In recent months, I've had the opportunity to sit back and watch
a prophetic statement made many years ago unfold before me. Many of
you have seen the statement -- at Linux Hardware Solutions, we have
distributed it on T-shirts since last October. The quote is
attributed to Mohandas Gandhi (or Mahatma Ghandi, depending upon
the reference used)1:
First, they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you.
Then you win.
I'd like to provide my perspective on these few lines and how
they relate to the relationship between the corporation known as
Microsoft and the Linux community.
I use Linux here, not to diminish any other moniker that might
apply -- be it GNU, OpenSource, Free Software,or *BSD -- but due to
the fact that Linux is the target with the highest profile and has
attracted the attention of Microsoft.
First, they ignore you
I don't think we need to dwell too long on this point. After all,
how much can you say about things that didn't happen? For the first
several years that Linux was mentioned, the Microsoft response
never amounted to more than, "What's that?" So, although a measure
of the ignorance may have been feigned, I doubt there was more than
a ghost image on their radar scope.
Then they laugh at you
My first recollection of this goes back to sometime last summer
when Steve Ballmer made a habit of dismissing Linux as nothing more
than a toy being used to amuse computer enthusiasts: students as
well as professionals. This phenomenon built momentum, with Ballmer
being replaced as spokesperson by the one we all know and love,
dear old Ed "The Mouth" Muth.
Ed Muth's role has metamorphosed from stage two to stage three,
which we'll take a closer look at in a moment. Along with the
participation of Ed Muth, we've had the dubious honor of attracting
direct references from none other than Bill Gates himself. Although
less frequent, the outbursts by Mr. Gates have followed fairly
closely the tone of Muth. Until recently, Microsoft appeared to be
stuck between this stage and the next, apparently trying to figure
out who they could fight. They started tossing out real FUD one
minute, then they would change to a more patronizing tone,
apparently fearful of providing too much credibility to the
movement due to their protests.
Then they fight you
The recent Mindcraft fiasco is probably the most poignant example
of this stage. I think it actually started with the Halloween
documents, since it is apparent in these that Microsoft is at least
trying to figure out how to fight, even if they didn't know who to
fight at that point.
Judging from the Linux Today archives, an off-the-cuff, totally
unscientific survey appears to indicate that the FUD campaign
started in earnest sometime around the first of March. The
Mindcraft "study" was an apparent attempt to add some credibility
to the FUD from Redmond.
I'm being charitable when I make the observation that it didn't
quite work out as planned. Where will the next blow strike? What
will be the next target? When all is said and done, will the
answers to either of these questions really matter? Whether they
realize it or not, Microsoft has attacked a hydra. If they manage
to successfully sever one head, at least two more will take its
place. Microsoft is finally pitted against a competitor that they
cannot buy, cannot bankrupt and cannot combat in the traditional
sense. They see their competitors embracing Linux, they see large,
high-profile customers embracing Linux, and they don't know what to
Then you win
They're fighting, so it's only a matter of time before we can claim
victory. The recent invitation to have Linux pitted against NT in
the ZD labs is the most direct affront so far. We don't just have
Microsoft publishing the results of a study, we have them issuing a
If they didn't view Linux as a legitimate threat, why would they
bother? Unwittingly, they have provided a level of promotion that
could not be purchased otherwise. There is no need to walk into
their trap. We can play this game on our terms, when we're
If we keep our wits, there is no way we can lose. Will Linux mop
up the floor with NT across the board? Probably not. But Linux
doesn't have to. Through the simple act of issuing a challenge,
Microsoft has already crowned Linux the victor.
1. Yes, his name is Mohandas (Karamchand) Gandhi. He has also
been known as Mahatma Gandhi and (incorrectly) Mahatma Ghandi.
There are several references that I have located that list the
first and the last, and other references list all three. That's why
I mention in the paragraph at the beginning that there are
references to different spellings of his name. Email comments are
welcome, but I don't need anymore reinforcement on the spelling of
his name. I listed the confused spelling as a point of reference
and used his proper name in the main body. Thanks to Ajay Shah and
Michael Hall for additional insight.
started using Linux in 1993 and was a member of the Red Hat Development Team from
1995-1996. In 1996 he founded Linux Hardware Solutions which has
recently joined forces with VA Research. When he's not at
work Kit enjoys SCUBA diving, fishing and spending time with his
wife and three children.