Saturday, April 01, 2000

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 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 that.

This page, the Second Computer Revolution, and the Responses to my Second Computer Revolution page are well related, and if this interests you see those too.

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.

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It all began this way for me:

I had a look at the Halloween Document after half a dozen of you sent me the link.

Very near the top I found the following quotes:

* 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


Dear Jerry,

Ran across a link I thought you might be interested in: .

It’s a Microsoft memo discussing Open Source Software (read Linux, Apache, etc.), and Microsoft’s 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 []

Dear Jerry,

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.

Pat Connors

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.

Dr Tiomoid M. of Angle []

I’ve only read this through once, which isn’t enough for in-depth analysis, but I’m struck by a number of points:

(1) The original memorandum is consistently objective and analytical.

ESR’s comments are consistently subjective and argumentative. This causes him to miss a great number of good points that the memo’s author makes, and to grossly misinterpret many of the ones that he does catch. ESR far too often sees what he wants or expects to see while ignoring what’s actually on the page.

(2) Looking at ESR’s rhetoric as a whole, I see a pattern emerging that helps explain a number of features of the Open Source Software movement. Reading his comments reminds me eerily of the college and underground newspapers I read back in the late 60s/early 70s: Persistent attempts to dehumanize and demonize the perceived opposition, tendentious overblown rhetoric, a skewed viewpoint that misinterprets all that it sees. Pretty depressing. I really enjoyed his articles THE CATHEDRAL AND THE BAZAAR and HOMESTEADING THE NOOSPHERE; it saddens me to see this sort of thing.

(3) As with most Children of the Sixties, ESR takes production for granted and focuses on getting steamed about distribution; which is, when you think about it, the underlying focus of the entire Open Software movement. As with real world collectivism, the Open Source Software system depends on no one having any right to what he produces beyond the right that everyone else has to what is produced. In the real world, this approach leads to sparse production and general want. This is, however, less obviously asinine with respect to information (which has the unique characteristic that once it exists it can be distributed practically without cost) than it would be for a tangible economic good. A small number of talented people who are willing to be exploited by the system in this way can carry an entire population of parasitical users, unlike (say) a farm or a factory.

This gives me a tremendous idea for an article. I think I’ll call it "Socialism With a Digital Face".

I look forward to seeing what your take on this might be.

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.


From: Michael Hipp []


I read with fascination the Microsoft memo and Mr. Raymond’s 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."

More component robustness. Linux and other OSS projects make it easy for developers to experiment with small components in the system without introducing regressions in other components: DavidDs: "

"People have to work on their parts independent of the rest so internal abstractions between components are well documented and well exposed/exported as well as being more robust because they have no idea how they are going to be called. The linux development system has evolved into allowing more devs to party on it without causing huge numbers of integration issues because robustness is present at every level. This is great, long term, for overall stability and it shows."

This seems to be a near admission on Microsoft’s 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:

  1. Mr. Raymond needn’t worry, Microsoft’s cost and complexity of maintaining its code base will grow exponentially and will eventually be their demise.
  2. That Microsoft was ever able to deliver anything, much less achieve its dominant position without employing the above is surely to their great credit. Makes one wonder what they do.

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.

Here’s one vote for you to write more books in the Codominium/Sparta/Mote series.

Michael Hipp

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...)

See also Professor Erwin's comments.



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 []

Dear Jerry

you wrote:

> Is your quote there the actual Microsoft document or the edited excerpts at

> the front? Again I find it a bit amazing they’d put anything that bald in

> writing.


The following line is from the paragraph after

> "OSS (Open Source ™ software) poses a direct, short-term revenue

> and platform threat to Microsoft, particularly in server space."


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 after ("blunting OSS attacks")

> "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 at



I’ve since added the reference to my sig file for those who want to see just the document itself.

I don’t believe I’ve taken the above quotes out of context. Do you agree?


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 I’m 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 I’ve become rather disillusioned after seeing Microsoft’s tactics ("do as we tell you or be crushed"), propaganda ("oh, our customers want simpler licensing and THAT’S why we’re stopping concurrent licensing - not because we make more money that way") and some pretty stupid bugs which Microsoft apparently has no intention of fixing.

I’d say my change of mind started when I read the documentation which came with my Win98 consumer beta CD. Microsoft’s web site had said (paraphrasing accurately here - I didn’t 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". I’d 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 they’re 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 I’ve seen other examples of Microsoft Quality Software, from Access 97 forms which become corrupted (and sometimes can’t even be deleted from the database) and must be recreated. Then there’s the old "not enough memory to refresh screen display" message - Microsoft has had this problem with some software since Word 6, and it’s still happening in Access 97. On a customer’s 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 I’ve 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 employer’s 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 that’s a major factor in its reliability.

That’s not to say I won’t use commercial software (my mother and I are testing out S.U.S.E’s 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 I’m 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 Microsoft’s Netware VXDs, and all I can do is reboot ).

I’m 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 she’s familiar with Windows software and operations. But I know which direction my "software heart" is pointing, and I’m going to march in that direction.


I realize I’ve taken a lot of your time here (if you read between the "RANT ON" and "RANT OFF" lines, anyway), and I’ll tend to stick to shorter responses. I just felt the need to let you know I’m not some stupid, ill-informed bigot.

I prefer to think of myself as a smart, thoughtful, well-informed bigot.


Calvin Dodge





"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 at (original) or (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.




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