Eric S. Raymond: Microsoft and the Big Lie
Jun 01, 2001, 21:20 (87 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Eric S. Raymond)
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From: "Eric S. Raymond" <email@example.com>
Subject: Microsoft and the Big Lie
Date: Fri, 1 Jun 2001 16:47:38 -0400
Organization: Eric Conspiracy Secret Labs
A senior Microsoft executive is telling lies in public. In other
startling news, the sky is blue and water has been seen flowing
Steve Ballmer of Microsoft answered this question:
Q: Do you view Linux and the open-source movement as a threat to
"Yeah. It's good competition. It will force us to be innovative.
It will force us to justify the prices and value that we deliver.
And that's only healthy. The only thing we have a problem with is
when the government funds open-source work. Government funding
should be for work that is available to everybody. Open source is
not available to commercial companies. The way the license is
written, if you use any open-source software, you have to make the
rest of your software open source. If the government wants to put
something in the public domain, it should. Linux is not in the
public domain. Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an
intellectual property sense to everything it touches. That's the
way that the license works."
Let's examine the key sentences:
- Open source is not available to commercial companies.
The last I checked, Red Hat Software, VA Linux Systems, IBM,
SGI, and Hewlett-Packard were all "commercial companies".
I wonder what the developers at Microsoft who based the Internet
protocol code of Windows on the open-source Berkeley TCP/IP stack
think of this assertion?
- The way the license is written, if you use any open-source
software, you have to make the rest of your software open
60% of the world uses the open-source Apache program to serve
their web pages. The next time you hear of Apache use forcing
anybody's software open will be the first.
- If the government wants to put something in the public domain,
it should. Linux is not in the public domain.
True. Of course, "the government" doesn't own Linux and has very
little to do with Linux development, so it's hard to see what
Ballmer is recommending here.
- Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual
property sense to everything it touches.
Lots of people have proprietary software and data on their Linux
machines. The next time you hear of Linux "attaching" itself to any
of this data and forcing it open will be the first.
- That's the way that the license works.
The GPL infects only derivative works of GPLed software -- you
have to include part of the source code of a GPLed program in your
program, or choose to link to a GPLed library, before the GPL
applies to your code. You can use a Linux kernel and Linux-hosted
programs all you like with never a worry about your intellectual
Other open-source licenses -- such as the BSD license in the
TCP/IP stack that Microsoft adapted for Windows -- will never
infect anybody's code or data, because they're designed not to. But
Ballmer wants businesspeople and the public to fear them all,
because only if open source is general is discredited will
Microsoft maintain its monopoly.
The Big Lie is a term originally coined to describe a
characteristic form of Nazi (and later Soviet) propaganda. The
essence of the Big Lie propaganda technique is that if you repeat
the lie often enough over enough channels, people will soak it up
through their pores and come to believe it as something "everybody
In the last three months, Jim Allchin and Craig Mundie and Steve
Ballmer have launched a classic Big Lie campaign against open
source. They have described it as "un-American", "a destroyer", and
"a cancer". They have deliberately confused the GPL with
non-infectious open-source licenses, and they have deliberately
confused active combination of code with passive aggregation of
data. They have lied, and lied, and lied again.
Why? Because the most truthful thing Ballmer admitted in that
interview is that yeah, Linux is a threat to Microsoft. It
threatens to break Microsoft's 91% monopoly on personal-computer
operaing systems. It threatens to free consumers from proprietary
lock-in, and to deliver better software and more choices at lower
Two years ago, the Halloween Documents observed that in order to
defeat the threat of open source, Microsoft must attack "a process,
not a company". That is exactly what Allchin and Mundie and Ballmer
are doing now, attacking with a Big Lie software they know they
cannot match in reliability, sophistication, security, and overall
In the open-source community, we have a favorite quote from
Mohandas Gandhi: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you. Then you win."
Evidently, we're getting close to winning.
<Eric S. Raymond>
A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing
which he cares about more than he does about his personal safety,
is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made
and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
-John Stuart Mill, writing on the U.S. Civil War in 1862