Robert G. Brown's thoughts on Microsoft's memo.
Nov 04, 1998, 12:39 (51 Talkback[s])
Although actually the memo is kind of humorous. If you read it
just right, it has the ring of:
o All large, cumbersome reptiles with immense calory
requirements and primitive or nonexistent homeothermic mechanisms
take note: small mammals seem to be successfully competing with us
in certain ecological niches. This could be serious.
o It is reasonable that these mammals are successful. They have
fur and regulate their body temperature and hence can move around
when it is dark and cold. They bear their young live and hence are
not as vulnerable during the gestation stage. They reproduce
relatively rapidly, and as they care for their young a larger
fraction survive to adulthood. Their calorie requirements are
relatively modest, at least on an individual basis. They are a real
o Since the large, bright flash occurred last month somewhere
over the horizon (followed by the earthquake), it seems to be
snowing and the plants we rely on for food are dying. Very soon we
could be cold and hungry.
o We need to adopt a strategy of growing fur and homeothermic
regulation, but in order to compete we mush grow
>>better<< fur. Our fur will be so good we can patent
the very idea of fur and force the little rats to wear the scales
instead! Also, we'll be so temperature regulated that we will
fairly glow with heat whereever we go, even in the subzero artic.
Wooly snakes, hairy tyrannosaurs -- we can do it. While we're at
it, developing the ability to catch, kill, and eat small furry
mammals is definitely called for, at least until the plants come
o While we work to evolve these improvements, we need to start a
public relations campaign promoting the idea that scales are
beautiful, that cold blood masks a warm heart, and that you can't
be a really >>great<< lover unless you weigh at least a
ton. Overcome by our message, the rodents will languish and fail to
reproduce while we exterminate them.
The IETF might be amused by the MS memo, but shouldn't worry as
it represents no threat. Recent history teaches us several things.
For one, the IETF/RFC process works amazingly well, and has proven
quite resistant to the manifold attempts of companies to dominate
the standards process or finagle proprietary advantage. Very few
originally proprietary concepts have withstood the intense efforts
of the OS/OSS computing community to either reverse engineer (e.g.
postscript -> ghostscript) or simply ignore in favor of
open/common standards. Even when a company DOES offer up an open
standard, acceptance is far from automatic (anybody remember NeXT's
netinfo?). Microsoft is WAY late to this particular game --
companies like Sun, DEC, IBM, HP, SGI have all tried, and all, for
the most part, failed.
Second, Microsoft has become almost completely moribund.
Although they do indeed hire some decent brain power and have a few
areas where they are innovative, the memo itself clearly states
that they are outmanned and outgunned a hundred to one by the
collective resources of the Internet. They cannot win. Microsoft
hasn't contributed a really significant original idea to computing
for a long, long time. Their modus operandi is to wait for
entrepreneurs to develop a product and create a market. Then they
buy it or clone it and use the, um, "interesting" market tactics
under current examination in court to grab significant market
share, where "all" is the significant market share they are most
interested in. Go down the list. PC DOS? Apple, CPM were first for
PC's. Windows? Apple, Xerox/PARC, Unix/X. NT? Unix (first by far
and still the overwhelming technical superior) and even OS2. Excel?
Lotus 123. Microsoft's integrated compilers? Borland's Turbo Pascal
is godfather of them all. Explorer? Mosaic, then Netscape. Where is
a product MS "invented? Power Point? The Microsoft Network? Don't
make me laugh.
So where is any evidence of a Microsoft threat to GNU/Linux or
freebsd or OSS in general? They can't steal it -- its free. They
can't improve on it (as the memo suggests) -- there are ten
programmers or more already working on anything they might focus on
for free for every one they can afford to pay, and a lot of them
are better coders with the advantage of a free exchange of ideas to
fuel their designs. The GPL hasn't been fully tested yet, but it
does exist to block anything like real theft on their part. They
cannot undersell it -- it's free. They cannot "split up the market"
-- there is no market to split up, they already own the entire
"market" and have no idea how to go about competing with a company
like Red Hat that's nibbling away it its edges without "owning" a
single product that they can buy out or clone.
The Internet was designed to survive a nuclear war, and both the
open standards and OSS effort it has spawned are now fully
integrated parts of its self-modifying design. It interprets
non-consensual control as damage and routes around it, and does the
same thing whether the control is of the the underlying software
base that makes it work or the hardware and wires that route the
actual packets. As a virtual space, it is (in my romanticized view,
at least:-) populated by rugged individualists, geniuses, and
idealists -- folks who would rather build a house themselves than
buy a pre-built home even if the pre-built home was actually rather
solid. The Microsoft memo was insanely optimistic when it suggested
that there was some strategy available to it that would allow it to
survive with its current corporate culture intact. Microsoft has
absolutely no chance of winning this particular battle -- they will
only survive by changing. Time to evolve hair, it's snowing
I recently encountered and purchased in a junk shop a coffee mug
with lots of cute little animals on it engaged in procreative
activity in a variety of unlikely positions. The animals in this
particular case were -- penguins. I'd like to give it to Linus if I
ever meet him as a symbolic representative of Bill Gates' worst
nightmare: imagine Bill, one day, drinking coffee from a mug just
like this one in his office and suddenly grimacing as he notices
"F***ing penguins..." :-)
Robert G. Brown http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567 Fax: 919-660-2525 email:email@example.com
Updated: Robert has sent in his response to all the E-Mail
he has received about this article.
To everybody who responded:
I'm overwhelmed (literally -- my email has been busy even by my own
liberal standards for over a week) by all of your -- mostly
positive -- comments on what was originally a simple satire posted
to a linux list I'm on.
For those of you who want to correct my biology, please rest
assured that these are CARTOON dinosaurs I'm talking about,
competing with the CARTOON penguins (who really can withstand a dip
in the cold, cold sea).
I've tried to encapsulate a part of the responses
I've made in direct email to many of you in a single "opinion"
posting back to linuxtoday. I
don't think that I made it adequately clear why I think that the
"evolutionary" trend has turned against MS, or just what the nature
is of the rock that will alter the environment and possibly crush
them. It is a point that appears to have been missed in many of the
rather prolific discussions of Halloween I and II over the last
In a nutshell, Microsoft has created FUD -- in the developer
community itself. This community "made" MS what it is today, and MS
has eaten it, bones to beak. All that is left are equally moribund
and cumbersome giants (like Lotus) that were too big to digest
(although they still gnaw on each other from time to time).
So, young programmers -- do you stay in The System, and work for Da
Man and whatever he wants to pay you, knowing that he may take the
sweat of your brow and blood from your back and then throw you into
the street, or do you cultivate the better acquaintance of a
certain Penguin? Not an easy choice -- Penguins are somehow
ludicrous birds, ungainly as they waddle -- until they get into the
water. There, they fly like the birds they are, full of grace and
well able to dodge the odd shark or killer whale.
Me, I develop for Da Bird, not Da Man. Whatever I write for money I
will sell, confident that Linus Torvalds will not alter the kernel
deliberately just to take over my idea and my market and leave me
with bones to gnaw. A bit risky, perhaps -- maybe the linux market
won't properly materialize, maybe the Dinosaur will grow fur -- but
a lot more satisfying and, in the end, a lot more fun. Sure, I want
to be rich, but not at the expense of my self-respect and not
without having a good time getting there, and basically...
...developing for linux is >>fun<<
Sincerely (and thanks again),