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
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
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
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
... 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
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
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
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
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,
- 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,
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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