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Robert G. Brown's thoughts on Microsoft's memo.

Nov 04, 1998, 12:39 (51 Talkback[s])


Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame

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 threat.

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 back.

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 outside...

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 and says...

"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:rgb@phy.duke.edu

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 week.

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),