On the surface, Mundi Microsoftum looks like a cosy place to be for developers: you have many excellent tools to choose from and access to a massive payware market. Nowadays, Microsoft is even recognising that open standards are good, and started flirting with open source to show that they're as hip as Linux geeks.
So why then would anyone even consider going down the Open Source route? Because in the Microsoft fold, developers are waltzing with an unpredictable 800-lb gorilla. Microsoft controls the APIs, and it controls the platforms they run on. What's more, if your product is succesful enough, it will compete against you.
The examples are countless: from web browsers, media players, and office suites to the integrated ZIP archive shell extension in Windows. Soon, Windows XP Service Pack 2 will be released, and contain an anti-virus API. That was about the last application area in which Microsoft didn't have a presence – it took a while to get over the embarrassing MSAV fiasco – and no doubt, it will thin the field of AV developers for Windows.
Basically, the best-case scenario if you develop for Windows and have a popular product is that Microsoft will buy you out and you live happily ever after. However, the likelihood of Microsoft simply out-competing you on a playing field heavily tilted in its favour is even greater.
That way, Microsoft is slowly but surely killing off opportunities for developers on the Windows platform, and driving them towards Open Source. A fine irony indeed, because it means Microsoft is essentially competing against itself.
If you work with Linux iptables to build firewalls, you know how awkward it can be to get the scripts right and to manage them. Martin Forest, who runs IT security company Heimdalls in Te Atatu, thought the same, and developed a management front-end to iptables called Bifrost.
Forest is a Scandihooligan Kiwi, and a Norse mythology fan – Heimdall is the guardian of Valhalla, where the gods hang out, and Bifrost is the rainbow bridge leading to it. To start with, Forest says, Bifrost was developed to speed up consulting assignments and customer support. The idea behind Bifrost is to give an instant overview of the complex iptables rules, and to provide an easy-to-use interface to manage them.
Bifrost was published on the internet in June 2002, and is now at version 0.9.6. It's free to use, but with some features such as large rule-sets and high-availability only available if a licence is acquired ($US25 for home use, $US100 for commercial applications).
Forest says his company sees “about 800 new installations every month” of Bifrost. Checkit out. Saarinen is an Auckland IT consultant and IDG contributor. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.