Microsoft Could Learn a Thing or Two From Ubuntu

| About: Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)

By Carl Howe

Today, we should hear Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) report earnings, which most pundits have said they don't care about. While analysts want to know how the Zune story is working out and if XBox 360 sales are lagging, but everyone is really looking forward the final release of Windows Vista next year as an engine for revitalizing Microsoft's business after five years of development since Windows XP. Analysts are also looking forward to the new release of Microsoft Office, which has only been in development about 2 or 3 years. No one is expecting to see any material results from those releases for at least another six months, but hope is springing eternal.

Ironically though, today is also the day that Mark Shuttleworth's Canonical company released its latest version of its Ubuntu operating system. Unlike Microsoft, Canonical releases new versions every six months, despite the fact that these releases are nearly as comprehensive as Microsoft's and the changes more dramatic in structure. Surprisingly, Ubuntu Linux supports even more combinations of desktop and server hardware than Microsoft does, since it supports a huge variety of Intel-based platforms and peripherals (including specialized 64-bit and AMD versions), PowerPC systems, and a variety of other architectures. Ubuntu bundles literally thousands of programs in with its releases, including OpenOffice 2.0, and downloads of tens of thousands of programs available to users at the click of a mouse. Ubuntu's latest cutting-edge graphics capabilities rival those featured in Windows Vista. Ubuntu installs on everything from your five-year-old PC to the latest and hottest hardware in about 10 minutes. And it's all free for anyone to use.

The company that makes billions of dollars a month and has a $7.5 billion R&D budget is the one that can't get a release out in five years. The tiny South African company that supports Ubuntu is the one that does releases every six months like clockwork, using software developed all over the world.

It's absolutely clear from a customer point of view which of these firms is adding more value and changing the lives of both consumers and businesses. The big question is when investors and the stock market analysts will figure out that it's not the company with the big bank account.

Full disclosure: I have no positions in either company.