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Reports of My Destruction Have Been Greatly Exaggerated, by A. Linux Kernel
Friday, February 25 2005 @ 05:06 PM EST

A lot of you have been emailing me the link to John Dvorak's opinion piece, "How to Kill Linux," about how Microsoft allegedly could kill off Linux. Sometimes when I read things like that article, I hardly know where to begin to unravel the mistakes in thinking.

As I was pondering, and wishing I could go to Rio for the weekend instead, I got a submission, an article by someone who signed it, A. Linux Kernel, who says reports of his destruction have been exaggerated. I was surprised to hear from him, knowing as I do how the kernel likes to stay humbly in the background. Now, I can't swear on a stack of Bibles that this was written by the *real* Mr. Kernel. But if the Linux kernel could speak, and he felt like horsing around, I think this is what he might say.

No, I didn't write it, but it's under my CC license just the same. Enjoy.


Reports of My Destruction Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
by A. Linux Kernel

Oh boy. After a hard day swapping, caching, and scheduling, I settle down to check out the RSS feeds. And what's this? A pundit describing how Microsoft could destroy Linux. Not that that's much new. After all, I seem to remember that Windows 2000 was going to brush me aside. Or was it XP? Or Server 2003? Not so long ago, wasn't it Unixware's LKP that was going to kill me? Or was it Project Janus? Nah, I must be getting mixed up -- it's Longhorn that will destroy Linux.

If I don't die of old age before it's released.

Or Palladium. Or Shared Source. Say, I need more memory to keep track of all the ways folks think they can kill me off.

But this is, I must admit, a new take on the old story. It seems so simple! Just create a proprietary MS Linux, sit back and watch me die. It's such a simple strategy, I wonder why they haven't done it already. You don't suppose there might be a flaw in this scheme do you? (BTW, guys, you're not very thorough. You haven't even finished killing OS/2 yet.) Here's how the article begins, and you can imagine how my eyes got wide when I read it:

"While chatting over dinner with the executives of a middleware company during the recent RSA conference for encryption and security in San Francisco, I heard about a secret project. It concerned the development of a version of Linux that runs smoothly as a task under Windows. The project was completed and then shelved."
Shelved by MS maybe, but the FOSS world has got this working, and unlike the rumoured secret project, you can get it yourself, and see it working.

See me running as a task on Windows (it's not the only option either - QEMU for example.) And has this killed Linux? Err.. no. Because a chain is only as strong as its weakest link - what's the point of running me on a crash-happy virus magnet? Especially one you have to pay for Let's read on:

"The immediate usefulness of Linux running under Windows is obvious. You can use all the Windows drivers for all the peripherals that don't run under Linux."
Firstly, even if I was running on Windows, it doesn't mean I can see all your hardware. Probably I only see your network connection, keyboard, mouse -- things I don't have driver problems with anyway. Case in point: the other day I spent some time running under VMWare. Nice place, I must admit. Some guy plugged in their USB scanner. Did I see the scanner via the Windows driver? No chance. I just had the raw USB data pumped straight through to me. Good job I had SANE to keep me, well, sane.
"That said, there is no way Linux under Windows would be practical with all the overhead involved."
My goodness! QEMU must have been just an amazing dream, then. And VMWare, and BOCHS. . .
"The idea here would be to cut the driver layer out of Windows and attach it to Linux directly."
Letting me use Windows binary drivers? Now, there's a thought. In fact, it's more than a thought. ndiswrapper and CaptiveNTFS both do this. There's nothing to stop similar projects for other devices: why don't we see them?

Because most of the time, with mainstream devices, I work out of the box. For the "savvy user" and OEM builder, the Linux driver "problem" isn't the problem it was. The days when my poor user had to sweat blood to get me onto a laptop are long gone. Sure, if I get slung onto some random old machine there are still wrinkles, but from what I see on the Windows support forums, that's hardly unique.

But sure, you could go ahead and write ndiswrapper-like code for every sort of device out there -- sounds like a lot of work though. Shouldn't they be fixing bugs in IE instead? And don't most of these funny peripherals only do anything useful in conjunction with a Windows program anyway? Hey, perhaps Microsoft want to help with the Wine project! Hmm, doesn't seem likely somehow. Besides, wouldn't all this driver glue code have to be. . .

"Microsoft would be unable to produce such a product without allowing the other vendors access to the driver code as part of the open-source Linux license arrangement (GPL)."
You read my mind, John!
"Open-source law is new and not completely tested."
That's true. Those pesky critters keep running away before we get them into court. Except in Germany. . .
"I'm certain that Microsoft got involved with the SCO versus Linux lawsuit partly to reach a better understanding of how to proceed."
I hardly think MS needed SCO for research -- they can afford their own lawyers, and give them a day off per week from filing dodgy patents to bone up on every FOSS license going. But if they did use SCO for research rather than FUD, they can't be happy with the results. SCO's reply to IBM's Counterclaim 8 amounted to a humiliating acceptance of the GPL's validity. All the tough-talking melted away.
"This concept will benefit only Microsoft and probably result in the death of Linux altogether. Let's call it the lopped-off head approach. Microsoft takes its distribution of Linux and sells it as a lopped-off head. That means tearing away the entire top of Linux from the driver layer -- and that would be MS-Linux."
Tearing off my driver layer? That sounds painful! I may support loadable modules, but it isn't the case that the whole driver layer is a loadable module. You would have to do some major re-rengineering to make my whole driver layer detachable, and it would inevitably cause compatibility problems with existing Linux programs, stability problems, etc. Unstable, incompatible, and pointlessly re-engineered. Well, that's "MS-Linux", I suppose.
" . . . the user could pay for the Windows drivers and attach those to MS-Linux, resulting in an OS that had the PnP benefits of Windows."
Woah, John, I think I'll have to throw an Oops there. Your logic just dereferenced a null pointer. You've taken the whole driver layer out of Linux, and now you're throwing in a Windows driver and expect it to work? That's like attaching wheels to a car with an engine but no transmission.You'll have to write a replacement driver layer that accepts Windows drivers and allows them to work with the Linux kernel, just like ndiswrapper does for the limited case of some wifi cards, in fact.

But John, you don't seriously think this replacement driver layer wouldn't be a derived work of the kernel, do you?

"I see no reason why this could not be kept outside the GPL and actually sold as a licensed product exclusive to Microsoft."
You don't? You must have flunked GPL 101, then. Go sit at the back of PJ's remedial class. I believe registration is still open for her summer school class. And don't talk to that kid Darl -- he's a troublemaker and never pays attention.
"Since plenty of commercial products 'attach' to Linux and seem to be protected from the GPL, I have to assume that the scenario I describe is possible."
You do know the difference between "mere aggregation" and "derived work" don't you, John? Have you been paying attention in GPL class, or just drawing beetles on the back of your exercise book?
"Microsoft's MS-Linux would quickly become the dominant Linux and the company would begin to profit from all the open-source development work that would go into Linux."
Don't you mean: "The MS driver layer would have to be GPL'ed, everyone would use it for those troublesome peripherals, one less reason would exist to ever buy Windows, and MS would lose money?"
"Once the developers saw that happen they'd stop working on Linux and it would die."
I think you meant to write: "Once the MS developers realize they can't get round the GPL this way, they will stop working on the 'headless chicken' project and it will die."

Or do you mean that as soon as a FOSS project benefits the Windows platform, no one works on it any more? That's why we've seen the demise of FireFox, OpenOffice, Apache, PHP.... oh, wait... we haven't.

"After all, who wants to do free work that benefits Microsoft?"
The only beneficiaries would be the hardware manufacturers who only have to write one driver. MS would have inadvertently created a mark II version of UDI.
"At some point in the future Microsoft will make its move on Linux, you can be certain."
In the *future*? Well, a stopped clock is right twice a day, they say. So far, you're half as good. Try installing NTP.
"When MS-Linux is announced, it will be as if Microsoft were doing the world a favor by 'joining' the Linux community. Praise will be heaped on the company. Congratulations will flow."
You mean like the praise that was heaped on Sun when they CDDL'ed Solaris? With praise like that, who needs brickbats? I'll stick my neck out here, and predict (I can be a pundit too, you know) that anything Microsoft does with respect to Linux, even if it is genuinely nice, will be treated with just the tiniest bit of cynicism and scepticism. Their reputation precedes them.

But you know, I feel like indulging John for a moment. Imagine this headless chicken FrankenLinux cousin of mine really turns up. All the kernel developers would have to get the flu or something, so they don't notice the massive GPL violations, and PJ would have to be sent on a cruise to Barbados or someplace, so she can't get online easily and can't notify the inhabited earth.

"Microsoft's MS-Linux would quickly become the dominant Linux."
Err. Why? Because FOSS users are just begging to use MS products? I'll load my "corporate IT manager simulation" module. I can:
A) Buy SuSE or RedHat or Mandrake (or whatever) and get a fully GPL'ed solution, plus be free from lock-in and have the source code to all my drivers, and not have any licensing costs, CALs to pay, etc.


B) I can pay per seat for MS-Linux, get myself locked into MS-Linux, have half my kernel closed-source (and of course if it starts crashing or being insecure from bugs in that portion, I'm SOL), lots of closed-source binary drivers, pay for CALs, submit to license audits.

For what? So that my $70 BrandX scanner might work? Tell you what, why don't I give my scanner away and buy a new one that is supported by Linux! Sure, it'll cost me another $70, but I'll be saving thousands of dollars by not buying MS-Linux.

The sums don't add up, John. The only person for whom they might add up is a single-PC individual who finds computers intimidating and doesn't have the time to do research. But they'd happily buy Windows anyway. (Or a Mac, if they had more taste.) Look at the fate of Caldera's Linux for an example of how 'proprietary' Linux sells like hot cakes. NOT!!

Let me spell it out for you: I get used because I'm open, trusted, free and reliable. As soon as you make me rely on closed-source code, even if somehow you could find a way to do it legally, you'd destroy or erode the very reasons people choose me in the first place.

"The end of Linux will be at hand."
Again? [yawn] Should I repent now, or later? I think I'll wait. After all, the next pundit predicting my death will be along in a minute. The mistake the prophets of my doom make is always the same: they just don't get the GPL.

Microsoft gets it. That's why they hate me and it soooo much.

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