Microsoft executive Jim Allchin recently made some disparaging
comments about Open Source software in general and Linux in
particular. Both the timing and the substance of these comments
reveal a shift in Microsoft's understanding of the software market
and what it takes to win there. They realize that they must
manipulate politics as deftly as they have traditionally
manipulated markets. Microsoft's political strategy is to confound
the concept of Open Source with the concept of intellectual
property infringement in the minds of policy makers. Then they want
to work toward passing legislation that harms Open Source in the
name of protecting intellectual property rights.
The bitter experience of the anti-trust case taught Microsoft
executives that they cannot take politics for granted; they no
longer assume they can win just through marketing savvy and
manipulation. They were stunned when their competitors -- through
intense lobbying -- succeeded in directing the power of the Federal
government against them. Microsoft executives were determined to
not let that happen again so they did what their competitors did:
they hired well connected lobbyists from inside the beltway.
Microsoft built a formidable political organization.
Microsoft soon learned that the army they built for defense can
be used for offense. They intend to use their new found political
clout against what has emerged as their biggest competitor: the
Open Source software movement.
The Open Source movement has only recently emerged as an
economic force. The question used to be "if I use Linux on the
servers in my company who will customize and support my systems?"
The question now is "how do I choose among the firms that can
customize and support my systems?"
These Open Source consultants do not sell software they sell
solutions and the brain power to implement and support these
solutions. The market is starting to recognize and reward this
powerful model. Linux is now the the fastest growing operating
system in the enterprise. It already dominates -- in combination
with the Apache web server software -- the web server market.
Jim Allchin recognized in this a political vulnerability:
policymakers have no idea what Open Source means. Microsoft, using
their public relations and political machinery, can now provide
policy makers with a distorted definition of Open Source and use
these distortions to do political and hence market damage to Open
Allchin's goal is to confound the concept of Open Source with
the concept of intellectual property rights infringement. He wants
the words Napster and Linux to roll off the tongues of policy
makers in the same sentences. He wants policy makers to see Open
Source software as an aggressive threat to intellectual property
Superficially, Open Source software and Napster-like sharing
systems seem similar. Napster enables people to freely share
copyrighted music over the Internet; Open Source software licenses
enable people to freely share non-copyrighted software. Of course,
the Open Source movement does not seek to infringe upon anyone's
intellectual property rights but merely wants to ensure that their
own code remains open.
These distictions may be lost on Allchin's intended audience:
policy makers. Not only does Allchin want corporations and the
government to fear Open Source, but he wants to use his political
organization to push for legislation that damages the Open Source
movement in the name of protecting intellectual property
Microsoft executives correctly understand that the political and
legal momentum is now moving against Napster-like systems. They
know that government power has and will be directed against
perceived threats to intellectual property rights. Microsoft would
like to direct some of that energy against the Open Source
The first step in a political war is to win the propaganda
battle. Allchin's tactics are reminiscent of those of Joseph
McCarthy:"I'm an American, I believe in the American Way",
said Allchin "I worry if the government encourages open source,
and I don't think we've done enough education of policymakers to
understand the threat."
The first step toward countering Microsoft's political strategy
is to de-link the concept of Open Source with that of Napster-like
systems. These ideas have little in common and should be discussed
separately. If we let Microsoft executives set the terms of the
debate then Linux and Napster will become synonyms in the minds of
Despite the fact that the infrastructure of the Internet was
built with Open Source software, most people have no idea what Open
Source means. The Open Source community must do a better job of
education policymakers, corporate executives, and the public about
Open Source. We not Microsoft must provide the defination of Open
Finally, it is time for the Open Source community to get
organized politically. The goals of this organization should be to
protect the interests of the Open Source movement and to educate
policymakers about just how important Open Source is to the
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