Halloween V: The FUD Begins

The more I study Linux, the weaker I think the value proposition is for consumers. – From a 4 Mar 1999 ZDNet story

After months of silence out of Redmond, the themes of Microsoft's coming FUD campaign against Linux are beginning to emerge like a zombie army from the fetid mists of Redmond. And who should that black-armored, axe-wielding figure riding point be but our old friend Ed "Sheriff of Nottingham" Muth, apparently recovered from leading with his chin last time around and ready for another go at Linus and his Merry Men of Sherwood.

In a March 4 ZDNet article, "Microsoft Exec dissects Linux's 'weak value proposition'," Sheriff Ed demonstrates the combination of straining at gnats and swallowing camels that we've come to expect from Microsoft's spinmeisters. We get to hear the "no applications" FUD – a tough one to sustain, given that the likes of Corel and Oracle and SAP are on board with Linux. We get to hear "no long-term development roadmap" from the company that can't seem to decide how many versions of Windows 9x will intrude between now and the much-delayed promised land of Windows 2000.

We also get some whining about "lack of fairness in media coverage," which appears to be Microsoft-speak for "the trade press isn't behaving like our poodles anymore." But the funniest thing in the interview is this: " ... someone wants me to believe these visionary programmers and developers will want to do the best work of their lives and then give it away. I do not believe in that vision of the future."

What Sheriff Ed doesn't get is that this is a vision of the present. Linux got where it is because thousands of "visionary programmers and developers" have already made this choice, and are re-affirming it every day. Even scarier (from Microsoft's point of view) capitalism and the hacker gift culture are learning how to complement and support each other; that, at bottom, is what all the hoopla at LinuxWorld last week was about.

But what's most notable about this article are the things Sheriff Ed didn't say. He didn't claim that NT is more robust than Linux. He didn't claim that NT performs better than Linux running Microsoft's own SMB file- and print-sharing service. He didn't even claim that NT is outgrowing Linux in the server market.

Now, we might hypothesize that Sheriff Ed didn't make any of these claims because he knows perfectly well none of them are true. Linux routinely turns in continuous-uptime figures NT administrators dare not even dream of; it's faster and more efficient in nearly every service category from Internet to SMB; and Linux is gaining server market share faster than NT. The trouble with this theory is that Microsoft has never been famous for reluctance to tell lies when that suits corporate purposes. Their video fiasco in the DOJ trial is only the most recent example in which they got caught at it.

On the other hand, you can bet that after its recent PR blunders anything Sheriff Ed says about Linux at this point has been very carefully focus-grouped with representatives from Microsoft's most important customers. It's therefore almost certain that if Sheriff Ed didn't make these claims, it's not so much because they'd be untrue as that he knows they wouldn't be believed.

And that's interesting – very interesting, indeed.

Eric S. Raymond <esr@thyrsus.com>