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Editor's Note: Hype, Hype, And Awaaaay!

Aug 27, 2004, 23:30 (15 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

When a Microsoft executive dismisses Linux out of hand, I tend to wonder if he or she is stuck in some kind of time warp, where they think that it's 1999 and Linux is still some sort of hobbyist platform. Yet, that's what happened Wednesday at a Microsoft partner conference in Queensland, Australia.

Now, because of the International Date Line, it was actually on Tuesday for me, so I know right away that there is some bit of temporal confusion going on. But this is a man-made conceit to try to keep the time zones making sense, and in any case it only distorts time by about a day--not five years.

When Paul Roworth, Microsoft Australia's Platform Strategy Manager, told his company's partners that the Linux threat was really nothing more than sensationalism and media hype, my initial reaction was rolling my eyes and wondering why such blatant statements aren't laughed right out of whatever building they're in. But as I read the story again, I realized that, like many good pieces of propaganda, there's a little bit of truth to what Roworth was saying.

See, when you say that the threat of Linux towards Microsoft is the result of hype and sensationalism, there is some validity in that statement. After all, while no one can take away all of the fantastic and innovative (as opposed to InnovativeTM) technological achievements of Linux, some of its success is due to hype.

I realize that to many, hype is a four-letter word. But hype, like many forms of communication, can be used for good, not just evil. It all depends on the message. Linux has become, for good or ill, quite the media darling these days. Really. While Linux Today has realized for years the potential interest in Linux technology, the mainstream media is realizing that a lot of their readers have no small interest in open source as well.

Think about it. You write a positive article on Linux. The community picks it up and shares it. They like you. They come back to see what else you will write. Your publisher is happy.

Or, you write a negative article on Linux. The community picks it up and shares it. They hate you. They come back to see what else you will write, all while sending you tons of interesting mail. You are hiding under your desk, but your publisher is still happy.

Now, I want to be clear--I am not trying to say that good/bad PR is the only reason Linux has succeeded. But it certainly played at least a small role. After all, I am sure that somewhere out there in the Ether, someone has invented the Greatest Operating System in the World--an OS that makes Windows look like an abacus and perhaps even Linux look like a calculator. But, because the word on this Super OS has not gotten out, we may never be aware of its existence.

At this point, you might think that I would spend the rest of the article extoling the virtues of a free press, the joys of marketing, etc. No, instead I want to turn my attention back to Microsoft. Because right now they are facing their own hype challenge.

Longhorn, the next big Windows thing, is scheduled for release (according to an announcement made today) in 2006. Microsoft is looking at a huge challenge to keep users and developers sticking with XP technology for abother two years. Originally, that was going to be four years, with a 2008 release, but the Redmond Gang has opted to cut key features from the next-generation client operating system, planning to deliver them separately and later. For the Windows "Longhorn" Server operating system, Microsoft is shooting for 2007.

Can you imagine? The same XP software platform, released in 2001, still around in 2006. That means (and this really gets my goat) that my oldest daughter, currently in middle school, will be using computers with XP running on them when she is in high school. Unless, of course, our school system sees the light in the intervening time. Here's hoping, but I've met our school board, and my hope is thin on the ground.

I really don't see how they can do it. I read an article on CNET yesterday that said now that SP2 is out, the company is now focusing on XP holiday sales. How will that work? "Put XP under your Xmas tree" ads? With all the publicly known security holes, that's like saying "Put a Petri dish of influenza under your Xmas tree." Criminetly, as my grandmother used to say.

Yet, do it they must. And I can think of at least two ways they will try to do hype XP. The first is a gimme: tear down the competition. This is an old play from their playbook, and whether you like them or not, you've got to admit that Microsoft is really good at this. I think the anti-Linux rhetoric is only going to get stronger. But it may only be anti-Linux--not necessarily anti-open source.

I have a theory that while Microsoft is going to be beating Tux over the head, it may continue to embrace the concept of open source. Well, at least its version. To do this, they will have to differentiate between Linux and OSS and,since its a fine distinction, I am sure they will be creative about it. Keeping a positive spin on their idea of open source will give the customers and their development shops more of a reason to stick with Windows.

The second play, which is why I think Microsoft will not be so broadly against open source, is that Microsoft will be trying to create its own version of a community. The Linux community works, they have noted, and they really want their own. This is not idle speculation, either. I know of several plans to create sites and forums with a sense of community in mind.

Building a community, however artificial, could pay off for Microsoft. Communities build relationships, connections, contacts, and resources. Every Linux developer can take advantage of this community, and Microsoft wants its own developer partners to have the same advantages.

This sounds good, on paper. I will be interested to see how it turns out.

So yes, the Linux threat is a bit hyped. But there's a lot more substance in that hype then what we're going to hear out of Redmond over the next two years.