The Real Threat To Microsoft

Forget about Judge Jackson. The real threat to Microsoft comes from people like Andy Singleton.

Singleton is CEO of Cambridge Interactive, a web software outfit. While he hasn’t figured out how to make his Power Steering application open source yet (and stay in business), he has decided to offer its use free to the open source community.

It’s this kind of sharing that is the real danger to Microsoft’s place in the world. When the question becomes who do you trust, and the choice is between two companies, then you may indeed prefer Windows and Windows stuff. When the choice is between one company and thousands of companies (plus millions of hobbyists), the choice may be different.

Singleton describes Power Steering as enterprise-class teamware. It offers a project task menu listing what has to be done, and any member of the team can access it, so a big dispersed team can handle a large project. It’s currently being used by Project JEDI (Joint Endeavor of Delphi Innovators), an international community of developers working on open source Delphi projects.

Accessing Power Steering is simple. “You come to the web site and sign up,” Singleton explained. “We monitor that in real time, so we get real time response when we make these offers.” What Singleton’s company gets out of it are contact with good developers, and knowledge about managing distributed development. “Plus we get access to resources and communicate with people we need to work with.”

Giving away access to his crown jewel is already paying off, Singleton added. “As we make this offer we’re seeing commercial prospects come in through referrals from open source users.”

Singleton is careful not to mislead anyone. He’s not giving away his source code yet – just access to what the software does. But he admitted he’s tempted. “We will work a Webdev overlay for source control that we’ll lease as open source. Over time I’m looking to migrate more and more of what we do in that direction.”

The fact is that as he works more with open source developers and gives in return for what he gets, Singleton is gaining a keener understanding of what being open source means. “It means the people who know how to partner and reach out will do well, and the people who close in will not. What are you looking for from the sharing open source represents? You’re looking to get as well as give. That’s a new way of thinking about your commercial value.

“I sign a lot of non disclosure agreements (NDAs), and then say nothing we do is confidential. It’s a sign of inexperience to think the idea really matters. There are two factors of success. One is the ability to generate ideas, because it builds your network. The second is the ability to implement.”

Since we’re getting into that season, let’s explain it in terms you may understand. Who would you rather depend on, Mr. Potter or George Bailey’s friends?

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