In a recent interview with ZDNET UK, open source guru Eric Raymond said that Microsoft could have easily killed off Linux back in 1998 if the company had just adopted the public anti-Linux and anti-open source practices stance it displayed last year. Raymond, author of the seminal open source manifesto, the Cathedral and the Bazaar, says that by the time Microsoft launched that bizarre series of attacks, Linux and the GNU Public License (GPL) had been able to gather enough corporate support to fend off Microsoft FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) campaign. It was a classic misstep by the software giant, and possibly one that was aided by its antitrust problems.
"If they had \[attacked us\] in mid-1998, they might have buried \[open source\]," Raymond told ZDNet UK. "I was seriously worried that was a possibility, that they would turn on the hype machine before we had enough success stories and enough corporate backing to be able to counter that. \[By\] early 2001, \[we\] demonstrated that we had already achieved enough mainstream creditability and recruited enough backers inside the establishment, that when Microsoft tried \[to attack\], it just bounced."
Early last year, Microsoft launched a bizarre series of attacks against Linux and the open source movement. Bill Gates referred to Linux as "a cancer," while Microsoft executive vice president Jim Allchin implied that open source was un-American and possibly communistic. Then, vice president Craig Mundie published a series of anti-open source papers and actually spoke at an open source event in mid-2001, proposing that Microsoft's Shared Source initiative was a viable alternative to open source that better protected intellectual property.
Raymond, however, says that software is now too complex for one company to do everything. "All of the other \[development\] models have run out of steam," Raymond said. "It's not that open sourcing is perfect, \[or\] in some theoretical sense necessarily the best possible way to do things. The problem is that we don't know anything that works as well. Open-source verification, the many-eyeballs effect, seems to scale pretty well."
If Raymond's right, Linux might prove to be the ultimate test case for those that feel that Microsoft has systematically destroyed any competing innovations that have arisen to challenge its Windows dominance. Hobbled by its legal woes, Microsoft may have blinked at just the right time, providing an opening for a Linux challenger that Microsoft would have surely squashed at any other time in its history.