Wrestling with the Vista monster

This morning’s Observer column

Microsoft’s problems with Windows may be an indicator that operating systems are getting beyond the capacity of any single organisation to handle them. Whatever other charges might be levelled against Microsoft, technical incompetence isn’t one. If the folks at Redmond can’t do it, maybe it just can’t be done.

Therein may lie the real significance of Open Source. In a perceptive book published in 2004, the social scientist, Steve Weber argued that it’s not Linux per se but the collaborative process by which the software was created that is the real innovation. In those terms, Linux is probably the first truly networked enterprise in history.

Weber likened Open Source production to an earlier process which had a revolutionary impact – Toyota’s production system – which in time transformed the way cars are made everywhere. The Toyota ‘system’, in that sense, was not a car, and it was not uniquely Japanese. Similarly, Open Source is not a piece of software, and it is not unique to a group of hackers. It’s a way of building complex things. Microsoft’s struggles with Vista suggest it may be the only way to do operating systems in future…