It's becoming clear that Microsoft, the baddest, evilest empire
in the software industry, is gearing up to dish out another round
of FUD about Linux and the Linux community. Witness the sudden
willingness of Microsoft to take Linux seriously, and the
high-profile visit of a Microsoft executive to LinuxWorld. It's
likely there have been other, lower profile scouting trips to the
What does this mean for Microsoft? For one, it means that Linux
has become a topic of water cooler conversations in the Redmond
offices. It's as if Microsoft has at last seen the writing on the
wall. But they're still treating the message as if it were a phone
number on the wall of a public toilet.
In the computer world, the sort of vocal degradation of Linux by
Microsoft is called FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. In sports,
the same verbal flood is called "Talking Trash." In politics, it's
called a smear.
When I started maintaining the Usenet Linux FAQ several years
ago, I made some conscious decisions about its attitude toward
Microsoft and other software companies. The main reason was to
maintain the FAQ's integrity and authority, in addition to the fact
that there's plenty to write about Linux, and I can about do that
more-or-less effectively with the time and resources I have.
Those guidelines are mostly common sense, but I think they need
to be set out clearly here, if only so that the evil software
company realizes that the Linux community is not so dense that it
can't take a joke.
The main guideline is that the FAQ doesn't spew trash about
Microsoft. If there's a legitimate technical deficiency, fine, then
I'll mention it if the deficiency is relevant to Linux. It rarely
is. There are a few reasons for this:
1. The Linux community cannot match Microsoft's multi-million
dollar PR budget. If a bit of Microsoft FUD developed into a public
shouting match, then Linux community would likely come out on the
2. Linux is good enough that it doesn't need to rely on trash
talk. I and just about everyone else in the Linux community are
firmly convinced of Linux's technical superiority. No amount of PR
or advertising is going to keep people from realizing that. And
wrapping Linux in advertising won't make it more popular if it
didn't meet the expectations of experienced programmers and
consultants. Trash talk only distracts people from Linux's
3. In the -- very -- unlikely event that Linux couldn't stand up
in day-to-day use, it should not be a "spoiler" for a third
4. Flames would cause the greatest harm to consultants, who are
critical in dealing with end users. They're the ones who have to
put up with questions from non-programmers, provide tech support,
and respond to competition from Microsoft consultants.
5. A FAQ list is not meant to be a PR vehicle; it is advocacy.
I'm not a PR flack, but a technical journalist. To indulge
slavishly in a PR campaign would undermine the FAQ's format and
content. PR also comes dangerously close to advertising to my mind,
and advertising is banned in most Usenet news groups; certainly in
the moderated *.answers groups.
6. As mentioned about, I barely have the resources to give an
overview of developments in the Linux community, let alone think up
the sort of clever, trashy aphorisms that Microsoft's PR staff
seems to delight in.
The guidelines are pretty much common sense. They've helped keep
the FAQ authoritative, and provided a model for the other documents
of the Linux Documentation Project. It's helped focus on their
attention on what's important: Linux, not Microsoft.