Halloween II: The Linux Threat

A second "Halloween" document has been allegedly leaked outside of Microsoft and this one purports to be a response to the original Halloween document, written by Microsoft programmer Vinod Valloppillil. Halloween II, which is titled "Linux OS Competitive Analysis: The Next Java VM?", presents a much clearer picture of the Linux threat as seen inside of Microsoft. This threat, which the company downplays in public, extends past the server to the desktop, which is Microsoft's most-coveted jewel. It is supposedly written by a Microsoft employee named Josh Cohen.

"Linux represents a best-of-breed UNIX, that is trusted in mission critical applications, and--due to it's open source code--has a long term credibility which exceeds many other competitive OS's," the author states. "Linux poses a significant near-term revenue threat to Windows NT Server in the commodity file, print and network services businesses...In the worst case, Linux provides a mechanism for server OEMs to provide integrated, task-specific products and completely bypassing Microsoft revenues in this space."

After explaining Linux and its history, the author discusses the numerous services that are provided for free with this UNIX clone.

"Most of the primary apps that people require when they move to Linux are already available for free. This includes web servers, POP clients, mail servers, text editors, etc.," he writes.

One of the most interesting parts of the document discusses Linux's marketshare. According to research presented in the memo, Linux is second only to Windows on the client-side, having blown past the MacOS sometime in 1997. This is particularly significant, with Linux commanding 4.1% of the desktop market, compared to MacOS' 2.9% (Windows has 93%). On the server side, Linux is third (5.8%) behind Windows NT Server (36.6%) and Netware (21.9%).

After evaluating Caldera Linux, the author determined that, while the setup program could use some help, Linux was "slick."

"An advanced Win32 GUI user would have a short learning cycle to become productive," he writes. However, "simple procedures such as reading a file from a floppy disk required jumping into a terminal window, logging in as administrator, and running an arcane "mount" command."

Perhaps most damning: Linux appeared to run faster than Windows on the same hardware.

"I previously had IE4/NT4 on the same box and by comparison the combination of Linux \[with\] Navigator ran at least 30-40% faster when rendering simple HTML \[and\] graphics," he says.

Cohen makes some intriguing conclusions about Linux, including:

  • Linux has a chance at the desktop market.

  • Consumers love \[Linux\].

  • Linux is a very natural choice for "isolated, single-task" servers such as DNS, File, Mail, Web, etc.

  • Stability more than almost any other feature is the #1 goal of the Linux development community (and the #1 cited weakness of Windows)

  • Linux is considered faster than NT in networking, and processes.

  • Due to it's UNIX heritage and Hacker OS background, Linux is \[currently\] a weak client-desktop OS. Additionally, the \[original Halloween\] paper points out why, in a broad sense, \[Open Source Software\] is much more of a server threat than a desktop threat. There are, however, several \[GUI\] initiatives attempting to push Linux as a viable desktop replacement.
And finally, he speculates about a "worst-case scenario" where Linux gets "good enough" for average consumers to use. He sees a day where IBM will adopt Linux as the perfect defense against Windows.

"One 'blue sky' avenue that should be investigated is if there is any way to turn Linux into an opportunity for Microsoft," he writes.

As with the original Halloween document, Eric Raymond has posted a Web friendly version with his own notes interspersed at the Open Source Web site

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