Microsoft and the Art of War v1.00
June 19, 1999
It's war as we don't know it.
Are you running GNU/Linux at home, at work, or at school? Have you
ever developed a piece of free software, or even just submitted a patch? If so, you
may be a target in the opening skirmishes of a so far undeclared war.
A well known software house based in the outskirts of Seattle, WA
recently has begun to take Free Software seriously. They have an
enormous number of talented coders and various other "smart people"
© working to further their company's interests. Most importantly,
they have a marketing savvy that surpasses anything else in the
industry. They also happen to have several billion dollars
accumulating interest in the bank and are a burgeoning content
provider. Sidewalk, Hotmail, Link Exchange, MSN, MSNBC, and a partnership with AT&T to put their software into
potentially millions of more homes, are all a growing part of their
This software company, Microsoft also has cornered the PC Desktop
market, Office Productivity market, and is moving into the high end
enterprise market. They have an obligation to their shareholders and
their employees to keep their stunning growth and profitability moving
The only way they can do this is to expand into new markets as well as
maintaining the dominant share of their previously "owned" markets.
Microsoft's tactics such as "embrace and extend" are already well
known, and they have been tremendously successful against a wide range
of companies and products.
Although Free software has been around for quite some time, only
recently has the software industry awaken to the new
possibilities and pitfalls that open source brings to business. The last
time Microsoft was running around this scared was during the Netscape
and Java hypes. We are currently smack dab in the middle of the Linux
hype, with no end in sight. Make no mistake that Microsoft would love
to smack down Linux and the hype surrounding it. I'll examine some
basic strategies Microsoft appears to be developing above and beyond
the Halloween documents.
Don't call it a comeback, We've been here for years.
Just when Microsoft thought that Unix was finally dead and buried, all
these free *NIX clones spring into popularity over the Internet.
Standard MS stratagems are enacted and FUD (Fear Uncertainty
Doubt) was spread through their standard trade press channels.
However, the Linux community responded with through outlets such as Slashdot.org and Linux Today to mobilize the Linux
community to correct and educate the press on Linux and Free software.
Microsoft then moved on to the next phase. We're all now familiar
with the so called Mindcraft
Fiasco. The Linux community responded
with its characteristic speed and has patched some of the flaws
pointed out in the benchmark as well as educating the press about the problems
with the benchmarks in the first place.
The tentacles of Microsoft are now grabbing on to other tactics. Ever since
the Halloween documents they have been applying the philosophy of the
Chinese General Sun Tzu who said:
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear
the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but
not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer
a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you
will succumb in every battle."
The Free Software community is currently about on par with Microsoft
on knowing themselves and their "enemy". However, with the advent of Microsoft
starting an anti-Linux group, that soon may be changing.
By definition, the Free Software community is completely open and
transparent. It's obvious from Halloween, that MS employees are
monitoring newsgroups and development mailing lists in order to get to
know their "enemy". It should be no surprise that Microsoft was the
number one corporate visitor at linux.com.
Microsoft will always know more about our strategies and processes
than we will know about them. However, the speed at which things
change in our community will keep Microsoft always scrambling to keep
abreast. Our sheer numbers will swamp the 30-50 employees Microsoft
has analyzing us.
Your kung-fu is strong, grass-hopper.
Our community must respond, and has responded magnificently to the
thrusts of Microsoft's blows. The way in which we flipped both MS and
Mindcraft onto their backs was straight out of a judo textbook. Sun
Tzu would have said:
"If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties
we are always ready to seize an advantage, we may
extricate ourselves from misfortune."
In judo, this is known as Ato-no-sen or initiative in defense. The
defender (linux) reacts the the opponent (Microsoft) as soon as an
inkling of the attacker's strategy becomes apparent. The intent is to
avoid the attack before it hits and immediately launch a
counter-offensive before the attacker has a chance to recoup.
Now, lets look at some of the attacks Microsoft is launching upon us
and examine some potential counter-attacks. Free software is most
threatening to Microsoft in the enterprise role at the moment, but
increasingly is moving towards the desktop and embedded markets.
Halloween described the techniques that MS would use to neutralize
Free Software in the server market by de-commoditizing protocols and so
on. We've got the advantage of having greater than %50 of the web
server market, and tools like PHP3
are keeping us ahead. However, we've seen how Netscape was brought
down from the top of their respective hill; it would be folly, to
believe we are immune.
Microsoft recently committed themselves to further the Win32 port of
Perl. This accomplishes two things in one master stroke. They
increase the functionality of their server platform, and give
themselves the choice of either splintering Perl into something
proprietary or they can release the changes made and be praised by the
press as supporting this "open source" thing. Absolutely brilliant!
Look for them to exploit more free software under liberal licensing.
They can also begin to release some of their toys from their research
labs. Expect to see a "Microsoft Public License" soon, just don't be
surprised if it doesn't meet the Open Source Definition. This will
help to stave off the exodus of developers into the open source
folds. The Free Software environment is extremely developer friendly
and Microsoft knows that much of their gain in the PC market was due
to being friendly to third party software. They are already cozying
up to the Open Source initiative in preparation, as seen by the
recent Eric Raymond (ESR) speaking invitation.
This will ultimately give Microsoft some credibility if they are ever
forced by market conditions to support open source more fully. They
want to remain as nimble as an 800lb gorilla can. I imagine a lot
was learned after they nearly missed the Internet boat back in
1994-95. Don't expect them to be that blind this time around. There
is a lot of money at stake.
Look ma, we've got Unix too!
There has been much speculation on Microsoft putting out a Linux
distribution with a proprietary Win32 layer built on top. This would
have the effect of taking some wind out of the Redhat and VA Research sails. If Microsoft
could get the DOJ off their backs long enough to do this, this would
be a devastating blow. Rumours are still flying on the fabled Linux Office
Port. The Win32 layer for Unix already exists, and it wouldn't take
long for MS Linux to spring from the bowels of the Redmond Campus.
However, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that instead of
slapping together a Linux distribution they could just as easily put
out MS BSD. Think about the advantages for one moment. No so called
"GPL Virus" to contaminate any of Microsoft's crown jewels, a strong
developers base, binary compatibility with Linux, superior
networking, and it can be modified internally without having to
release any source code back. Besides, we all know that Microsoft
loves to steal great ideas from Apple, right? I suspect that
Microsoft would probably gravitate towards FreeBSD as it is currently
the most optimized on the x86 platform.
Using a BSD variant would potentially create a schism in the free
software community. The BSD camp would feel gratified that their code
was being used by Microsoft, while the GPL camp would probably look on
the whole event in horror. Perhaps later, Microsoft could strike back at
Intel for their investments in Redhat with a Microsoft BSD for the
Compaq Alpha. It's too difficult to say without knowing more about
the internal relationship between Intel and Microsoft.
Nice GUI tools that integrated well with Windows 2000 would increase
the market value of the BSD variant. Perhaps Microsoft could even
give away their Unix and sell the developer tools. It's way too early
How can we defend against being overrun with our own tools? Actually,
I believe we should encourage it. Yes, thats right I think ultimately
if Microsoft adopts any of the free Unices we have already won. I
can't imagine anyone using a MS Unix not downloading and compiling all
the free software out there. No matter how much MS corrupts their
Unix, someone will find a way to port GCC and Bash and get everything
else up and running. Eventually those running MS BSD will be swayed over to a
completely Free system and we'll have ourselves a convert.
Again General Tzu might say:
To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our
own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy
is provided by the enemy himself.
The coming months will be extremely interesting as we see Gnome and
KDE mature and integrate more fully together. Linux will really begin
to storm against Microsoft's hallowed desktop monopoly and take away
share from WinCE simultaneously. We'll also see greater penetration of
gaming and other commercial software that will drive linux's market
share even higher.
The Linux community needs to understand that Microsoft is just another
proprietary commercial software company. Frankly, most other
companies would be acting just as bad or worse in the same situation. There are many
talented Microsoft employees that I would love to see working on free
software. IBM has made the transition from being the big bad
monopolist to being welcomed into our community. I call on Microsoft
to do the same.
Unfortunately for many, Microsoft will always be around. Even if Linux World Domination takes
hold, Microsoft will be going strong with all their investments in
content and information pipes. If things get really bad, we'll see
them controlling the content with proprietary Microsoft only
software. Internet Explorer only Hotmail anyone? WinCE only Disney channel?
On the same token, Linux will never die. Whether or not we achieve
world domination, as long as even one long hair
hacker that espouses software freedom and helping your neighbor exists
it will continue to evolve and grow. We live in very interesting
times, folks. --mim
About the author:
Matt I. Michie is a struggling computer science student in New
Mexico who has been a linux advocate for more than three
years. He has a lot more to write about the upcoming battle
between Microsoft and Free software, but wants to get some peer
review on what he has so far. He's highly anticipating all the
flames on his poor grammar and spelling that completely ignore
the gist of the editorial (G).