points are 1) when a product reaches a critical price, 2) when a product reaches a critical mass, 3) when one product displaces another, and 4) when a product becomes a commodity (when it enters The Long Tail). These concepts were explored in detail in many of the other case studies presented in class. Linux and Windows are on two different sections of this Long Tail. Much of the Long Tail analysis deals with The Long Tail itself when a product becomes a commodity. Linux is a commodity and clearly exists in The Long Tail. When a product is free, the platform providers make their money from secondary revenue streams like support and services.
When we look at the...