Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Watch Out: Software Giants on the Prowl!

By Anders Bylund - Updated Apr 6, 2017 at 10:59AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Microsoft and Oracle are slinging hard words at open-source competitors. Should they switch to sticks and stones?

Some of the big boys of enterprise computing seem to feel threatened by free software. Why else would they go out of their way to drag their less commercial competitors' names through the mud?

For example, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) appears to be scared stiff about free alternatives to its market-dominating office software. In a marketing-flavored video published last week, Microsoft shows business customers explaining how switching to the supposedly free OpenOffice suite ended up costing them more, because even free software needs professional support. Moreover, users are purportedly scared stiff by the switch -- it's a whole new environment to learn, you know.

Those objections to OpenOffice may be true in isolated cases. However, I find myself more confused by the "ribbon" interface in recent version of Microsoft Office than by the more traditional icon lineups of OpenOffice. Maybe it's because I'm a grumpy old fart who once got used to the look and feel of Office in the late 1990s; after all, OpenOffice does a fine job of emulating that experience. As for the support issue, I can assure you that Mr. Softy's products require support staff as well, and they're no cheaper than your average open-source specialist. On top of that, more resourceful users have a plethora of zero-dollar support options available to them. This complaint doesn't hold water.

Then again, OpenOffice is currently overseen by rival enterprise software outfit Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) -- and even Oracle doesn't see eye to eye with some of the OpenOffice crew. Many of its leaders are defecting to start a brand-new free office suite dubbed LibreOffice, and Oracle's open-source executives don't seem likely to support that effort in any way. In fact, Oracle's position appears to be that it's Oracle's way or the highway. That's not how you build a sustainable community out of the customers and developers Oracle got with the Sun Microsystems deal.

If that wasn't confusing enough, Microsoft is also attacking Oracle's semi-free Java platform as a major attack vector for virus and malware exploits. In this, Microsoft has allies: Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC) security guru Marc Fossi notes that "since Java is both cross-browser and cross-platform, it can be appealing to attackers." The message: open platforms are bad for you.

On one hand, these attacks must create a lot of work for PR reps, lawyers, and sales people at open-source businesses Red Hat (NYSE: RHT), Citrix Systems (Nasdaq: CTXS), the Mozilla foundation, and all versions of the Open/Libre Office software. On the other, lashing out like this also serves to raise the free alternatives' visibility and legitimize them as viable business options. "Hey, Microsoft treats OpenOffice as a real competitor -- why shouldn't my company do the same?"

Would you settle for fewer cutting-edge features in exchange for free software and potentially cheap support? Would you invest in providers of such software? Discuss in the comments below.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

Microsoft Corporation Stock Quote
Microsoft Corporation
MSFT
$256.83 (-1.32%) $-3.43
Oracle Corporation Stock Quote
Oracle Corporation
ORCL
$69.87 (0.95%) $0.66
Citrix Systems, Inc. Stock Quote
Citrix Systems, Inc.
CTXS
$97.17 (0.34%) $0.33
NortonLifeLock Inc. Stock Quote
NortonLifeLock Inc.
NLOK
$21.96 (-1.52%) $0.34
Red Hat, Inc. Stock Quote
Red Hat, Inc.
RHT

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
317%
 
S&P 500 Returns
112%

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 07/01/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.