Adobe has a problem. Dell customers have strongly voiced their opposition to pre-installed proprietary software, both the operating system and applications. After painful consideration, Dell will give in to their customers, and see a landslide of sales. HP is going down the same track. Of the big brands favoured by the tech elite, Sony will be last to go, who apparently make a special effort to include their own proprietary software with their PCs in an attempt to draw level with Apple’s functionality (my recent VAIO purchase contains the equivalent of iLife in Adobe products). When all this happens, Adobe will have only begun to port applications to Linux – a platform on which they know it will be hard to compete because the free offerings are competitive. Direct competition from a set of Adobe products that all integrate rather better with each other than existing free Linux products do (I’m discussing price here, not openness) will lead those Linux products to draw even. Note, for instance that with Adobe Atmosphere discontinued, Adobe has no product to compete with Blender, meaning that open source products could conceivably become better integrated with each other than Adobe’s line-up.
Microsoft’s quagmire is deeper still. While Office 2007 is an epiphany in office product usability, it will take years for the Wine project to catch up and let 2007 run on Linux, barring direct involvement for Microsoft (we know they’d rather die, at least while Ballmer is CEO). In fact, a full productivity suite for Windows now exists in open source: OpenOffice, Scribus, GIMP, Inkscape, and PDFCreator. The emergence of freeware Adobe Reader replacement Foxit shows that an open source equivalent can’t be far off. Nothing will stop users from leaving the Windows tax behind once they have embraced platform-independent open source applications such as the aforementioned. Open source software for Windows is already being distributed in several downloadable CD formats, such as OpenCD, and the Open Source Software CD; the Ubuntu install CDs for at least some releases have also contained open source productivity software for Windows.
The Adobe brand lures consumers with the free Adobe Reader and cheap Photoshop Elements, but Google’s free Picasa will be welcomed by many that use even fewer features than Photoshop Elements provides, and the feature-laden Adobe Reader may also be too much for some.
The only remaining disadvantage for open source software is the virtual absence of a marketing budget, meaning that it will spread at the product of the speed of word of mouth and the rate of convincing.
I believe that the reason former developing nations in Asia are emerging as ferocious competitors in the technology arena is that they have less red tape, less vendor lock-in (aka inertia), and strong recent rates of natural selection in the absence of government benefits for the unemployed and sick; therefore selection for intelligence may have been stronger in those countries. By this reasoning, South America and Africa will be next to emerge from the shadow.