THE WARPED PERSPECTIVE
What is this thing called Linux, and why should
Is Linux a Windows-Killer, the Final Solution to the Microsoft Question, or just
a great new programming platform?
What of Open Source? Is this the wave of the future, a flash in the pan, or just
a good way of making software?
I will tell you right now what Linux is. Linux is Microsoft's "Escape Hatch."
That's absurd, you may be saying. Microsoft is scared silly of Linux, of Open Source,
of anything that it does not own. But I know the truth about Microsoft and their
plans. It's not pretty.
Oh, sure, a year ago Microsoft was spooked by Linux. For the last six months Microsoft
executives have been in full FUD mode, spewing lies about the whole "alternatives"
movement and Open Source in particular. But behind the scenes, Microsoft is making
its moves right now to take over the Linux platform. They will do this by imitating
the very methods they used to achieve control of the Windows platform. Remember,
Windows is just DOS with a GUI shell and some APIs. Windows is a grand masquerade,
a fake, a fraud, a deception. Windows is a glorified menu system with pictures instead
of words, pretending to be an operating system. But the shaky foundation of Windows
is just DOS. And right now, Linux of 1999 is DOS of 1989.
Remember when DOS was an "open" platform? Anybody could write a DOS app
without too much hassle. You could talk directly to the hardware without the need
for conforming to a prefab regime of memory management .DLLs, device drivers that
shielded your code from the VGA card or the modem, and wacky APIs that contain hidden
trapdoors. You just coded up your app and gave it your own "look and feel."
Programs took resources as they needed them, and gave them back when they were done
using them (if the programs were designed well!). But no one developer had a real,
long-term advantage over the competition on the development side, not even Microsoft.
Any Top 100 software sales chart of early 1990 will show Microsoft being soundly
whipped by competitors who offered superior products, such as WordPerfect, Lotus,
Borland, and Ashton-Tate.
Microsoft proceeded to erect a series of artificial programming barriers on top
of the essentially "open" DOS platform by hiding these barriers under
the surface of its "cool" Windows GUI. The average PC buyer had no idea
that the purpose of Windows was to take control of the DOS platform, just as a Venus
Flytrap stays open and inviting until a desireable morsel appears. The DOS platform
attracted programmers in droves because it was popular, cheap, and relatively easy
to program for, compared to other small computer systems. Windows was Microsoft's
way of trapping those developers and consuming their intellectual assets. Ten years
later, there is no sign of these formerly successful competitors on the sales charts;
they have been bought and sold and merged and repositioned in a desperate attempt
to stay afloat.
What damaged these software companies was not the Windows GUI itself, of course.
What kept these competitors from prospering was the loss of cash flow from applications
sales. That means that Microsoft's Office suite was and is the actual threat to
anyone who wants to make good money selling applications on the Windows platform.
First, it was just the word processor and spreadsheet vendors who got burned. Then
it was graphics stalwarts like Harvard Graphics and Lotus Freelance that began disappearing
from the scene. Later, the database was merged into Office Professional, and more
recently the contact manager, e-mail, and other formerly separate apps have been
bundled with MS Office in order to strangle the cash flow of even more software
vendors. Microsoft even bundles Internet Explorer with Office, just in case you
were thinking of using Netscape as your browser.
A recent article in the German magazine "c't" claims that Microsoft is
porting Office2000 to the Linux platform. Why are they doing this? So they can retrace
their steps of ten years ago. The DOS platform is still wide-open today, but the
Windows APIs are what most developers use. Similarly, Linux will be wide-open ten
years from now, but what hope of cash flow will there be for applications vendors
who are just now recognizing the Linux opportunity? Microsoft will give Office away
for free if it has to, just to prevent Corel, Lotus, and everyone else from turning
Linux into a prosperous source of software revenue. (Naturally, the Office *source
code* will not be available, just the apps.) This way, developers looking for a
way to attack the Windows market will not be able to have a Linux cash-cow to fund
their Windows development.
Sure, you'll use Office for Linux when Barbados freezes over, you may be saying.
But you won't have a choice. Corporations who are fleeing the Windows platform for
Linux will not want to "start over" on the applications side; they will
be only too happy to "standardize" on Office for Linux, then force-feed
it to their employees and demand that they use Office for Linux on the laptops and
home PCs as well. Once this occurs, Microsoft will bundle Linux "extensions"
as part of the Office for Linux bundle, which they will claim are exempt from GNU
licensing since they are not part of the OS itself. Just like Windows APIs and DLLs
are not part of DOS, right?
Since Microsoft's Windows systems will not be ready for Y2K, they will simply use
Linux's Y2K-ready foundation as the "escape hatch" and shift their business
development over to Linux. Business users of Microsoft products will have to shift
as well, since Microsoft will not be willing to waste precious resources fixing
their broken-down Windows operating systems. Once virtually every business has had
to shift to Office on Linux, then Microsoft will be positioned to bundle IE for
Linux and anything else they want to sell as part of the Office suite. Sooner or
later, MS will have positioned Office as the "Linux API" and developers
will have to code to whatever "standard" that the latest version of Office
provides. Using Internet Explorer for Linux will become mandatory, too.
If Microsoft pulls this off, we will be sitting here ten years from now, as a new
DOJ trial gets underway, asking how in the world government attorneys, Justice Department
officials, pundits, and software "visionaries" let Microsoft off the hook
in 1999 by ignoring the monopolistic leverage that Office gives Microsoft. It will
be for the simple reason that most people are being fooled right now by Microsoft's
acting job of pretending to still be afraid of Linux, and their propaganda that
pretends to badmouth Linux when it is merely attempting to scare off competing applications
developers from getting there first.
My recommendation is thus to stay the course and standardize on the only platform
that Microsoft will never, ever develop for, the only platform that Microsoft can
never afford to legitimize: IBM OS/2 Warp. Since Microsoft will never offer a public
version of Office for OS/2 (because this would immediately legitimize the platform),
software vendors need never worry about Big Brother squelching their revenue. And
users need never worry about a mythical "IE for OS/2" ruining their Internet
Most recent revision: April 28, 1999
Copyright © 1999, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.