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.