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Coordinated FUD
Saturday, October 04 2003 @ 09:36 AM EDT

There is an offensive article on UPI today, "The Bottom Line: Software and Copyright" by Gregory Fossedal. [Update: It's now here, behind a paywall.]

It purports to be about how smart you'd be to invest in Linux instead of proprietary software companies, but it manages to include so much pure FUD, including listing SCO as a Linux company in which you should invest, as well as several plugs for the brilliant Bill Gates, that I thought it was worthwhile to do a little checking on the author and the organizations to which he belongs. First, the FUD.

Here are some examples from the article:

Smart investors are putting their shorts on the computer software industry, with a special emphasis on the pitiful, helpless giants such as Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and even Microsoft. Awash with cash and wishy-washy bureaucracy that would have scandalized their founders 25 years ago, these are the giants that have the farthest to fall -- and will have the most difficult time dealing not only with emerging market piracy, but the more subtle assault of "open source" software termites operating in the U.S. and Western Europe.

Straightforward piracy is an issue solved for the software industry 25 years ago by a brilliant young executive named Bill Gates, who realized that only by basing software on undisclosed "source code" could the industry ever really thrive. Today, however, the quasi-monopoly enjoyed (in various sectors) by Microsoft, Oracle, and Sun is highly vulnerable to outright theft by such nations as Brazil, China, and Russia -- to name just three.

Quasi-monopoly? Why so modest? I believe Microsoft has been officially declared a monopoly. And is it "theft" to avoid a monopoly? Is he really saying that it is a desirable thing to protect monopolies?

All right. Maybe he isn't a deep thinker. He goes on to describe open source, and of course, he gets it wrong, whether through cluelessness or cunning:

Open source can be a misnomer, but in general, open source is a product of thousands of programmers who agree to share their work in developing a joint product with revealed code -- hence, "open source." There are now many programs developed in this way, such as the operating system Linux, which might better be called "mixed source" or "shared proprietary source" -- because under the licensing arrangements for using Linux, programmers who improve or make changes to the system must agree that their innovations become the property of the system.
That is flat wrong. Their "property" remains their own. Linux is a kernel, not an operating system.

Shared proprietary source? This is his definition of open source? I smell a possibility that he's not loaded with tech smarts and didn't bother to do much research either. He goes on to reveal the India/China plot, using words that make it sound like a missile attack or something equally sinister:

According to a reliable U.S. official familiar with Chinese industrial espionage efforts, the use of Linux products by those governments is only the beginning. "The Chinese and the Indians both plan to become a hub for developing countries eager to escape from U.S. software 'hegemony,' if you will," the source said. Today, the People's Bank of China. Tomorrow, a billion desktops in India, another billion in China, and another quarter of a billion in Brazil.
What a dastardly plot. I don't think you need to be a spy, or an analyst for the CIA or anything like that, to understand the appeal open source/free software has anywhere money is tight, including in US companies. Of course, he uses the Marxist word in passing, in addition to the pejorative termite metaphor:
Sun and Oracle have even tried to sidle up to the Linux and open-source movement. In effect, they have invited the termites into their house, hoping that after a little munching a symbiotic relationship can be worked out. "Let them eat Microsoft," is the motto, and, to be sure, there is a special hatred reserved only for Bill Gates among the community of programmers who couldn't get hired, or compete, with the Redmond wunderkind over several generations of products. . . .
Couldn't get hired or compete with Microsoft? Is he kidding? It's Microsoft's terror at Linux's success against it that funds all the FUD. He continues with the insults:
The little competitors, indeed, are already fighting amongst themselves, much as some types of insects and carnivorous fish eat themselves. Heck, they're already suing each other. In this too, the software industry takes much hope, much as the recording industry delighted in its ability to crush this music-sharing program, or that overseas piracy operation. Pirates, one can kill -- but piracy, especially once it is welcomed into the intellectual community, just changes its address. And termites, unless completely exterminated, just keep munching.
He apparently feels the proprietary companies are too sleepy to notice the need to exterminate all the termites, so he then recommends that you sell proprietary software makers' shares and buy the following, and I hope you are sitting down so you don't faint dead away at his brilliance:
On the buy side, there are dozens of feisty young companies -- Red Hat, Sco Group, and VA Software -- that are already taking advantage of the new global paradigm.
Huh? Didn't he get the memo? SCO says it doesn't sell Linux any more. Ah, who cares with FUD? He got to tell you to buy feisty SCO's stock. I wonder if the SEC would care that people buying stock on his recommendation would be buying stock thinking it was Linux and represented the future, according to this article's analysis, whereas in reality it is a UNIX company's stock, which most analysts say is a shrinking market?

Naturally, I was curious as to who this gentleman might be. I had my suspicions that I might find a Microsoft or a SCO connection.

His bio says this:

Gregory Fossedal is chairman of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, a research foundation in Washington, D.C., and has served in this capacity since 1985. He is also the president and chief investment officer of the Democratic Century Fund, established in 1998.
The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution... that seemed to ring a bell. So I head on over to their home page and lo and behold, this is the same organization that put out a paper last year attacking Open Source. Here's a snip from an article at the time, that suggested that their paper was funded by Microsoft:
Is Microsoft behind it?

A libertarian organisation which lists Microsoft as a donor has kicked off a campaign against open source software, and recommended that government and federal institutions keep to proprietary systems. The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, which claims to represent "civil liberty, political equality and economic freedom and opportunity", has posted a document on its website which bashes open source. . .

The 33-page paper, entitled "Opening the Open Source debate", argues that open source software is more likely to be compromised by terrorists than proprietary software.

During a blistering attack, not just on open source but on the General Public Licence (GPL), the report states: "A federal agency's decision to use GPL open source from the public domain must accompany the assumption that potential attackers either already have, or could easily acquire, a duplicate copy of the same exact source code." . .

There is speculation in the open source community that the report is a Microsoft-backed attempt to scare governments away from the increasing interest in open source software.

More coverage of the report pointed out that while it claimed that if the FAA used GPL software they'd have to reveal their source code to hackers, implying this would put planes at risk, that wasn't actually the case, since the GPL doesn't require you to reveal any modifications you make to the source code unless you distribute software, which the FAA doesn't. And, this article added:
Indeed, two recent reports by the Mitre Corp. argue that open-source software provides agencies significant security and cost advantages over commercial software.
In short, the report was laughed at from here to eternity.

I used to have a brother-in-law who was wealthy. I never much liked the guy, but I did find him intriguing, because with all his money, he was always unhappy. I remember one conversation in which he was complaining about a company he had hired to paint his apartment. His whining was that even with all his money he couldn't find a decent painter. Such a problem as this seemed, in the grand scheme, minor to me, but he went on for hours about how no one had any pride in their work any more, and no matter how much money you had, you couldn't buy good workmanship. I thought about my ex-brother-in-law when I read Mr. Fossedal's silly and error-riddled prose. Can't the richest man in the world get more skillful FUDsters than this? Not that I'm complaining.

It all brought back to mind Caldera's Statement of Facts in its legal battle against Microsoft. This is a fascinating document, because it lists all the anticompetitive moves MS made against Caldera's DR DOS software, according to Caldera, including how MS used FUD to destroy its competition. If you were wondering why the SCO story keeps going on and on, consider what happened behind the scenes in the world of PR in the Caldera/MS battle. According to the Statement, MS used FUD to deliberately cause the public to think that DR DOS, Caldera's competing product to MS' DOS, had "compatibility problems" running on Windows when it really didn't and in fact was a superior product. The FUD worked -- DR DOS failed as a product, hence the lawsuit. Here is how they got the press to cooperate with their FUD agenda:

48. . . .As Microsoft's own personnel concede, the purpose of a FUD campaign is to raise an artificial barrier to entry by a competitor, by introducing and maintaining inertia in the decision-making process. . .

123. On October 15, 1990, Microsoft's outside public relations firm, Waggener Edstrom, had advised:

"Over the next couple of months, Kathryn and I are going to be in touch with a lot of editors regarding MS-DOS 5.0. We'll basically be covering all the key editors except for the weeklies and we'll be talking to them about other things. We recommend that we *informally* plant the bug of FUD in their ears. 'Have you heard about problems with DR DOS?' 'That security feature is a neat idea and, gosh,such a feature would be great, but it's just too easily circumvented.' 'Gee, it's unfortunate that DR DOS can't be loaded high all the time. MS-DOS 5.0 can.' We'll do this very tactfully. *If Digital Research came to Microsoft for help making DR DOS work with Windows, would Microsoft help them? Maybe not?". . .
125. In July 1991, Pineda circulated a separate report devoted to his "MS-DOS 5 vs. DR DOS 5 Comparison," which also contained specific speaking points on purported flaws in DR DOS 5.0. Exhibit 141. This summary, drawn as it was from earlier "bug sheets," contained the same misleading information. . . . Moreover, MS-DOS suffered many of the same -- or worse -- problems. . . .

127. Yet when Novell announced in July 1991 its intended merger with DRI, the NSTL report leaped to the fore of Microsoft's FUD campaign. On July 22, 1991, Brad Silverberg outlined the plan to fellow executives: "DR-DOS has lots of compatibility problems. We commissioned NSTL not long ago to run tests and they found many problems with DR-DOS . . .We are engaged in a FUD campaign to let the press know about some of the bugs. We'll provide info a few bugs at a time to stretch it out.". . .

128. Silverberg testified this drip-feed technique was designed "[f]or maximal effect . . . to arm the press with factual information about the shortcomings, incompatibilities and bugs that DR DOS possessed.". . . As Brad Chase stated by e-mail, the purpose of a "slow leak" program was "to short circuit Novell DOS before it gets off the ground," and to "make it hard for customers or oems (ibm???) to consider dr. dos seriously."

So, that's how it's done. So, there's good reason not to be discouraged by the incessant drip of the FUD machine. Just chronicle it, drip by drip. Save the evidence. I don't know if this article is a direct result of such a FUD effort, although if you held a gun to my head and forced me to tell you what I think I'd say I think it is, but I do know that if I were Red Hat or IBM, I'd probably want to depose Mr. Fossedal and find out.

He did get one thing right: GNU/Linux is the future.


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