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.comment: Microsoft Doesn't Care What We Think

The only thing we have to fear....

February 20, 2001

The story is told of the old woman who tells a friend she'll vote against a particular candidate because "he wants to wipe out Social Security."

"No, no, no," her friend says. "You misunderstood him. He said he's against social diseases."

"Well," replies the old woman. "I'm not taking any chances."

Sometimes the Linux community is too cute by half. This manifests itself in various ways. One is when we rise in righteous indignation anytime someone has the temerity to develop and actually sell software.

Another is the righteous indignation expressed this week when a Microsoft droid came out with the mostly ridiculous notion that free and open-source software somehow stifle innovation, and maybe ought to be prohibited. All over the place came the angry denunciations. The free and open-source communities were beside themselves.

Some clues: It's not going to be prohibited. It's not going to come close to being prohibited. Prohibition of it is not going to be seriously considered. Microsoft never figured for a minute that the remarks would be taken at face value. And Microsoft doesn't give a toot what the Linux crowd thinks, anyway.

(There is some wisdom in the idea that if anybody tries to make money in the Linux sphere, that person will be set upon and beaten senseless by the community, and in that sense innovation can be and has been stifled. But hold your arrows for now -- I'll receive them another day.)

Microsoft knows that the road between Windows and Linux is mostly one-way. There is no exodus of Linux users to Windows (though there are a few people who give Linux a try, realize that it requires competence, and lacking that ingredient return to Windows). Those who are using Linux are already a lost cause to Microsoft.

The idea, then, is to stem the flow, to deter people -- especially companies -- from trying out or developing for Linux. A good way to do that is to address that little old lady who is hard of hearing. As ridiculous as the claims were and are, there's something in all of us, and especially in those who make decisions for companies, who aren't taking any chances.

There used to be a saying, "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM," and for a long time that saying was true, and it probably is close to true today. But closer to true would be, "nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft." In today's corporate environment paranoia is the norm. The recent collapse of the dotcom equities market has left a bad taste in the mouths of business executives and, especially, the shareholders for whom they indirectly work. It has always been a risk for IT people to suggest the deployment of Linux. That risk is growing. Microsoft would like to fertilize it. And we know what makes the best fertilizer, don't we?

The time-honored acronym is FUD -- fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It's tossed around all the time without a second thought. I propose that it deserves that second thought.

FUD exists because the little old lady is taking no chances. It also exists because it often contains a seed of truth.

I caught hell a week ago for saying that the militant element in the "free" software movement was as bad in its way as Microsoft is. I did not think that we would see that fact exploited so quickly.


The community makes it as difficult as it can for businesses to develop for Linux. Indeed, if someone were to make the claim that the Linux community is fundamentally anti-business, I would have a hard time finding very convincing evidence to the contrary. I mentioned to a colleague last week that I figured it would be a week before someone came up with a hack to confound the advertising banner in the free version of the excellent and commercial Opera browser. I was wrong. The hack appeared on a mailing list in just three days.

An experiment:

As you read the newsgroups and mailing lists, as well as such things as the talkbacks on Linux Today, make mental note of the postings that you would use if trying to talk a business into adopting Linux over a Microsoft product. And make note of the ones you'd avoid using. See what I mean?

And the saddest thing is that it's to no end at all. The presence of a commercial aspect to Linux in no way hinders or reduces the development of free and open-source software. Indeed, the inverse is true: The more corporate IT departments involved in Linux, the broader the pool of talent from whom ideas can be drawn, the greater number of people who will be contributing code. Look at the number of developers already who have corporate email addresses.

But no. There's a substantial and very loud portion of the community that has adopted a wrongheaded, holier-than-thou attitude that has the express purpose of driving away business. Which is fine if what you're seeking is a narrow, goofy, technically profound but fundamentally a toy, kind of operating system.

It can't be a surprise, though, that Microsoft capitalizes on that attitude and makes it the engine powering a FUD campaign.

Anyone who is a veteran of previous Microsoft battles knows that technical superiority is not enough to bring about victory. Neither is a superior attitude or preaching to each other, seeing whose outrage is loudest. No, victory is found in making the FUD unmistakably untrue.

Instead, there's all too much of an attitude that says the little old lady is of no importance, except maybe for what we can pilfer from her purse.

Microsoft has fired the opening shots in what is going to be a very long and extremely bloody dispute. We can whine about it, or we can do something about it. If we choose the latter, the place to start is in recognition that there's room here for everyone.

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