nettime's_roving_reporter on Tue, 23 Mar 1999 06:52:21 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> 'MS Linux'?

MARCH 18, 1999

If You Can't Beat Him, Join Him

How Microsoft Plans to Drive Linus Torvalds Insane by Introducing

By Robert X. Cringely

Steve Jobs, the Interim-CEO-for-Life at Apple Computer, is the
smartest, slickest, slimiest, sexiest son of a gun in the whole
personal computer industry. This guy could sell anything to
anyone, so watch your wallet. And this week, we saw what I
consider to be the best performance by Steve Jobs in the history
of his playing Steve Jobs. He announced, essentially for the
second time, MacOS X Server, but this time he told us that we
were going to be allowed to make improvements to certain parts of
the OS code on the condition that we share those improvements
with everyone else. Fair enough. But Apple also reserves the
right to have its improvement NOT be shared with everyone else
even if its improvements happen to look exactly like our
improvements. In other words, we can do Apple's work for Apple,
and if we do it well, they'll call it theirs. Oh, and they can
cancel the whole license at any time, making your work useless.
But the best part of the Apple Public Source License is they give
us the right to charge for our code, but only if the customer
feels like paying for it! We can try to charge, but we can't
restrict access to only those who pay. On the other hand, Apple
gets paid every time, and this is the first Apple product I have
seen that apparently comes with no free support.

Actually I have no problem, personally, with this license, but it
sure doesn't look like open source to me. Now let's all go
whitewash that fence!

I'll predict right now a legion of readers who will say, "That's
not what Steve, our Steve, wonderful Steve said at all." But read
the fine print, and you'll discover that's exactly what is going
on. And I don't fault the guy, because the software he was
announcing will still be good value for money. Let's just not
call something "free" or "open" when it isn't.

Apple's new Server OS certainly has its roots in the open source
community, since it is built on the Mach microkernel from
Carnegie-Mellon University, Berkeley Software Distribution Unix
from the University of California, and comes with the GNU
compiler from the Free Software Foundation and the Apache Web
server. These parts all cost Apple nothing but porting time, yet
they also seem to have acquired Apple copyright notices along the
way. Is that legal?

MacOS X Server is aimed not at the Linux community, where most
people think it is aimed, but at Microsoft's Windows NT and at
Novell's Netware. For $500 bucks, Apple says you can have a file,
print, and Web server operating system that supports 1,000 users,
which on the face of it beats the heck out of both Microsoft and
Novell. I doubt that there is a Mac yet that can actually support
1,000 simultaneous users, but the product will certainly get some
attention. It is Apple's hope that MacOS X will be seen as a
kinder, gentler Linux that just costs a few hundred dollars more.

True Linuxheads won't be willing to pay the money (after all,
there is already a free Linux port for PowerMacs), but for
easy-to-use departmental servers, this thing could be quite
successful, especially if they get around to adding firewall,
SMB, and e-mail support.

The value of Linux to Apple here is that Linux has made it okay
to adopt an alternative server OS in corporate America. With IBM
doing deals with Redhat, why not turn to Apple? Steve Jobs is
counting on this.

And speaking of IBM, did you see the story about Big Blue
building a massively parallel Linux system with their Netfinity
servers? Linking about 37 of them together, they achieved
graphics benchmarks equal to a $5 million Cray from only $150,000
worth of their Pentium servers. The coolest part, though, was the
IBMer set up the network then went to the local Barnes & Noble
the day before the demo and bought the Linux software!

But the more interesting Linux story this week comes from
Microsoft, not Apple or IBM. PC Week had a story recently that
Microsoft was working on a version of Microsoft Office for Linux.
While Redmond didn't confirm this story they didn't deny it,
either, which in the case of Microsoft is usually a grudging

I have been pondering this a lot, looking for spiritual guidance,
and conclude (purely on the basis of thought, mind you, since I
have no inside knowledge) that we will soon see MS-Linux.

It is the perfect product for Microsoft. It costs them nothing to
produce, since it is already done and freely available. People
are already paying little companies like Red Hat and Caldera, so
they'd surely pay Microsoft for the same code. People already
love the Linux platform. Microsoft could actually add value
through device drivers, a better installation program, even a
Windows 9X graphical user interface. With these improvements,
don't expect MS-Linux to be price competitive with Redhat or
Caldera: Microsoft will make it cost exactly as much as a Windows
98 upgrade.

Microsoft has Office for Linux in development, and what they give
up by selling a free OS they'd recoup with sales of Office, SQL
Server and their visual language programs. And don't forget the
effect this could have on the Department of Justice. The Feds are
actually dim enough to see this apparent weakening of the Windows
monopoly as part of a logical consent decree rather than as a
route to Microsoft dominating yet another $500 million
application market. Now who's whitewashing whose fence?

With 7 million copies of Linux out there, and the StarOffice
Suite the only application game in town, Microsoft will see this
as very similar to its quite profitable Macintosh application
business. In fact, Microsoft has probably concluded that it can't
afford to NOT be in the Linux market, especially now that its big
database competitors have embraced the platform. And the best
part is they can use this surprise attack to distract us when all
the Windows 2000 disaster stories start to appear.

Speaking of which, after last week's column on Windows NT and
Y2K, Microsoft has invited me in for reprogramming and DNA

I am not a number! Stay tuned.
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