Why Microsoft Will Win Any War
Posted 12 Apr 2004 at 21:18 UTC by scrottie
Microsoft won the browser war, the office suite war, the battle for the desktop,
and just today it was announced that Sun, in dire fanancial straights, made friends with
Microsoft, shook hands (litterally), took two billion in cash, and lost the language war.
Through a long list of past victories this article asserts that
there is nothing Microsoft can do that it is too illegal or
too unpopular to be a more dangerous option for them than
a level playing field. OS/2 was just as popular as Linux in
its day, and P2P is far more popular than Linux and certainly not
assured of a future itself. Free Software has weaknesses,
Microsoft knows them, and no-cost threw MS for a loop but is
no magic bullet.
Why Microsoft Will Win Any War
Microsoft won the browser war, the office suite war, the battle for the desktop,
and just today it was announced that Sun, in dire fanancial straights, made friends with
Microsoft, shook hands (litterally), took two billion in cash, and lost the language war.
People keep pointing out that Linux, OpenOffice.org, and so on are free, but Microsoft
doesn't fight price wars. IBM's excellent office suite has both cost more and less than
Microsoft Office and no one cares. Microsoft Windows is the most expensive single part
of a computer unless you count the monitor. The skin is the single largest organ of
the human body but we seldom speak of removing it. Microsoft wages PR battles,
standards domination battles, patent battles, and has been found guilty in US courts
of outright sabotage. Microsoft Windows would stomp OS/2 if you installed them dual
booting - the code was subpoena and there was a comment - "this ought to take care of OS/2".
So the real problem is Microsoft can no wrong. Or rather they can do any wrong and get
away with it. After stealing VMS as NT and then making friends with a desperate Digital,
stealing TransactSQL from a dumpster to spring SQLServer from the womb to go on
and make friends with Symmantic, prying away Citrix and calling it Windows Terminal Server,
one wonders how far Microsoft could go.
Okey, the puppets that now control the SCO group successfully sued Microsoft for the
theft of MS-DOS from Digital Research. But now they're friends, SCO destroying all
the warehouse full of papers subpoenad from Microsoft, and taking additional cash
to fund the war on Linux.
Apple and Microsoft made friends, with Bill Gates suddenly and unexpectedly
appearing on a massive screen over his former arch rival, Steve Jobs.
Is there anything Microsoft can do to actually get in trouble? Would they have to
detonate a nuclear explosive in middle of a well-loved US city? Do you think
that if they had a way to kill Linux and used it that they flack would get them
in serious trouble? OS/2 had more users than Linux and was just as well loved.
Microsoft, after some thrasing around, identified exactly what they needed to
do to beat OS/2. They radically changed and grew their APIs to squash compatability.
They announced that they were moving into the server space and generally made announcements
that atleast in theory would obsolete OS/2, creating a PR campaign to take the wind
out of IBM's sails. And they excited customers into lobbying hardware makers for them
to get Windows pre-installed, correctly figuring that few people would bother to go
buy OS/2 and install it when an OS, any OS, was already on their harddrive. Bill
Gates isn't stupid.
I see Microsoft as a TV preacher. They can use cocain, surround themselves with
hookers, overindulge in food and drink, skim off the top, and run damn near the
gaunltet of deadly sins, but thanks to the magic of TV and the stupidity of the
population, remain apparently a pillar of virtue. There is nothing they can do
wrong because they control how they're portrayed and people are gullible. TV is
the closest thing we have to a community trust metric. Talented singers get on TV
on American Idol. Popular people get on TV on reality shows. Funny people get
stand up comedy shows. Cool cars run advertisements during the breaks. If
Microsoft comes on and tells you they value intellectual property, copyright
protection, innovation, and the small business, they must be telling the truth,
My prediction: Microsoft will almost entirely, but not completely, smite Linux,
leave a shell of a corpse as it has with Apple, Sun, Netscape, Winamp, and everyone else who
has crossed their paths. Oh yeah, Microsoft won the media player war, too, for only
a small price. Microsoft will use any means, no matter how illegal, unethical, or
unpopular. Microsoft would do very poorly in a fair and they know that. Bill Gates
knows how much people hate him and the reputation for bugginess and instability
his products have. It should be obvious to anyone that he is better off attempting
dangerous maneuvers to protect his current position rather than risking a level playing
The Linux community has less centralized intelligence than Microsoft. It isn't stupid
either, but we can't effectively conspire. We can't do devious things and not confess
it in court when the mailing lists are open subscription. We can cover more bases in
true innovation and we can take our time to do the right thing and build a platform
that can be built on for years rather than racing to market. KDE is showing the fruit
of that philosophy. I'm sure Gnome is too but I haven't played with it lately.
(I run amiwm myself so don't draw me into this).
Why would I write something so infuriorating? Because I don't think we're taking the
threat seriously enough.
We're not running TV commercials.
KDE 3.2 - A User's
Perspective is brilliant. I had no idea KDE could do half of that stuff. Imagine this as a
series of 30 second TV commercials. I don't expect the community to organize, but couldn't
RedHat do something where you donate $5, matched, towards the TV commercial fund to be automatically
entered for your chance to win an appearance as a Linux hacker in one (or send a 3.5" card to the
address shown on your screen)?
Microsoft's FUD machine is running full steam to paint Linux as being lose of intellectual
property and copyright when exactly the opposite is true. A smear campaign could be
education without being nasty but a few words in defence of the community could cast a lot of
doubt on Microsoft so-far unquestioned-in-popular-media's assertions.
We're not lobbying politicans. Microsoft donated
a good chunk of a billion dollars worth of software to China and China contributed a huge sum
to Bill Clinton's reelection fund and Microsoft got off scot free from their first anti-trust
conviction. If we don't want to be legislated out of existance, we need a PAC. The EFF
is the closest thing we have to that. I'd like to see the EFF take a lesson from the ACM,
or even work with the ACM, and make it standard rather than unusual for true professionals
to be a member. All they need is a little mystique, easily obtained with paddles, and
the members-do-for-members system that any society has. The EFF should work with
O'Reilly, too. Use your imagination. I'm thinking publishing standards documents and
cross sponsership. If the EFF were able to market itself more as a professional
association this could happen.
Prior to the mid 1980s or so, the US government as a matter of policy spent money
warning off monopolies. General Motors was given very large grants when it was
facing bankruptcy and there was a risk of having only one major American auto
maker. The rational was it would keep us competitive in a world market. I'm not sure
if there was or wasn't concern for consumers though I can't beleive this was ever
a priority. This policy propped up Cray Research so that IBM wouldn't be the only
American super computer vendor. It manifest in every industry. This stopped being policy.
Our government no longer cares if there is one company that owns 80% of the radio stations,
why would it care if there is only one computer company or one operating system maker?
We can't assume that our interests will be looked out for.
We're punting on security, billing it as good enough.
Microsoft has identified security correctly as a cruicial point. Free Software has been
working evolutionarily on this. We're learning how to test, how to handle patches and
disclosure, making upgrades easier. Microsoft is going to the root of the problem.
They're making high level languages suitable for applications programming. We're
still clinging to C. I see this as a strategic disaster on our parts. C is great language
for what it is, but security is far more than execution speed and you're likely to use
better algorithms and memory management in a higher level language anyway. It's hard
for a novice writing C to avoid buffer overflows. It's hard for an expert to avoid them
entirely - it requires a lot of effort better spent elsewhere. Kaffe, gcj, Mono, Python,
Perl, and dozens of other technologies are excellent alternatives for writing applications.
Some can be compiled, as in the cases of Java with gcj, or else JIT'ed, as in the
case of Mono. If people love C and won't give it up, that is fine, but new programmers
should be pushed in the right direction. To a degree, this is happening. I love Perl,
but I remember what I had to go through to learn it, and when people ask for my recommendation
of a scripting language, I usually point them at Ruby or Python.
We're letting other people own the platform without us having a voice in it.
Addiction to PC hardware is a hamstring that could be cut, we're suddenly realizing as
Palladium is announced. I've been pissed off at the community in the past for not keeping
low-cost alternative hardware vendors alive but instead trying to shave a buck and
add a clock cycle. Fujitsu and several other companies built machines meant as a network
computers based on Digital's reference NC design they bought off Oracle after Oracle was
pressured into selling cheap by Microsoft. Microsoft didn't like Oracle's plan for an
office full of intelligent, well connected machines running Linux off of a CD-ROM drive.
Dispite, the NC could take an IDE drive just as easily, and Digital was claiming no rights
to any of the design. In their own words, they only wanted to sell ARM CPUs and they hoped
the NC would create a market for it. Later their ARM division sold to Intel.
This was the closest we've come to having open hardware with numerous vendors and we blew it.
Several companies make reference boards based on the PowerPC and ARM chips that fit in an
ATX case. NetBSD atleast supports these. Freedom is nice but it isn't worth money
apparently. If Transmeta and VIA hadn't taken off, we'd be locked in to Intel and AMD
exclusively, and AMD has cooperated with Microsoft in the past.
Richard Stallman just wrote an essay on Java and the problem of using free technologies
that depend on free technologies. Sun doesn't claim patents on the Java language but
there are no free implementations of recent versions of the libraries and developers aren't
using the older versions to maintain their freedom. I see the hardware parallel especially
There is no low cost non-PC desktop or laptop hardware on the market that is explicitly
friendly to Linux users except possibily Apple's hardware and I really don't think they've
made any sort of a commitment. All of our eggs are in one basket. IP law could easily
lock Linux and BSD out of the next generation of PC hardware. It's already creeping in
with binary only WiFi and 3D card drivers.
IBM doesn't even advertise whether or not their laptops are supported by Linux when
one man with a few hours testing could easily come up with this information so valuable
to so many people. While it's fun to muse that we can hack anything, it is hubris to
plan on it. Legal and other matters may make it possible but not practical. Linux may
not be a practical option for anyone but the most serious hackers.
While there are still an acceptable number of chip companies for one to have financial
interest in catering to the Linux community, major hardware vendors are fewer.
Most machines come from HP as far as I can tell. If HP sets the suit and everyone follows,
things could be bad.
This was written in the style of Microsoft's own "halloween memos".
You might have heard the story of the traps that indigenous hunters to catch
monkeys. Rice in a coconut. The monkeys refuse to let go of the rice because they
want it so bad, but they can't get their hand out of the coconut that's tied to a
tree as long as their hand is in a fist. The hunter can walk right up to the monkey and
bludgeon it. Linux's supporters very much want it to be accepted onto the desktop
and to be secure in its position in the server room, but I think we want it so bad
we've become blinded by dangers. We can't just reach out and grab success. There
are politics too.
Linux is no longer welcome as a guest. We can't assume that no one will care if the
OS happens to run on a PC.
We can't assume that Microsoft won't come up with something brilliant when
looking for weaknesses.
The business world sees opporunity in Linux, sure, but
its competitors see it as a bum, mooching off protocols, file formats, host systems,
and generally taking advantage of all of the money and research spent without being
invited into the club.
We have to stand on our own feet.
Microsoft's only beginning to play with giving Linux the bum's rap.
With a lot more application of the word "our", there could easily be a lot less for
Linux. Less compatability, less understanding, fewer indicental commercial supporters,
and fewer casual users.
I'm sure that the RIAA's warpath is in a way providing them a working example to base
their strategy on.
Remember that there are a lot more P2P users than Linux users and no one is saying
that P2P won't be shut down, legally or otherwise. Not long ago, a bill was narrowly
averted that would create enough liability that no ISP would consider leaving a port
open incoming. It was only narrowly averted by Disney and a few other media companies
that saw it for what it was - a powerplay by Microsoft.
I've outlined some of the things we can do - effectively lobbying, coordinated with the
EFF, using money. Spending money on hardware that supports free. Apple, Amiga's new
PowerPC hardware, and companies like sub300.com are our friends but more importantly
important allies. Don't let them die in the battle field.
Don't be satisified with RedHat's performance. They've done a lot including running thebusiness intelligently but they need competition that wants to do things other ways,
like Lindows. Lindows is most likely to start running TV commercials in my opinion.
Someone needs to tell the masses that Linux is really cool and get the numbers up
rather than lurking in a nitche - perhaps someone less smart but more balsy than RedHat.
I hope no one out there is so inept as to suggest that these aren't real problems and
we don't need to worry. Reasons why these reasons may or may not be problems are
welcome but only fools dismiss warnings with a handwave. I want to hear that you're
thinking and being careful.
PS, sorry to imply that Sun lost the language war, but C# is more
popular than Java by recent surveys, which was entirely expected,
and they've made friends with MS, which is never good news for a
company, as it implies subserviance to a wicked master.
Sorry for the typos. I'll proof read better next time.
To anyone who clings mindlessly to the "yeah, but Linux is free of
cost" argument, when's the last time you went to your farmers
market? Most Americans (almost all Americans) would rather pay 10
times as much to save a little drive and avoid dealing with something
that isn't heavily branded. Branding is worth money. Remember
that we pay spammers to spam us - we wouldn't be spammed if people
didn't actually buy that garbage. They're selling convience - people
don't have to go look for penis pills or pr0n. We're far more likley
to pay for convience than pay to avoid an inconvience. I think that's
the heart of this matter.
Well?, posted 12 Apr 2004 at 23:49 UTC by dan »
The message I get from this article is mostly that you seem to be
upset about something. I can't tell exactly what, though: first you
say that MS will win in any market no matter what, and then somehow
you manage to blame this on the free software community for not taking
out tv advertising. Which is it to be?
Heh., posted 13 Apr 2004 at 02:21 UTC by tk »
I imagine a heavily-bearded Richard Stallman getting on TV and saying,
"Linux. Because Software Should Be Free."
Then we'll have hordes of stupid people
flocking to our side. Actually that's already happening now. w00t!
I have one example where Microsoft can lose and lose pretty big time if everyone co-operates (I know, that's asking a lot from the rag-tag band of gypsies that makes up the free software world) ... my Communique posting on Why is Microsoft Nastier than Linux? tells how MS.Canada has paid really big money to so saturate the open source and free software keyword bidding at GoogleAds that just about every page of my site (and many on my personal blog) are now carrying the same very lame attempt at a Microsoft counter-offer to any and all free software.
To make a long story longer, go read that article, although the real story is that, when and where ever we find these trolling ads, we should click on them.
First off, I don't think anyone is dense enough to believe what is written in the page they've linked to their ad, and those who are, hey, we're really not going to miss them because they were already wed to Windows. Second and more importantly, to get such blanket coverage, MS must be paying top rates for those keywords, so every time you click, you funnel some of that ill-got money directly into the pockets of free software. It's that simple, and all it costs you is a click -- those with Mozilla can middle-button the link into a tab they don't even need to read.
And this got me thinking ...
Someone just mentioned RMS on TV, but what about this for a crazy idea: We can't pay the per-click bid rates that Microsoft can divvy out of petty cash, but what if 10,000 free software projects all put a minimum-rate bid on some juicy free software (or Windows-specific) keywords, but instead of jumping the ads to our own websites, we link all our individual ads to link to the same website? Like maybe the FSF but preferably someplace where we can run GoogleAds to greet the incoming traffic, and where the revenues might go to fund free software developers, or SourceForge, or the FSF or whatever. Or a compromise, we could still have these ads link to our own individual websites, but to a campaign page that looks the same on everyone's site, with an identical look to them, each with a brief block of links to key free-software advocate and case-study sites?
It would be the first distributed GoogleAd counter-attack ...
shoot., posted 13 Apr 2004 at 05:29 UTC by garym »
Ooops, sorry about the missing </i> close on the italics; one preview too few and too late :(
I'm still of the mindset that none of this actually matters, and I'm not alone. Microsoft is not our foe, nor should we fear anything coming from them.
Comparing Microsoft to Linux is like comparing the taste of apples to the speed of Porsches. They both are in completely different worlds, as are we.
People "new" to Linux, are exposed to it because they heard it was "Better Than Windows™", and tried it. The notion that Linux exists to provide an alternative to Microsoft Windows was burned into their minds right from the start. However, Linux was not created to topple Microsoft, nor was it (originally) created to "take over the desktop".
For myself, and thousands of others who used Linux back in the early 90s (when there were probably only thousands of us in total), we used Linux as a way to gain access to "expensive proprietary Unix" on our home machines, so we could become better at our jobs, without costing the company time and money on their Unix hardware. Linux to us, was a "Free Unix for Pee-cees".
As Linux grew in popularity, companies saw they could make a profit, by marketing it as a "branded offering", and targeting a specific cross-section of users. If you want the most users (i.e. the most customers), go where they are... the desktop. This was a decision made by companies like Red Hat, Caldera, Mandrake, and others. This was not why Linux was created, but it does eschew the malleability of Linux, to be put into any task, easily.
Microsoft tries to make everyone turn to them, and confront them as an enemy, and in most-cases, they lose. How can Microsoft beat the Free Software community? What do they have that is in any way competing with our space? Nothing. Their software is overpriced, under-featured, slow, riddled with security holes and bugs, and non-Free. Even if they had an identical offering to 100% of what other Free Software has, we would still come out on top. Why? Because we are given the right and liberty to modify, change, and resubmit modified versions of released code.
Microsoft will never do that. Free Software can't be "bought", nor can it be eroded. Will Linux be here in 10 years? Probably not. Will Free Software still exist in 10 years? Most-likely (unless our current corrupt administration decides to pass some unconstitutional laws that forbid it, but then it will just exist outside these borders). You can't own something that is freely given away. The best Microsoft can do, is make their own branded flavor of Linux, with their own non-Free proprietary hooks to run IE/Office/etc. and concede.
Let them flop around. Let them stamp their feet at their own self-funded tradeshows and performance reviews. None of it matters.
We also have to be clear that there is a separation here between "Linux" (the kernel), "Linux" (the operating system surrounding that kernel) and "Free Software" (the software that comprises that operating system, but does not necessarily require the use of Linux the kernel to operate). Many Free Software packages have been ported to Windows, and run there natively, at zero-cost to the users. This is just the start. We're getting better and better at making more-usable packages, more robust and secure software, and we ARE converting users to our way of thinking.
It is happening. As someone famous once said:
"When you know you're going to win, it doesn't matter how long it takes."
In order for someone to "win a war", there has to be two opposing sides. In this case, there is only one side, Microsoft.
Cheap hardware, posted 13 Apr 2004 at 14:53 UTC by dan »
I haven't thought hard about how this fits into the original article's argument, but it's worth noting: one reason that the "Free Unix for Pee-cees" that hacker refers to was such a powerful draw is precisely because of the existence of Windows: if the business computing world hadn't standardised around the IBM PC and MSDOS to the extent that it has, the hardware wouldn't be commoditized and would cost a lot more. I think it's a valid concern that people want to make this previously fairly open hardware into a MS-only DRMed treacherous computing environment, and I welcome debate on that point. Retrocomputing is kinda fun, but not necessarily the most efficient way to get stuff done.
2 hacker, posted 16 Apr 2004 at 15:42 UTC by Malx »
You are wrong ;)
http://wix.sf.net - is a project of MS distributed on Common Public License. :-)
And "under-featured, slow, riddled with security holes and bugs" is not so correct actually. They have one big thing which is not for Free Software - usability for common non-IT user. And multilanguage support :)
*ROTFLMAO*, posted 16 Apr 2004 at 16:46 UTC by tk »
They have one big thing which is not for Free
Software - usability for common non-IT user. And multilanguage
HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!
Really, I couldn't resist laughing. Want to know where all the usability
engineering ended up? Just look at Clippit. And I remember that people kept
asking me how to do such and such a thing on M$ Word. Hmm.
Multi-language support isn't exactly seamless on Linux distributions, but
last I heard, Windows isn't perfect either when it comes to this.
tk, posted 16 Apr 2004 at 21:23 UTC by Malx »
Not so fun actually :)
We are prefering to use local Linux distribution, because there is none with really good support of russian and ukrainian. And these are only 2 languages. We are not bothered with others. But for Win* you could have the only installation disk for all.
And I do not know if there any support for bidirectional languages at all? I have seen Win screenshots with scrollers moved to left side of window - just almost mirrored applications :) It's fun.
Free Software can't be "bought", nor can it be eroded.
hacker is partially right, there is no conflict between GNU and Microsoft because these wares do not address the same purposes. Windows users want to just buy something quickly, and then take the day off blaming someone else when it doesn't work, GNU users want to save themselves a lot of bother re-inventing (or paying to reinvent) what is already solved and retain the full responsibility of the computing destiny; these are two different groups, and just as filetraders turn out not to be the people who'd buy CDs anyway, so too those who'd use free software are not likely to fall for lame but glossy rhetoric in their core-business buying decisions.
Microsoft can wail and moan about costs of ownership and un-American philosophies, but it doesn't matter, it's apples and porsches. Intelligent business managers will continue to see greater value in standing on the shoulders of giants and working together with their colleagues towards collaborative solutions they can own, and the lazy who just don't care will still go to CompuShoppers and buy lip-service.
But where this does matter is in some of the nastier tactics Microsoft is escalating as they writhe in their miser's fits of imagined lost profits -- nothing is more dangerous than a wounded animal, and aside from the googlead jamming, we're seeing really weird, vicious and random flailing motions like a massive surge in the number of software patent filings, new DMCA cases against driver/decoder software, look-and-feel suits and the proprietary partitioning of a host of other peripheral abstractions.
This is clear and present danger.
While I would love to advise walking away from the fight Microsoft wants to pick, while I would love to speculate on whatever (ahem) diminutive anatomical reasons there may be why Gates and Balmer are so hell-bent on our eradication, the baseline fact of the matter is that these two are hell-bent on our destruction, they have a lot of prime politicians in their deep deep pockets, and they are loose cannons with hair triggers.
To use a common male metaphor of territorial control, I don't think we should engage them in any urination contests, but we maybe do want to keep tabs on where they might aim their wee peckers.
thank goodness for 91/EC/250. also, the European DMCA which is due to become law RSN also references 91/EC/250 "without prejudice". i believe that that means that 91/EC/250 takes precedence over any security measures that the EU DMCA-like law mandates computer companies (_all_ computer companies btw!!!) to add to their products (!!!).
i believe it is necessary to check - and to lobby - the EU to ensure that if software patents _do_ go ahead, that 91/EC/250 again takes precedence.
in other words, if it's an interface, it cannot be copyrighted - or patented.
so that RIL (multiple protocol sharing over the same modem connection, to make GSM and GPRS work at the same time) patent of microsofts would be invalid, for example, or at least unenforceable, or at least if microsoft cannot grant compatible licenses, they effectively forfeit the patent [but only to the people to whom they cannot or will not grant a license]
that's what effectively 91/EC/250 does to copyright (in the paragraph above, substitute OEM company or the Open Source project of your choice for microsoft, above, and substitute copyright for patent, likewise).
The best way to fight software patents is to create prior art.
there is a common complaint about the entire patent system that insufficient checks are carried out on prior art.
i worked for a company to produce a data centre management system. they patented - get this: remote and automated management of servers using http, telnet, ssh and other protocols!
a simple search at the time led me to produce a short list of not less than _twenty_ other patents that covered the same issue, let alone there being obvious prior art in say... TelnetLib.py in python which is blatantly obvious that it is for remote and automated management of servers, and i used this library in the management system. i know of at least two other systems (one which used IBM's mainframe terminal protocol) one of which was a competitor of this company...
... i'm labouring the point, which is that their patent was granted even though there was plenty of prior art and other patents (both broader and specific) that clearly say their patent was invalid.
the point of the patent was therefore to help with investment, and to fend off competitors: a lawsuit would, as we know would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fend off.
Yes, but when was the last time someone dared to enforce the patent
on remote management using HTTP + SSH + Telnet?
Come to think of it, what's easy to get is also easy to take away. Your
example company would probably be eaten up by the 20-or-so other patent
holders with similar patents, before free software authors even need to lift
In contrast, if you don't even have any prior art, the case is lost
even before you begun. So why not concentrate on creating prior art, instead
of worrying about legalities which will take care of themselves?
I'd like to see a single case where a judge upheld a patent even when there
clearly was prior art.
Microsoft has dominated every battle in which its Windows OS played a significant role: dual booting, browser wars, office software, portal software, instant messaging, and probably web search is next on the list and Google will have some trouble. Microsoft has not had it so easy in many other situations though, namely those where Windows is insignificant: WebTV, mobile phones, PDA's were all a disaster; and while XBox and HotMail are doing OK they are by no means dominating their respective markets.
That simple enumeration of their successes and failures should be all the evidence anyone needs that they can and do abuse their Windows monopoly: wherever that has been possible they have wiped out the competition; wherever that has not been possible they have struggled and failed despite spending oodles of cash.
This is why the only sane remedy is to break Microsoft into two companies: One that is by law restricted to working only on computer operating systems, and one that does everything but working on operating systems. As we can see from Microsoft's many failures it is not unstoppable when the Windows monopoly is not available for it to abuse.