Linux – the embrace and extend strategy

John Carroll had an interesting posting over at ZDNET today. He certainly hit a nerve given the talkback section. He was responding to posting by Paul Murphy, another ZDNET writer, in which the assertion was made that Linux needs to embrace its Unix-ness in order to beat Windows. John comes back with:

"It needs to be considered that the reason Microsoft is doing so well in servers and desktops is that customers DON'T LIKE the Unix way of doing things. If that's the case, then emphasizing the essential Unixness of Linux isn't a recipe for success."

He suggests that looking at why customers like Windows is a better way for Linux devs to be successful at producing software that customers want. So in other words - Linux should embrace and extend what Windows does. Hmmm...I'm pretty sure that the whole "embrace and extend" thing has been used as a pejorative in the past. 

I believe there is more to it than that. The key ingredient missing from this conversation is a discussion of innovation. That would be the "extend" part of the discussion. The healthiest thing an organization can do is to recognize that great ideas come from many different places, and most will probably not come from within your organization. The harder part is to see those great ideas and understand how they fit into your business strategy. Walmart's supply chain management efforts have proven without a doubt that having the best supply chain is the killer app for retail. Thus Target, Costco, and others have adopted the same model but with their own twists. The twist is the "extend" or innovation. Target has an emphasis on industrial design (big-name designers creating commodity items and distributed exclusively through Target). Costco did the whole warehouse shopping, club membership-thing better than anyone else. But they both are doing their best to embrace the supply chain management practices of Walmart.  

It is not good enough for Linux to simply emulate Windows, it is going to have to extend beyond and that is why innovation is the whole ball of wax. Windows Vista is not just a rehash of Windows - it is value-driven and reaches beyond anything we have done before. Otherwise - why buy it vs. running the high-quality OS already available? So Linux is not going to have to match Windows XP (which is going to take a long time and a lot of hard work to do), it is going to have to match the pace and quality of innovation coming out of our dev teams. This is not just about user interfaces, it is about extensibility, security, manageability, quality, performance, etc. etc. etc.  Each having it own elements of compulsory requirements and innovation value-add.

So next time you feel like pointing an accusatory finger at Microsoft and repeating the nasty "embrace and extend" - think about the engineering, marketing, sales, implementation, and support challenges being faced by the Linux vendors. That commercial community is completely focused on "embrace and extend" today.


Comments (4)
  1. eric says:

    This difference is that with Linux (i.e. GPL)

    everyone benefits from the "extend".

  2. Tim says:

    <i>This is not just about user interfaces, it is about extensibility, security, manageability, quality, performance</i>

    In many of these areas its Windows that has a long way to go to catch up to Linux.

  3. Freddie Montana says:

    I am a common user of Linux. I cannot write a simple script farless a program but I switched from MicroSOFT Windows to Linux about two years ago when RedHat first debut Fedora. Recently, I expressed some thoughts on the conversion in several blogs. I think they are worth reading, considering these comments are from a regular computer user:(1). This is the most recent comment,, and this is my first comment: (2).

    Aslo see this one called Ditching The Shackles,

    Just my two cents worth but I am beginning to believe, like Novel said, this argument will not be won in the large IT departments but in homes across the fruited plains, beginning with the world first before coming to the USA.

  4. <P>Freddie – Sorry, I tried to post this at your blog – but your site made it very difficult to post. For other readers, check out his link in the comment above. </P>

    <P>Thanks for your comments on my blog. I think it is great that you are trying something new and that it is working for you. Your willingness to spend a few hours on a video card issue is where the PC world was for everyone 5-7 years ago. The most common criticism I heard was why can’t my PC be more like a MAC. The point of that was not to specifically have the PC and MAC be the same, it was more about the perceived usability of the MAC environment. Of course, that was a far more controlled environment than the PC. Apple had far greater control over the hardware, drivers, software etc. compared to the myriad of participants in producing a PC. One of the biggest challenges for us (Microsoft) is working with the thousands of hardware vendors to make sure that drivers are made to "just work." This means a huge amount of testing and quality control – never mind the headaches that come with upgrade cycles. I think you will find that as Linux becomes more broadly used, it will go through the same maturity cycle. Tinkerers today, base-level users in the future. That will place significant constraints on Linux – the very constraints you are expressing concern about today for Windows. You are right that the user is king – and that change comes from the producers of software listening to them. Just be sure you are understanding what they are asking for. </P>

    <P>- Jason </P>

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