While proprietary file formats and illegal tying have no doubt contributed to Microsoft's dominant market position in operating systems, office productivity suites, and more, the real secret to Microsoft's success is the channel. Take away Microsoft's exceptional channel execution--up to 96 percent of Microsoft's revenue comes through partners--and you take away Microsoft's market dominance.
It's therefore not surprising that Red Hat, Microsoft's rising open-source competitor, has been aggressively focusing on its channel, culminating in this week's announcement that it has created the Open Source Channel Alliance, by which it will promote a range of open-source companies, including Alfresco, Zimbra, and EnterpriseDB, through SYNNEX, a distributor with ties to over 15,000 system integrators.
Let the games begin.
This move positions Red Hat at the center of a growing open-source ecosystem, as Glyn Moody suggests, and capitalizes on the accelerating pace of enterprise open-source adoption.
In some ways, this is the next logical move beyond the Red Hat Exchange program, Red Hat's initial attempt to corral the open-source ecosystem by providing a one-stop shop for buying open source under the Red Hat banner.
The Open Source Channel Alliance, however, promises to be more successful as it broadens distribution for open-source vendors, rather than trying to funnel it all through one company (Red Hat) and one Web site.
Again, the real lesson from Microsoft's impressive growth isn't its run-ins with the U.S. Justice Department, but rather its focus on enriching itself by enriching its partner channel. Red Hat is taking the right page from Microsoft's playbook by focusing on the channel and seeking to help its partners even as it helps itself.
It's a new shift for Red Hat, one for which many of us have been waiting for a long time.
Disclosure: I am an employee of Alfresco, one of the founding members of Red Hat's Open Source Channel Alliance.
Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.