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Do Linux advocates have anything to fear from Microsoft?

May 27, 1999, 20:50 (109 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Tom Adelstein)

by Tom Adelstein of Bynari Systems

When the enemy is near but still, he is resting on a natural stronghold. When he is far away but tries to provoke hostilities, he wants you to move forward. If his position is accessible, it is because that is advantageous to him. -Sun-Tzu, The Art of War

When an opponent doesn't play by the rules, there are no rules -Ryk

Five years ago, Microsoft entered the Internet application business by giving away free software. They gave away Internet Explorer while paying royalties. Even in it's fifth encarnation, Internet Explorer still declares: "Distributed under a licensing agreement with Spyglass, Inc." No strangers to free software such as Linux exist at Microsoft. They must advocate free software because they have given so much of it away.

While Microsoft defends itself in court saying that the Justice Department action stifles innovation in the software industry, the Redmond based company has declared war on Linux and the Open Source Software movement. Someone might argue that Microsoft believes in innovation and free software. They should support Linux.


"the Redmond based company has declared war on Linux and the Open Source Software movement." - Tom Adelstein

Why an enemy?

Microsoft considers Linux and the entire Open Source Software (OSS) community a competitive menace. Consider a quote from Vinod Valloppillil of Microsoft as presented in the now famous Halloween Papers (http://www.opensource.org/halloween.html). He writes:

... OSS poses a direct, short-term revenue and platform threat to Microsoft -- particularly in server space. Additionally, the intrinsic parallelism and free idea exchange in OSS has benefits that are not replicable with our current licensing model and therefore present a long term developer mindshare threat.

In his writing Valloppillil expresses what many of us have known for a long time. Linux can behave like an NT server and perform NT functions for free. People can install Linux on the same Intel based computer that runs Microsoft operating systems and provide security, print and file services and host an intranet and no one pays license fees. That cuts into Microsoft's revenue stream. That's a threat.

No one in the Open Source community should take Microsoft lightly. Redmond has squashed competition regularly on its way to domination of the operating system market. Consider how Windows 95 destroyed IBM's O/S Warp operating system. Many of us remember the famous "Get Warped" advertising campaign that generated sales of approximately 4 million copies of OS/2. On August 31, 1995, Microsoft Released Windows 95 in history's largest media blitz and OS/2 became a footnote.

Consider Microsoft's conquests of previous monopolies in the market. Lotus 1-2-3 once owned the spreadsheet market. Lotus took out VisiCalc and SuperCalc in 1982 while gaining a 90% market share for over a decade. WordPerfect emerged as the market leader for wordprocessing in the mid-1980's while flattening WordStar and grabbing a good 90% market share. In the total number of nodes deployed in PC networks Novell's NetWare had an astounding 80% of the market in 1993, the year Microsoft released Windows NT 3.1. Finally, consider Netscape Navigator with its 90% share of the Browser market.

In less than a decade, Microsoft has replaced every one of those once dominant companies with its own products. Microsoft has a history of annihilating its competition. While the Redmond Company went about its business, the popular press of the time took humorous shots at Microsoft even scoffing at their aims. In the background, many of us rooted for the underdog Microsoft.

Anyone who thinks of Bill Gates as a stranger to free software forgets about the tactics that Microsoft used to bend Netscape in halves. Remember that Netscape charged for its Navigator Browser. Microsoft gave its Browser away for free. Microsoft also populated its Web site with numerous free downloads such as free web servers, scripting languages, editors, graphics programs, SDK's (Software Development Kits) and new web technologies such as Active X.


Microsoft is a monopoly

Once Microsoft took market leadership in what seems like every possible application area, they became monolithic. With control of the market came control of market channels. If you sell computers and you want an operating system for those computers you do what the only supplier says. In the meantime, the Microsoft culture blossomed.

Microsoft employees can only achieve their goals of wealth if their stock options have worth. They have no incentive if the stock price falls. They center all their activities around increasing the stock value, which has made Bill Gates the richest man on earth. Why would they stop now? They have to take on a challenge, win and see those stock prices roar. That gets the Microsoft juices going!

Microsoft denied that Vinod Valloppillil's report held offical status. That led Eric S. Raymond to write:

Ironically, if we take Microsoft at its word, the memos are far more damning -- because that would imply a milieu in which FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) and monopolistic dirty tricks are not merely the province of a few top executives, but a pervasive part of the culture clear down to the level of staff engineers.



"Linux advocates need to understand their vulnerability." - Tom Adelstein

Linux advocates should consider Microsoft's fear of Open Source Software. Microsoft's fears of competition motivate it into action. Once motivated, fear becomes the most important factor in what will push the Company into annihilation mode.

The recent article by Lee Gomes in " The Wall Street Journal" says volumes about Microsoft. Consider the following quote:

In what amounts to a case of "The Empire Strikes Back," the software giant in recent weeks has deployed a team of engineers and marketers to keep tabs on Linux...The Linux effort mirrors Microsoft 's response to other marketplace threats, such as Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java programming language... "Getting inside the head of our competitors is one of our best practices here at Microsoft," says Jim Ewel, a director of marketing in the company's Windows 2000 organization, who is in charge of the effort.

Upstart Linux Draws a Microsoft Attack Team
By Lee Gomes in " The Wall Street Journal" Page B1
(Copyright (c) 1999, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

Following the euphoria of another Linux Expo last week in Raleigh, North Carolina, Linux advocates need to understand their vulnerability. Microsoft is a veteran outfit with two decades of bloody campaigns. Idealists and advocates populate the ranks of OSS teams. Vinod Valloppillil's report should remind us that they know how to kill us while we sleep:

Generally, Microsoft wins by attacking the core weaknesses of OSS projects. (Vinod suggests that Microsoft) de-commoditize protocols & applications...OSS projects have been able to gain a foothold in many server applications because of the wide utility of highly commoditized simple protocols. By extending these protocols and developing new protocols, we can deny OSS projects entry into the market. David Stutz makes a very good point: in competing with Microsoft's level of desktop integration, "commodity protocols actually become the means of integration" for OSS projects. There is a large amount of IQ being expended in various IETF working groups, which are quickly creating the architectural model for integration for these OSS projects.


Be prepared for a blow

Microsoft does not fear the Justice Department, the US Government or anyone else for that matter. Expect Gates to release a free "Windows 2000 Lite" operating system in the near future. Expect a browser like Internet Explorer 5.0 and all its accessories such as Outlook Express and FrontPage Express. This little O/S would live along the lines of Windows CE and feature the basics casual users want. They want a web browser, email and a word processor.

Also, anticipate legal actions once Microsoft settles the Justice Department case. At the moment, Microsoft rests on a natural stronghold - its dominance with operating systems and the cash flow that results from proprietary office suite licensing. But Linux has hurt Microsoft. The next move Microsoft would take is to provoke hostilities. They'll want to get the leadership of the OSS movement occupied with lawyers, document production and hearings. But, if Microsoft considers embracing OSS, then Redmond has figured out a way to take advantage of the Linux community and that would pose an unclear and insidious danger.

For example, I remember when people considered IBM as the evil empire. Today, IBM advocates Linux. Such a turn about would seem completely unthinkable a decade ago. As the song goes, "funny how time slips away."


More grist for the mill from the "Halloween Papers", Vinod Valloppillil's suggestions for wiping out Linux:

  • Beat UNIX
  • The single biggest contributor to Linux's success is the general viability of the UNIX market. Systematically attacking UNIX in general helps attack Linux in particular. Some Linux-targeted initiatives in this space (not a comprehensive list) include:
  • Improve Low-End "IAM" -- Scalability, Interoperability, Availability, and Management (SIAM) are the most often cited reasons for using UNIX over NT in mission critical, high-end applications.
  • In today's Linux deployments however, scalability is not the driver as much as Interop, Reliability, and Headless Management.
  • UNIX services for NT Add-on pack
  • Modularize / Embed Windows NT
  • Relative to other UNIX's Linux is considered more customizable. Addressing this functionality involves more than just the embedded Windows NT project. Greater componentization & general dependency reduction within NT will improve not only it's stability but also the ability of highly skilled users/admins to deploy task-specific NT installations.
  • This requires:
  • Wide availability of the Embedded NT toolkit
  • Greater focus on ease-of-use in the toolkit
  • Beat commodity protocols / services
  • Linux's homebase is currently commodity network and server infrastructure. By folding extended functionality into today's commodity services and create new protocols, we raise the bar & change the rules of the game.
  • Some of the specifics mentioned in the OSS paper:
  • DNS integration with Directory. Leveraging the Directory Service to add value to DNS via dynamic updates, security, authentication
  • HTTP-DAV. DAV is complex and the protocol spec provides an infinite level of implementation complexity for various applications (e.g. the design for Exchange over DAV is good but certainly not the single obvious design). Apache will be hard pressed to pick and choose the correct first areas of DAV to implement.
  • Structured storage. Changes the rules of the game in the file serving space (a key Linux/Apache application). Create a compelling client-side advantage which can be extended to the server as well (e.g. heterogenous join of client & server datastores).
  • MSMQ for Distributed Applications. MSMQ is a great example of a distributed technology where most of the value is in the services and implementation and NOT in the wire protocol.
  • Leverage ISV's for system improvements
  • A key long-term advantage that Linux will enjoy is the massive pool of developers willing to improve areas of the core platform. Microsoft will never be able to employ a similar headcount.
  • A key mechanism to combat this is to make it easy (and provide incentives) for ISV's to extend system components in NT for custom, vertical applications. One example here could be Veritas' specialized file system drivers for NT.
  • "WinTone"
  • Linux's modularity and customization also implies inconsistencies in services available on an arbitrary Linux installation. Microsoft can provide a bundle of services that are universally available in all OS releases (current initiatives include WBEM-based management) that generate network externalities when combined across many devices in the network.
  • Put another way, the extreme modularity of Linux devalues what a "Linux-logo'ed" app means. By contrast, Window's monolithic nature gives an app developer more leeway in terms of what API's are callable.
  • Process Vulnerabilities
  • Where is Microsoft vulnerable to Linux? As stated earlier, the primary threat resides on the server vs. the client.
  • Linux will "Cream Skim" the Best NT Server Features
  • The Linux community is very willing to copy features from other OS's if it will serve their needs. Consequently, there is the very real long term threat that as MS expends the development dollars to create a bevy of new features in NT, Linux will simply cherry pick the best features an incorporate them into their codebase.
  • The effect of patents and copyright in combating Linux remains to be investigated.
  • Linux is recreating the MS "3rd release is a charm" advantage - FASTER
  • Microsoft's market power doesn't stem from products as much as it does from our iterative process. The first release of a Microsoft product often fairs poorly in the market and primarily of generates fine granularity feedback from consumers. Similarly, Linux has shown that they are capable of iterative cycles - but at an order of magnitude faster rate. On the flip side, however, our incremental releases are arguably much larger whereas many of Linux's incremental releases are tantamount to pure bug fixing.