09.15.09

Microsoft Badmouths Linix [sic] in 1998, Envisions a “Nightmare”

Posted in Antitrust, Bill Gates, Finance, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Hardware, Microsoft at 2:41 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Under the bridge
Thoughts from a patent troll under the bridge

Summary: Correspondence between Jim Gray (now deceased) and Nathan Myhrvold (now the world’s biggest patent troll) reveals Microsoft’s reasons for disdain for GNU/Linux in 1998

TODAY’s Comes vs Microsoft exhibit is Exhibit px06394 [PDF]. Although it is approximately a decade old, it is still rather enlightening because of the people whom it involves. One of them is currently a threat to GNU/Linux (maybe the biggest threat), being the world’s biggest patent hoarder, who recently turned aggressive via satellites. Mere ‘bystanders’ in this conversation are Bill Gates, Eric Rudder, Gordon Bell, Rick Rashid, Chuck Thacker, Roger Needham, Paul Maritz, Jim Allchin, Gregory Faust, Dan Rosen, Greg Maffei, Charles Simonyi, and Mike Murray.

As a little bit of background, here is what we know about Microsoft’s gradual discovery of GNU/Linux. In 1997, Bill Gates expressed his great concern about LUNIX [sic]. In 1999 came the Halloween Documents and Jim Allchin said that he was "scared" of GNU/Linux a few years later. “We are not on a path to win against Linux,” he alarmingly wrote to his colleagues.

“Also in the year 2000, Bill Gates spoke to his colleague Nathan Myhrvold, who then started his patent hoarding/trolling business (which incidentally Bill Gates funded).”In today’s exhibit, Nathan Myhrvold is shown expressing his fear of GNU/Linux and the Free software movement which accompanies it. He himself initiated this whole broad discussion (titled “Free software economics”) and used the word “nightmare”. Even in 2000 Microsoft described the situation as a "nightmare". It happened around the time Microsoft was doing its usual retaliation and pressuring for Intel to drop Linux.

Also in the year 2000, Bill Gates spoke to his colleague Nathan Myhrvold, who then started his patent hoarding/trolling business (which incidentally Bill Gates funded).

Nathan Myhrvold knew about Linix [sic] quite early and we can still see him on Charlie Rose's show (video) belittling GNU/Linux. “Linix is a cult that captures the best-and-brightest kids,” wrote Jim Gray from Microsoft Research. He died tragically a couple of years ago. His fellow worker, Nathan Myhrvold (CTO at the time), wrote the following in an age when GNU/Linux was still relatively obscure:

The pragmatic answer is that much of the “trend” towards free software is very likely due to the novelty of the Internet. In the early days of the PC industry there was a period when “Shareware”. People like Jim Button and others developed word processors, communications programs and all sorts of other software on a shareware basis. It was distributed by BBS systems (which were themselves powered by shareware). Richard Stallman started the epic saga of Gnu. This early stage of free software had its adherents – and it too was a hot topic in the trade rags. Back then you could write a pretty decent word processor with one or just a couple people so it could be supported on a shareware basis. Over time this became less and less true, and shareware diminished in importance to just a few areas.

The above shows familiarity with Richard Stallman’s work. Myhrvold then belittles the growth of GNU/Linux:

I believe that most of the growth in Linux can be traced directly to these new Internet application areas where commercial software companies have not yet created products so demonstrably superior that they have obviated the niche occupied by free software. Although people claim that Linux is growing, my bet is that if you subtract out web servers and related new niches, the growth is much more modest.

He then writes:

If nobody can beat Linux and Apache with commercial products, then shame on all of us in the industry!

Apache already dominates much of the Web (along with GNU/Linux), so indeed “shame on all of [them] in the industry!”

Then come derogatory and demeaning arguments with words like “CheapOS”, e.g.:

In CheapOS world, many fewer people would be working full time on system software, because there would be no revenue to support them. Features and functionality which support the current user base would consquently be lacking. Which means that the user base would be much smaller.

See how Myhrvold writes “free” in quotes (probably scare quotes are intended here):

Linux fans and other supporters of “free” software might have some arguments against this.

Then come words like “dorking”, which give away ridicule of access to source code:

First, they might say that there would be millions of developers dorking with the free source.

The ridicule of the word “free” can also be seen coming from Microsoft in [1, 2, 3] and here it is again from Myhrvold:

The volunteer army of Linux developers and the hypothetical integration and testing center, have some value on their time. Calling it “free” software is bogus – instead of paying money to a software vendor, there is a hidden cost in the time of the users, or their organizations. If you account for the total cost (including all the small developers, or the cost of the users making their own mods, or the cost of users finding bugs rather than testing finding them) then “free” software can get pretty costly.

Then he compares GNU/Linux to socialism and “public domain”, which is deliberate imposition of confusion and daemonisation:

There are various other defenses one can mount for CheapOS world. Many of today’s systems programmers compete with each other because making an operating system is a good business. In CheapOS world you could postulate some sort of socialist ideal where the OS is some Linux like public domain thing. Thus even though CheapOS world has many fewer developers, they are all behind one product.

Then comes a comparison to Soviet Russia:

Maybe a set of super smart programmers would write operating systems for the good of humanity. Some undoubtedly would (Richard Stallman is an example), but its hard to have confidence in this occurring at the necessary scale The Soviet Union ran the experiment for 70 years and had a rather unambiguous result. I was just in Russia, and I can attest to this.

And then this:

So, CheapOS world is a nightmare. The system software industry is sucked dry, undermining the foundations of computing. It surely is not an idyilic vision of the future. Since users vote on such actions with their purchases, I think that it is unlikely that we will see it. Only some draconian force – such a misguided government – would put the industry in this sad situation.

Lastly, there is also a reference to a letter which pressured developers to take away people’s freedom:

Bill’s famous open letter to hobbiests posed this dilemma – saying that he’d love to have people pay for software because then he could afford to hire some more programmers and make the product better. It’s time to admit that it worked out pretty well!

Worked out pretty well for Microsoft. How come this neglects to mention the immense retardation of software development & progress over the years? Does that not count? How about competition and diversity? That is the basis of capitalist markets.

In summary, what is interesting about it is that Microsoft characterises GNU/Linux as a disruptor, rather than themselves — those who try to make everything uniform, like communism, for instance. They try to control the characterisations and stereotypes and then spread them widely using words and almost vivid descriptions of them (at Best Buy/Office Depot indoctrination sessions, for instance, GNU/Linux is shown in red). Rather than understand the competition (learning to live with it), Microsoft is — as usual — looking for ways to crush it.

It is interesting that Microsoft perpetually tries to suggest GNU/Linux incites against them (words like “zealotry”) when in fact it is Microsoft which is inciting the world against “cancer” or “communism”, which it calls Linux. Endless hypocrisy.

“Ideally, use of the competing technology becomes associated with mental deficiency, as in, “he believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and OS/2.” Just keep rubbing it in, via the press, analysts, newsgroups, whatever. Make the complete failure of the competition’s technology part of the mythology of the computer industry. We want to place selection pressure on those companies and individuals that show a genetic weakness for competitors’ technologies, to make the industry increasingly resistant to such unhealthy strains, over time.”

Microsoft, internal document [PDF]


Appendix: Comes vs. Microsoft – exhibit px06394, as text


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