Microsoft as in Free

IBM, Red Hat, Canonical/Ubuntu, and Novell announced an initiative at LinuxWorld today in San Fransisco to create a Microsoft-free environment. The strategy is simple: undercut Vista and Office in the enterprise with a software stack of Lotus Notes, Symphony, and Sametime. The only problem is: it won’t work.

Two reasons: Google and Microsoft. Google has trained the market to understand the power of the ad-supported on-demand Internet Operating System, an iterative platform for destabilizing hardware-based solutions in favor of just-in-time cloud-based services with most of the punch and zero to half the cost. I’ll get to Microsoft in a minute.

So IBM repurposes Sun’s OpenOffice code base and forks it with proprietary extensions. Understandable given IBM’s continued battle with Sun over development platforms (Eclipse vs. NetBeans) and the enmity over controlling Java. But braindead too, because watch Google in the social space, where its investments in open standards (OpenID, OAuth, Open Social, Firefox) pay rapid dividends while the older generation struggles not so much with in-fighting but the lack of speed that mixed motives engenders.

In short order, Google has smoked out MySpace, Facebook, and even Microsoft with its partner-first-compete-later approach. Look at today’s integration of Google’s DoubleClick In-Stream video ad serving technology into Microsoft Silverlight 2 video player technology, just in time for the rollout of Those who’ve been playing the home game may notice that Google just went rich with Microsoft. Of course, DoubleCLick works with Flash, Real Media, and Windows Media. But Silverlight is cross-platform, folks, which means it’s the future home of an on-demand Office.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it’s the battle of the hairballs between an aging OpenOffice and a Lotus Symphony destined for a freebie bundle with Notes on IBM Global Service corporate invasions. But what if when they actually get there and Microsoft is sitting there with a hosted developer platform that, as Ray Ozzie reportedly told the recent Financial Analysts meeting, would appeal not just to commercial but open source developers. And tellingly that the strategy would be fully delineated by the end of fiscal’09 on June 30.

It’s not hard to read between the lines here. IBM competes today with Google Apps, then with Silverlight Office Lite, and finally with Apple and Android when it tries to go mobile. Delta’s announcement of full WiFi on its 330 planes by summer ’09 is just in time to make a hairball play completely dead in the water or the air. I doubt IBM and its partners recognized the pun in Microsoft-free until it was too late.