Another open-source turf war


Folks, it's on. The Microsoft versus open source battle is heating up quickly, and I think this one's going to be a doozy.

As most folks know, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a slick presentation at this year's HIMSS, officially announcing that Microsoft was planning to take a big bite out of the healthcare IT market. While Microsoft clearly considers itself the king of all it sees, my sense was that Ballmer wasn't kidding when he said that his company was deadly serious about storming healthcare industry. It's made (for Microsoft) a small start with the acquisition of clinical data vendor Azyxxi and health information-oriented Web search provider Medstory. You can bet the farm that it will be announcing much bigger deals within the next year, too.

Few commentators, however--including your humble editor--took notice of a deal open source giant Red Hat announced at the same show. Working with clinical IT giant McKesson and Intel, the company announced the launch of its Red Hat Enterprise Healthcare Platform. The Healthcare Platform, which comes with Enterprise Linux updates, healthcare-specific customer support and JBoss Enterprise Middleware Suite, is optimized for the Intel Core2 Duo. Now that is a shot back across the Microsoft bow.

It's hardly worth asking which will "win" the market share battle. As we all know, with the integration problems healthcare providers face, most health IT shops will run a mix of age-old legacy systems, Microsoft and open source software. Neither Red Hat and its partners nor Microsoft is going anywhere.

I am curious, however, to see how each influences the other as they grapple for visibility and dollars. For example, with its strong consumer presence, Microsoft is thinking about reaching end users as well as enterprise shops when it develops healthcare strategy. Red Hat doesn't need to do that; will that give it greater agility? After all, sometimes smaller vendors can slip in under the radar if a big ol' monster like Microsoft drops its guard. (Don't forget how Microsoft got established by playing patty-cake with IBM!)

Red Hat, meanwhile, has to contend with the staggering penetration of Microsoft technology in corporate IT departments everywhere, including, of course, healthcare. While there's no question that Red Hat is very much known to your average IT pro, is it still a "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM (Microsoft)" market out there? Besides, in coming months IT administrators may be too preoccupied with Vista upgrades to rejigger their integration strategy.

All told, if you like handicapping vendor wars, this has got to be one of the most interesting ones in a decade, particularly given the political forces forcing HIT adoption today. Even by the standards of a multi-billion dollar company, there's a lot at stake here. Let the games begin! - Anne