Internal doucment outline open source threat to Microsoft

A leaked internal Microsoft document detailing the threat to the company of open source software (OSS)such as Linux has been acknowledged as genuine. The so-called 'The Halloween Document' was released into the Internet by Linux developer Eric Raymond. It says OSS 'poses a direct, short-term revenue and platform threat to Microsoft, particularly in the server space' and 'the intrinsic parallelism and free idea exchange in OSS has benefits that are not replicable with our current licensing model and therefore present a long-term developer mindshare threat.'

The topic of open source software, and the potential threat it poses to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows empire, is an increasingly popular one on the company's Redmond, Washington, campus.

According to an Aug. 11 white paper, open source software -- abbreviated as "OSS" by author Vinod Valloppillil, a staff engineer in the operating systems group at Microsoft -- "poses a direct, short-term revenue and platform threat to Microsoft, particularly in the server space."

"Additionally, the intrinsic parallelism and free idea exchange in OSS has benefits that are not replicable with our current licensing model and therefore present a long-term developer mindshare threat," Valloppillil wrote.

The memo -- titled Open Source Software: A (New?) Development Methodology -- was posted over the weekend and dubbed "The Halloween Document" by Linux developer Eric Raymond, a contributor to http://www.tuxedo.org. Raymond also annotated the document with his comments.

Not surprisingly, the white paper singles out Linux as the biggest potential Unix threat to Windows. Valloppillil's suggestion for countering Linux is a familiar one for Microsoft -- more functionality built in to Windows.

"Linux's homebase is currently commodity network and server infrastructure," the document states. "By folding extended functionality ... into today's commodity services, we raise the bar and change the rules of the game."

While some of Valloppillil's comments seem to run counter to Microsoft's pronouncements on Linux and open source software -- "OSS systems are considered credible because the source code is available from potentially millions of places and individuals," the Microsoft engineer wrote -- other statements echoed public statements from Microsoft in recent months as Linux has gained steam in the industry.

"A very sublime problem which will affect full scale consumer adoption of OSS projects is the lack of strategic direction in the OSS development cycle," Valloppillil wrote. "While incremental improvement of the current bag of features in an OSS product is very credible, future features have no organisational commitment to guarantee their development."

Ed Muth, Microsoft's group product manager for enterprise marketing, said Valloppillil's white paper was meant to generate discussion and should not be taken as the company's official position on the open source software world.

"It is hardly news that Windows NT [renamed Windows 2000 last week] competes with many other operating systems," Muth said. "It also is hardly news that some people think Linux is one of those operating systems. We do, too. But it also is true that the basis for competition among OSes is much broader than one subject -- for example, price. Price might turn out to be the least interesting dimension."

The white paper also acknowledges the growing sense that open source developers are aiming to knock Microsoft and its NT technology for a loop with Linux.

"Many OSS start-ups -- particularly those in operating systems space -- view funding the development of OSS products as a strategic loss leader against Microsoft," the white paper states. "Linux distributors, such as Red Hat, Caldera, and others, are expressly willing to fund full-time developers who release all their work to the OSS community. By simultaneously funding these efforts, Red Hat and Caldera are implicitly colluding and believe they'll make more short-term revenue by growing the Linux market rather than directly competing with each other."

Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Washington, is at http://www.microsoft.com.

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