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Jackson to Gates: Back Down, Bully
November 8, 1999
I received e-mail from a recruiter last May, asking if I was interested in a Linux-related post with a large computer corporation. Great pay, noteworthy bennies and a high profile both in the Linux world and the larger corporate-computing world. A great career move awaited, the recruiter assured me.
Who wouldn't be interested in learning more? So I said that I was interested. I passed along a resume, not seriously expecting to hear anything more about the position.
I was wrong. Less than a week later I received another e-mail about the position, this time from a Microsoft employee, gauging my interest in a position as the Linux "expert" within Microsoft. I would work with various product managers to keep them informed on what was going on with Linux and generally act as a Linux resource. While the recruiter didn't put it this way, it was pretty apparent that Microsoft was fairly desperate to fill the position: she asked that I interrupt my family vacation in Yellowstone Park to discuss the position in more depth and to be available to fly out to Redmond on short notice. After we talked, it was clear that Microsoft didn't really have a clue about how Linux might threaten Windows NT and the upcoming Windows 2000, and so the company was thrashing about in search of a solution. (By the way, the last time I checked at the Microsoft recruitment Web site, the position was still unfilled. I'm not surprised.)
Intrigued as I was about the possibility of being a Linux mole within Microsoft, I passed on it for various reasons. I didn't want to work in the hothouse environment in Redmond, where Microsoft people get feedback only from within Microsoft itself and, not surprisingly, come to the conclusion that Microsoft makes the best decisions. I wasn't enthusiastic about being Microsoft's emissary in the Linux world--that's a no-win situation--and it was clear that Microsoft didn't have a clue about how to handle Linux, never mind the open-source development model that's brought us essential software like the Apache Web server and sendmail.
Of course, that was the right decision. And, given last Friday's court proceeding regarding Microsoft, it was clear that Microsoft doesn't have a clue about how to position the company in the real world. Watching Microsoft officials parade through the Sunday-morning gabfests (though Bill Gates was conspicuous by his absence--apparently the Microsoft PR machine didn't think it prudent to let Bill speak for his company) was a rather surreal experience. Microsoft had just been subjected to one of the most amazing legal opinions in American jurisprudence--made by a Republican judge, no less!--and company officials expressed great "confidence" that the whole thing would blow over, that the Justice Department would soon come to its senses and reach some sort of agreement with Microsoft. One got the impression that Microsoft didn't really take the findings of fact too seriously.