Are you running GNU/Linux at home, at work, or at school? Have
you ever developed a piece of free software, or even just submitted
a patch? If so, you may be a target in the opening skirmishes of a
so far undeclared war.
This software company, Microsoft also has cornered the PC
Desktop market, Office Productivity market, and is moving into the
high end enterprise market. They have an obligation to their
shareholders and their employees to keep their stunning growth and
profitability moving constantly forward.
The only way they can do this is to expand into new markets as
well as maintaining the dominant share of their previously "owned"
markets. Microsoft's tactics such as "embrace and extend" are
already well known, and they have been tremendously successful
against a wide range of companies and products.
Although Free software has been around for quite some time, only
recently has the software industry awakened to the new
possibilities and pitfalls that open source brings to business. The
last time Microsoft was running around this scared was during the
Netscape and Java hypes. We are currently smack dab in the middle
of the Linux hype, with no end in sight. Make no mistake that
Microsoft would love to smack down Linux and the hype surrounding
it. I'll examine some basic strategies Microsoft appears to be
developing above and beyond the Halloween documents.
Don't call it a comeback, We've been here for years.
Just when Microsoft thought that Unix was finally dead and
buried, all these free *NIX clones spring into popularity over the
Internet. Standard MS stratagems are enacted and FUD (Fear
Uncertainty Doubt) was spread through their standard trade press
However, the Linux community responded through outlets such as
Slashdot.org and Linux Today to mobilize the Linux
community to correct and educate the press on Linux and Free
Microsoft then moved on to the next phase. We're all now
familiar with the so called Mindcraft
Fiasco. The Linux community responded with its characteristic
speed and has patched some of the
flaws pointed out in the benchmark as well as educating the
press about the problems with the benchmarks in the first
The tentacles of Microsoft are now grabbing on to other tactics.
Ever since the Halloween documents, they have been applying the
philosophy of the Chinese General Sun Tzu who said:
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear
the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but
not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer
a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will
succumb in every battle."
The Free Software community is currently about on par with
Microsoft on knowing themselves and their "enemy". However, with
the advent of Microsoft
starting an anti-Linux group, that soon may be changing.
By definition, the Free Software community is completely open
and transparent. It's obvious from Halloween, that MS employees are
monitoring newsgroups and development mailing lists in order to get
to know their "enemy". It should be no surprise that Microsoft was
the number one corporate visitor at linux.com.
Microsoft will always know more about our strategies and
processes than we will know about them. However, the speed at which
things change in our community will keep Microsoft always
scrambling to keep abreast. Our sheer numbers will swamp the 30-50
employees Microsoft has analyzing us.
Your kung-fu is strong, grass-hopper.
Our community must respond, and has responded magnificently to
the thrusts of Microsoft's blows. The way in which we flipped both
MS and Mindcraft onto their backs was straight out of a judo
textbook. Sun Tzu would have said:
"If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties
we are always ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate
ourselves from misfortune."
In judo, this is known as Ato-no-sen or initiative in defense.
The defender (Linux) reacts to the opponent (Microsoft) as soon as
an inkling of the attacker's strategy becomes apparent. The intent
is to avoid the attack before it hits and immediately launch a
counter-offensive before the attacker has a chance to recoup.
Now, lets look at some of the attacks Microsoft is launching
upon us and examine some potential counter-attacks. Free software
is most threatening to Microsoft in the enterprise role at the
moment, but increasingly is moving towards the desktop and embedded
Halloween described the techniques that MS would use to
neutralize Free Software in the server market by de-commoditizing
protocols and so on. We've got the advantage of having greater than
50% of the web server market, and tools like PHP3 are keeping us ahead. However, we've
seen how Netscape was brought down from the top of their respective
hill; it would be folly, to believe we are immune.
Microsoft recently committed themselves to further the Win32
port of Perl. This accomplishes two things in one master
stroke. They increase the functionality of their server platform,
and give themselves the choice of either splintering Perl into
something proprietary or they can release the changes made and be
praised by the press as supporting this "open source" thing.
Absolutely brilliant! Look for them to exploit more free software
under liberal licensing.
They can also begin to release some of their toys from their
research labs. Expect to see a "Microsoft Public License" soon,
just don't be surprised if it doesn't meet the Open Source Definition.
This will help to stave off the exodus of developers into the open
source folds. The Free Software environment is extremely developer
friendly and Microsoft knows that much of their gain in the PC
market was due to being friendly to third party software. They are
already cozying up to the Open Source initiative in preparation, as
seen by the recent
Eric Raymond (ESR) speaking invitation.
This will ultimately give Microsoft some credibility if they are
ever forced by market conditions to support open source more fully.
They want to remain as nimble as an 800lb gorilla can. I imagine a
lot was learned after they nearly missed the Internet boat back in
1994-95. Don't expect them to be that blind this time around. There
is a lot of money at stake.
Look ma, we've got Unix too!
There has been much speculation about Microsoft putting out a
Linux distribution with a proprietary Win32 layer built on top.
This would have the effect of taking some wind out of the Red Hat and VA Research sails. If Microsoft
could get the DOJ off their backs long enough to do this, this
would be a devastating blow. Rumours are still flying on the fabled
Linux Office port. The Win32 layer for Unix already exists, and it
wouldn't take long for MS Linux to spring from the bowels of the
However, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that instead
of slapping together a Linux distribution they could just as easily
put out MS BSD. Think about the advantages for one moment. No so
called "GPL Virus" to contaminate any of Microsoft's crown jewels,
a strong developers base, binary compatibility with Linux, superior
networking, and it can be modified internally without having to
release any source code back. Besides, we all know that Microsoft
loves to steal great ideas from
Apple, right? I suspect that Microsoft would probably gravitate
towards FreeBSD as it is
currently the most optimized on the x86 platform.
Using a BSD variant would potentially create a schism in the
free software community. The BSD camp would feel gratified that
their code was being used by Microsoft, while the GPL camp would
probably look on the whole event in horror. Perhaps later,
Microsoft could strike back at Intel for their investments in Red
Hat with a Microsoft BSD for the Compaq Alpha. It's too difficult
to say without knowing more about the internal relationship between
Intel and Microsoft.
Nice GUI tools that integrated well with Windows 2000 would
increase the market value of the BSD variant. Perhaps Microsoft
could even give away their Unix and sell the developer tools. It's
way too early to predict.
How can we defend against being overrun with our own tools?
Actually, I believe we should encourage it. Yes, thats right. I
think ultimately, if Microsoft adopts any of the free Unices, we
have already won. I can't imagine anyone using a MS Unix not
downloading and compiling all the free software out there. No
matter how much MS corrupts their Unix, someone will find a way to
port gcc and bash and get everything else up and running.
Eventually those running MS BSD will be swayed over to a completely
Free system and we'll have ourselves a convert.
Again General Tzu might say:
To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our
own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy
is provided by the enemy himself.
The coming months will be extremely interesting as we see
Gnome and KDE mature and integrate more fully
together. Linux will really begin to storm against Microsoft's
hallowed desktop monopoly and take away share from WinCE
simultaneously. We'll also see greater penetration of gaming and
other commercial software that will drive Linux's market share even
The Linux community needs to understand that Microsoft is just
another proprietary commercial software company. Frankly, most
other companies would be acting just as bad or worse in the same
situation. There are many talented Microsoft employees that I would
love to see working on free software. IBM has made the transition
from being the big bad monopolist to being welcomed into our
community. I call on Microsoft to do the same.
Unfortunately for many, Microsoft will always be around. Even if
Linux World Domination takes hold, Microsoft will be going strong
with all their investments in content and information pipes. If
things get really bad, we'll see them controlling the content with
proprietary Microsoft only software. Internet Explorer only Hotmail
anyone? WinCE only Disney
On the same token, Linux will never die. Whether or not we
achieve world domination, as long as even one long hair hacker that
espouses software freedom and helping your neighbor exists it will
continue to evolve and grow. We live in very interesting times,
About the author:
Matt I. Michie is a struggling computer science
student in New Mexico who has been a Linux advocate for more than
three years. He has a lot more to write about the upcoming battle
between Microsoft and Free Software, but wants to get some peer
review on what he has so far. He's highly anticipating all the
flames on his poor grammar and spelling that completely ignore the
gist of the editorial (G).