One of the tightropes that Microsoft walked--poorly--during its antitrust trial was the company's attitude toward competitors. In court, for example, Linux, AOL, and even the BeOS were strong competition, waiting in the wings to seize Microsoft by the throat. In public, however, Microsoft blew off each one in turn, as it told developers, tradeshow attendees, and the press that Windows was the clear choice, with nothing standing in its way. Since the trial ended, however, the company's public attitude about some of this evidentiary competition has changed a bit. Microsoft CEO and President Steve Ballmer recently revealed the not-so-surprising notion that Linux was his company's number-one threat. For any other company, this would be a sure sign that it was finally taking the Linux threat seriously. But for Microsoft, you can only tell they're worried when the trash-talking starts. And Microsoft is trash-talking Linux big time.
In a piece titled "Linux to Fall by the Wayside," published on the Microsoft Web site, Microsoft Senior Vice President Joachim Kempin supplies an interesting spin on Linux. "Linux is too expensive," he says. "This is because each company has to invest an unreasonable amount of time and money in Linux verification. As a result, the total cost of system installation and operation (TCO) is too high, effectively making Linux a very expensive OS. Vendors who are building up their Linux businesses are making a serious mistake and need to wake up to that fact quickly."
But Kempin saves his most vitriolic language for a question about Linux growth. "Linux is simply a fad that has been generated by the media and is destined to fall by the wayside in time," he continues. "Windows 2000 will gradually overtake the Linux share in the server market. In fact, the advent of Linux has spurred Microsoft's developers to move up a gear. The arrival of new competitors in applications or OS development provides us at Microsoft with the driving force to create even better software products." The notion that Linux growth might, in fact, be illusory, isn't new: Some analysts note that growth is easiest to obtain when one is starting fresh, and for Linux, much of that growth is not coming from the enterprise, but from hobbyists and individuals. Doug Miller, Microsoft's group product manager for competitive strategies, recently told "Wired" that, "Microsoft continues to grow at a faster pace than the rest of the industry and faster than any other server OS." Miller bases this comment on recently released research from International Data Corporation (IDC) that indicates that Linux growth in the server market has been flat for two quarters.
Miller also attacks Linux and the idea that free is better. "The recent security problems with Linux, coupled with the lack of key enterprise elements in the new kernel, really call into question whether Linux should be used at all," he said. Miller told "Wired" that the recent dot-com shutdowns also will be replayed in the Linux community. "Free does not sustain a business," Miller said. "Development costs money, \[quality assurance\] costs money, support costs money. We have yet to see a business model in the Linux world that has any chance of long-term success."
Not-so-subtle comments such as these will probably have a number of effects, especially on the Linux community, but they also point to a company that is coming out of its shell since the end of the antitrust trial. The company's feud with the government, which is now in the appellate stage, hasn't been the major news item it was more than a year ago, when major Microsoft executives were getting skewered on the stand one after the other. Microsoft prides itself on straight talk and tough competition, and this sort of bravado reminds one of the Microsoft of old. The company is convinced that it will win its lawsuit on appeal, and if the Linux movement hopes to be more than just the latest in a long list of competitors that have been run over by the Redmond giant, it needs to come up with a better response than its peers from the past did.