Received Nov. 6,98.

New MS Memo Targets Linux

by Chris Oakes

A Microsoft memo leaked Monday from an internal mailing list reveals how seriously company officials view open-source software as a threat. A second memo followed on Wednesday, zeroing in on the Linux operating system.

Observers say that both memos reveal Microsoft's intention to make open protocols more dependent on its own operating system software.

"Linux represents a best-of-breed Unix, that is trusted in mission-critical applciations, and -- due to its open source code -- has a long-term credibility which exceeds many other competitive OSes," the memo says in part.

Microsoft confirmed the authenticity of the first memo earlier in the week but did not return calls regarding the second. Some news reports, however, say that Microsoft admitted Wednesday's memo appears to be genuine, too.

The second memo is an internal appreciation of Linux, which Microsoft appears to view as a legitimate competitive threat to Windows. It concludes that Linux has a good chance of succeeding in the desktop market, and is a key operating system in "the nascent thin-server market."

Linux has become increasingly popular as an open-source alternative to Windows on Internet server computers.

Monday's memo, meanwhile, hints at Microsoft's tactical thinking for undermining the competitive ability of open-source software, although the company denies doing so. The most notable suggestion was to promote modified versions of the open protocols that a lot of open-source software uses to carry out its tasks, such as the delivery of email.

"Linux represents a best-of-breed Unix, that is trusted in mission-critical applciations, and -- due to it's open source code -- has a long-term credibility which exceeds many other competitive OSes."

Microsoft representatives did not return calls in time to confirm the document's authenticity, but the company admitted in news reports that the document appears genuine. Like the first memo, the new one is dated 11 August and signed by Vinod Valloppillil, a product manager for Microsoft's engineering group. Another Microsoft employee, Josh Cohen, is also listed as an author, but the source of the leaks has not been identified.

One conclusion that stands out is that Linux -- an OS that Microsoft has publicly played down -- has a good chance of succeeding in the desktop market, and is a key operating system in "the nascent thin server market."

"Using today's server requirements, Linux is a credible alternative to commercial [sic] developed servers in many high-volume applications."

Eric Raymond, the open-source evangelist responsible for publicizing the first memo, said he received the second document shortly after the first. There are no startling revelations, but it tends to reveal a certain mindset within the Redmond software giant.

"It's fairly mild, and I got the feeling that the person that wrote it actually liked Linux," said Linux creator Linus Torvalds. "But maybe I'm on drugs."

He added that there has been speculation that the memos have been leaked on purpose. "I don't see that Microsoft can benefit from this, in light of the antitrust case."

Both Raymond and Torvalds say the memo proves that Microsoft has tried to make open protocols more dependent on Microsoft operating system software, such as its email servers and NT operating system.

"'Let's take our own proprietary format and make them hard for anyone else to copy,'" is how Torvalds characterizes the thrust of the Linux memo. "To me, that is fairly distasteful ... but at same time it doesn't give any real strong examples ... of which protocols to subvert."

Raymond and Torvalds also noted that Microsoft has taken a similar approach with Java.

Raymond said Microsoft's penchant for dirty tactics is implied in one line of the document, which reads, "The effect of patents and copyright in combating Linux remains to be investigated." The idea of using copyrights to suppress open source represents typical Microsoft thinking, Raymond believes: "'We can't beat them in product quality, so we'll use lawsuits and dirty tricks.'"

But do the memos reveal a new threat to Linux?

"I think the Linux model is so strong that even if they try something like that, it's not obvious that it will work," Torvalds said. "I may be naive, but especially on the Internet ... it's fairly dangerous to divert from the standard. Networking protocols, such as those for email and server communications, must be open and universally compatible. When you have a globally accepted protocol it's really hard to try to abuse that protocol.

"That's why it's hard. But if there is one company that has the power to try it, it could certainly be Microsoft."

One conclusion that stands out is that Linux -- an OS that Microsoft has publicly played down -- has a good chance of succeeding in the desktop market, and is a key operating system in "the nascent thin server market."

"Using today's server requirements, Linux is a credible alternative to commercial [sic] developed servers in many high-volume applications."

Eric Raymond, the open-source evangelist responsible for publicizing the first memo, said he received the second document shortly after the first. There are no startling revelations, but it tends to reveal a certain mindset within the Redmond software giant.

"It's fairly mild, and I got the feeling that the person that wrote it actually liked Linux," said Linux creator Linus Torvalds. "But maybe I'm on drugs."

He added that there has been speculation that the memos have been leaked on purpose. "I don't see that Microsoft can benefit from this, in light of the antitrust case."

Both Raymond and Torvalds say the memo proves that Microsoft has tried to make open protocols more dependent on Microsoft operating system software, such as its email servers and NT operating system.

"'Let's take our own proprietary format and make them hard for anyone else to copy,'" is how Torvalds characterizes the thrust of the Linux memo. "To me, that is fairly distasteful ... but at same time it doesn't give any real strong examples ... of which protocols to subvert."

Raymond and Torvalds also noted that Microsoft has taken a similar approach with Java.

Raymond said Microsoft's penchant for dirty tactics is implied in one line of the document, which reads, "The effect of patents and copyright in combating Linux remains to be investigated." The idea of using copyrights to suppress open source represents typical Microsoft thinking, Raymond believes: "'We can't beat them in product quality, so we'll use lawsuits and dirty tricks.'"

But do the memos reveal a new threat to Linux?

"I think the Linux model is so strong that even if they try something like that, it's not obvious that it will work," Torvalds said. "I may be naive, but especially on the Internet ... it's fairly dangerous to divert from the standard. Networking protocols, such as those for email and server communications, must be open and universally compatible. When you have a globally accepted protocol it's really hard to try to abuse that protocol.

"That's why it's hard. But if there is one company that has the power to try it, it could certainly be Microsoft."

END


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