Changing the Rules,

The guy who said "money changes everything" obviously never heard of Linux. Otherwise he would have said "Linux changes everything," because it does. And it could not have happened at a better time.

The guy who said “money changes everything” obviously never heard of Linux. Otherwise he would have said “Linux changes everything,” because it does. And it could not have happened at a better time.

Five years ago, the Internet was just beginning to become mainstream. Microsoft was just awakening to the fact that it represented a substantial change in the technology landscape and a potential threat to their business if they did not respond to that challenge.

Microsoft did respond, and very effectively. By some accounts, Microsoft “won” the browser wars by knocking out Netscape. They have come dangerously close to dominating the Internet in the same way that they dominate the desktop computing space. There is really only one challenger that has risen up to go toe-to-toe with Microsoft, and that’s Linux.

So why should things be any different with Linux from how they were with the dozens of competitors that Microsoft has steamrollered in the past? It’s simple. No one can beat Microsoft at their own game. They wrote the rules. Netscape, Apple, Sun, and a thousand smaller companies have tried to play Microsoft’s game on Microsoft’s turf, and they’ve been beaten up. But Linux is different. Linux changes the rules…

How so? Well, let’s stop and look at things from a purely economic point of view. One of Microsoft’s favorite tactics is to bundle products “for free” with Windows and “cut off the air supply” or revenue stream of the company they are competing with. This is what they did with Internet Explorer, which wrecked Netscape’s Navigator revenues. Well, this won’t work with Linux, because as Linus Torvalds puts it in our Extreme Prejudice article on page 30, “We don’t have any revenue.” End of contest.

If Microsoft can’t cut off a competitor’s revenues, what other tools do they have at their disposal? That long-standing favorite — FUD. Microsoft has tried to create an atmosphere of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt around Linux, to prevent customers from adopting the technology. But here again, the rules have changed…

It used to be that Microsoft would publish a study or have its PR department bad-mouth competitive products to the trade press, which would then carry those messages to the general public. But things work a little differently now. Now, whenever Microsoft releases a study or makes a statement bad-mouthing Linux, the battlefield moves instantly to the Web, where informed kernel hackers and technology professionals quickly highlight the flaws and outright lies in Microsoft’s FUD attempts. In other words, trying to use FUD on Linux is doing little more than making Microsoft itself look bad.

So how will Microsoft respond to the competitive threat that Linux presents? O’Reilly & Associates founder Tim O’Reilly thinks that they will eventually have to release their own Linux distribution (see our interview with Tim on pg. 36), but in truth, Microsoft’s ultimate response is not clear just yet. They are using their old tried and true tactics so far, but with little success. Don’t forget though, that Microsoft is one of the smartest and most adaptable companies in existence. They will surely try to adapt to the rules that Linux is writing. But, then again, that’s why things are different with Linux. This time, we’re writing the rules.

Adam Signature

Adam M. Goodman

Editor & Publisher



Linux Magazine /
Changing the Rules

Comments are closed.