THE HALLOWEEN PAPERS
Saturday, April 01, 2000
| A long report on the Open Software
movement by Microsoft officials appeared Halloween 1998. I began to get a lot of mail on
it, and after a while it seemed reasonable to pull it all together. This is my effort to
Do note that although CNET and others are saying that the Halloween Memo is what Microsoft believes, this isn't necessarily the case. Microsoft is a big corporation. This is a memo by one person, Vinod Valloppillil, an engineer, who is not really a company spokesperson. It was "intended" for circulation to higher management" but how seriously higher management takes it is not known to me. The paper makes a number of statements that I would be astonished if Mcrisoft ever openly endorsed.
As an indication of thought processes this is one thing; but it is not a company policy statement, and it's probably unfair to look at it as if it were.
It all began this way for me:
I had a look at the Halloween Document http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/halloween.html after half a dozen of you sent me the link.
Very near the top I found the following quotes:
* ...to understand how to compete against OSS, we must target a process rather
than a company.
* OSS is long-term credible ... FUD tactics can not be used to combat it.
That was pretty much all I needed to decide this wasn't any genuine Microsoft document, but a parody. Possibly a fraud, but more likely an attempt at humor. No senior Microsoft official is silly enough to talk like that for others in his company, knowing that this has a good chance of leaking out. FUD -- Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt -- tactics are what Microsoft is ACCUSED of. Not what they say they do; and any Microsoft official who said that in an official document would be thought mad. Microsoft doesn't think it does FUD, it thinks it announces superior products with high credibility. The fact that the effect can be and sometimes (often?) is FUD is not the point. They just don't talk that way.
The document says that Microsoft has confirmed it as genuine, so perhaps I have a higher opinion of the Microsoft executives than is warranted. I know I would never say any such thing in writing.
Oh. Now I see. The real quote is
Loosely applied to the vernacular of the software industry, a product/process is long-term credible if FUD tactics can not be used to combat it.
IE a definition, not a damning statement of Microsoft tactics. OK, I have to start over, but with a hell of a lot less respect for the joker who did that misleading excerpt. That is worthy of the Enquirer. Of course. I recall the poem of the author who took a gun and shot that printer who printed not instead of now...
Here is a quote from the document which sounds very much like a Microsoft executive. Oddly enough, there is no comment in this highly commented document.
OSS projects the size of Linux and Apache are only viable if a large enough community of highly skilled developers can be amassed to attack a problem. Consequently, there is direct correlation between the size of the project that OSS can tackle and the growth of the Internet.
Anyone hanging around here would see the truth and significance of this. As the Internet gets larger, the ability of the Open Source Software people to cope with BIG projects grows. Moore's Law applies here, too. I think this will be something to talk about at COMDEX, and it is certainly relevant to the Second Computer Revolution. I will need to fold this into the SCR essay.
At this point I think it clear that all of you interested in computing developments would do well to have a look at this document. Here's one of the letters telling me where to find it:
From: Chuck Wingo
Ran across a link I thought you might be interested in:http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/halloween.html .
Its a Microsoft memo discussing Open Source Software (read Linux, Apache, etc.), and Microsofts response to it. It includes commentary by Eric S. Raymond. Makes for some interesting reading.
Subject: Another version of the Haloween e-mail 11f
From: Pat Connors [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Here is a pointer to a version of the Haloween document without the comments added.
I read this one first, then wnt back and read the comments.
Have a look for yourself. I'll have more to say in a bit. I've been commenting as I read.
More on that tomorrow. It's quite interesting.
(Thursday: see also Calvin Dodge on the Halloween papers.)
The following is repeated in VIEW as well as here. For background on what this mail is about, click here.
Ive only read this through once, which isnt enough for in-depth analysis, but Im struck by a number of points:
Your initial impression is close to mine. I was enormously disappointed with ESR's analysis; indeed, before I knew it was him, just from the excerpting of the FUD comment I thought this could only have been done by a rather dull partisan.
However, I'm not so sure of your analysis of Open Source Software. People often do things for returns other than economic gain. Indeed, as de Tocqueville said early on (those who have not read his Democracy in America may not understand either Democracy nor America, I'm afraid; you can learn the lessons he teaches elsewhere, but Tocqueville makes it much easier): as Tocqueville said, the genius of America was that "the associations" did much that in Europe would be done either by government or a cartel. Free associations of people working together to produce something useful to all, and paid mostly in the coin of prestige, built most of this nation; and in that sense the Open Source Software people are very much in the tradition that made us great.
Indeed, thank you for making me think on this. I think we need both OSS and Microsoft; associations and cartels. And do not forget, OSS does PRODUCE and CREATE, not just take what other people have done and distribute it. Socialism is a system in which experts in distribution distribute that which was created by others, generally against the creators's wishes, and often to the creators's ruin. Communism was socialism in a hurry, according to the early socialists; a diagnosis that tells hard against the Fabians as much as against the Leninists.
Since Gates's corporate competitors have proven, largely, to be both greedy and inept (they're supposed to be greedy but they're supposed to be smart about it), perhaps the main competition to Microsoft will come from "The Associations" as Tocqueville put it. Since I have known RMS and many of the OSS people for 15 and more years, I know something of their motivations; and the desire to mind other people's business is not very high on their list. Many are libertarians.
Do not forget -- I never shall -- that "rights" to intellectual property are granted under the US Constitution with a proviso: that establishing these limited monopolies is for the purpose of promoting the useful arts and sciences. See my Intellectual Capital essay on that one.
Anyway, thank you for stimulating some thoughts. I am sure I will have more.
See also Talin's response.
I read with fascination the Microsoft memo and Mr. Raymonds comments. Partisan viewpoints aside, this OSS phenomenon is surely one of the most interesting things happening in software today.
What I did find odd is that Mr. Raymond despite his obvious attempt to find any avenue to demonize Microsoft missed a very interesting point. Note this bullet under the section entitled Capturing OSS benefits -- Microsoft Internal Processes, which I pharaphrase as "what can we learn from these OSS people."
This seems to be a near admission on Microsofts part that their internal software development efforts do not utilize "internal abstractions between components well documented and well exposed/exported". Huh? This is a new idea that the OSS people came up with? Surely not. If indeed this is something Microsoft does not do internally, then two conclusions seem obvious:
The accomplishments and ambitions of the OSS communities are very worthy of our respect. I wish them well. As I do Microsoft.
Conventional economic theory says that when dominant players emerge in an industry stability will ensue. I suspect that is not the case here.
Heres one vote for you to write more books in the Codominium/Sparta/Mote series.
Good points. Thanks. I suspect I am going to have to pull all these out together into a separate page. (Which, as can be seen, I have done...)
Calvin Dodge, a subscriber who has a Hero of Chaos Manor decoration, sent mail last night with a quote about the Halloween paper. It seemed so blatantly arrogant that I wondered if a Microsoft official had actually written it just that way; the annotated Halloween paper had one quote outrageously taken from context up in the commentator's introduction, so I asked about it. What I got in reply was a gem:
Calvin Dodge [email@example.com]
The following line is from the paragraph after
I added the words "(Open Source software)" as an aid to the recipient. I also removed the first word ("Consequently") to help the sentence stand alone.
And the next part comes a couple of lines afterhttp://www.scripting.com/misc/halloweenMemo.html#_Toc427495768 ("blunting OSS attacks")
Ive since added thewww.scripting.com reference to my sig file for those who want to see just the document itself.
I dont believe Ive taken the above quotes out of context. Do you agree?
RANT MODE ON
See, I used to have innocuous sigs, with lyrics from Christian singers like Steve Taylor and bands like D.C. Talk, or quotes from "The Tick".
But Im afraid I responded rather poorly to the Halloween memo - rather like Bugs Bunny saying "of course you realize, dis means war!"
Yes, Microsoft has made some pretty decent software (I do queries and programming in Access 97 at work), but Ive become rather disillusioned after seeing Microsofts tactics ("do as we tell you or be crushed"), propaganda ("oh, our customers want simpler licensing and THATS why were stopping concurrent licensing - not because we make more money that way") and some pretty stupid bugs which Microsoft apparently has no intention of fixing.
Id say my change of mind started when I read the documentation which came with my Win98 consumer beta CD. Microsofts web site had said (paraphrasing accurately here - I didnt save the text) "purchasers of the beta CD are not entitled to a discount on the final product because Microsoft is making no profit on the beta CD". Id found that a little strange, since many companies make a profit selling CDs by mail for far less than $30 (the cost of the beta CD). The clincher came when I got the CD - its EULA forbade me to install it on more than one computer. Why do that, if they want people to test it out, and theyre not making any money on the beta?
My conclusion was that they were lying about the unprofitability of the beta.
One month after I installed the upgrade, Win98 crashed. It would come up as far as the desktop wallpaper, then just sit there (whether in regular or safe mode). I tried what I could think of to correct the situation, but eventually had to wipe it and reinstall Win95.
Since then Ive seen other examples of Microsoft Quality Software, from Access 97 forms which become corrupted (and sometimes cant even be deleted from the database) and must be recreated. Then theres the old "not enough memory to refresh screen display" message - Microsoft has had this problem with some software since Word 6, and its still happening in Access 97. On a customers machine I was able to get this message by bouncing back and forth three or four times between two screens in Access 97 (this on an NT system with 64 megs of RAM).
Then there are the multiple machines which Ive had to reinstall Win95 on at work (the record being 3 in one week) and for friends. I just got weary of babysitting Windows.
That was why I decided to try Linux. And yes, I had some of the problems you did when installing and setting it up (BTW, Red Hat 5.2 now features automatic partitioning during setup - I think you can appreciate that). But I did get it going, and I like what I see (like reliability - my employers 486 intranet Web server has been up for two months now).
I recall reading an article on software reliability some time ago, which decried the current state of software development - that it was art, rather than engineering. It mentioned the positive effect of peer review on engineering and architectural plans, and lamented the lack of same in software development. Well, Open Source now provides that peer review, and I think thats a major factor in its reliability.
Thats not to say I wont use commercial software (my mother and I are testing out S.U.S.Es Office 99 Suite, and I may very well recommend multiple copies to a friend of mine with a small courier business), but my preference will be for Open Source - partly because Im cheap^H^H^H^H^Hfrugal, but more because I like its reliability and fixability (compared to my work situation, where systems BSOD due to Microsofts Netware VXDs, and all I can do is reboot ).
Im not a fanatic about this (ala RMS) - when I put together a computer for my sweetheart (who lives on Saipan!) I made it dual-boot, with Linux AND Win98, since shes familiar with Windows software and operations. But I know which direction my "software heart" is pointing, and Im going to march in that direction.
I realize Ive taken a lot of your time here (if you read between the "RANT ON" and "RANT OFF" lines, anyway), and Ill tend to stick to shorter responses. I just felt the need to let you know Im not some stupid, ill-informed bigot.
I prefer to think of myself as a smart, thoughtful, well-informed bigot.
MICROSOFTS PLAN FOR YOUR COMPUTER:
"OSS (Open Source software) poses a direct, short-term revenue and platform threat to Microsoft, particularly in server space."
"OSS projects have been able to gain a foothold in many server applications because of the wide utility of highly commoditized, simple protocols. By extending these protocols and developing new protocols, we can deny OSS projects entry into the market."
From a Microsoft memo - read the entire document athttp://www.scripting.com/misc/halloweenMemo.html (original) or http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/halloween.html (with commentary)
Which say much. While the tone is more anti-Microsoft that I am, his points are extremely well taken.
The interesting thing is that I know many -- hundreds -- of Microsoft product developers, both management and programmers, and I have known Gates for 20 years. None of them have the attitude that is expressed here, and which is seen by many as the essence of Microsoft. They are a bit like the Borg -- convinced that their way is correct, and being absorbed is the best thing that can happen to you. That, however, is not the arrogance of someone looking for ways to exclude people from the market. In any event, there is a good bit to think about in this letter. I am not sure where to put it. For the moment I'll put it in mail with pointers in other places.