The first headline I saw when I woke up this morning was, "Microsoft Ponders How to Annihilate Linux." Yipes. That woke me up totally in a split second.
Don't you hate when that happens?
Writing Groklaw is, in some ways, like driving a cab. You spend lots of relaxed time just driving around, observing the scene, looking, looking. Then suddenly, you have to drop everything, put on your "On Duty" sign, and drive fast in the direction of the story.
So I dashed over to read what turned out to be The Inquirer's Charlie Demerjian's interesting account of attending the Microsoft Partners Conference for 2005. The last story I wrote last night before I fell asleep was an article on David Wheeler's account of attending the 6th International Free Software Conference (FISL 6.0) in Brazil, and what a metaphor the contrast makes. Really. Put them side by side on your screen. Ask yourself which conference you'd rather sit through. It's no wonder Gates moans about not being able to attract new, young programmers.
In a way, an argument could be made that it's not a fair comparison, because the MS conference was a marketing event, and that is always boring. Well, LinuxWorld is essentially a marketing event too, and it wasn't boring at all. I also don't remember anyone even mentioning Microsoft. Maybe someone did and I missed it, but for sure there was no conference set aside on how to market Linux so as to beat Microsoft. And yet, it is.
Here's a snip from Charlie's article:
When talking about Linux, Kevin Johnson kept referring to the Get The Facts web site. They kept talking about how using the site and getting people, "engaged around Get The Facts". This would not bother me if they didn't keep referring to several thoroughly debunked, and mostly MS-funded studies. I was hoping for a real reason not to go for Linux, but nothing factual was presented, just spin. Color me stupid for expecting reality, but I didn't know how they used that site.
They did present a few interesting numbers though. First is a couple of winback case studies, with National Enterprise Systems and Independence Air named as now ex-Linux users. They also quoted some IDC numbers about shipments of Linux on x86 hardware, they showed MS at about 65% of the market in 2000 moving to about 75% in 2004. At the same time Linux went from about 10 to 15%. The take-home message was that partners can win against Linux, and it's growth is not at MS's expense. Without fine print, I can't go any deeper than that, but I am sure someone will it that after reading this.
Overall, for a pump-up, the resellers conference it was well done. The right things were said at the right times, and the sticky issues were glossed over. The only thing lacking was a coherent anti-Linux strategy. Maybe next year.
Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. They don't talk in public about the anti-Linux strategy. "It's a cancer" didn't work out, for one thing. You need leaked memos and emails to find out the full strategy. Someday, in some future antitrust trial, maybe we'll find out all the details, all the dirt, but probably not from emails. Microsoft is always slow to grasp tech, as per their slow comprehension of the Internet, because all they think about is marketing and annihilating competition, but once they get it, it's got. They understand about email and litigation now. Maybe that will inspire them to start thinking about privacy. They are thinking about security issues. And it's about time they solve them, too, don't you think? Especially when you think about the fact that neither GNU/Linux nor Apple has that problem. If the only way Microsoft can solve its security problems is by DRM and controlling your computer's strings behind your back, opt out. GNU/Linux is here. It doesn't spy on you. And you won't be plagued with viruses and the usual MS malware.
For sure though, there's more to Microsoft's anti-Linux strategy than the "Get the 'Facts'" silliness. Speaking of silliness, here's my personal favorite this week, in an article about Microsoft updates for SQL Server, Visual Studio and BizTalk Server: "The company, well known for its numerous product delays and non-stop testing until the gold code is solid, promised to deliver the software updates this fall after an original launch of this summer was scrapped in favor of additional testing." Priceless, no?
After covering the SCO saga, I believe I can help Charlie with the fine print, or at least get him started on a conceivable Microsoft anti-Linux strategy, the PR part, anyway.
It begins with funding a nuisance lawsuit, sprinkle liberally with comments from shills who love Microsoft, or their money, singing the indemnification song and predicting the litigation's danger to Linux. Have them say it might completely destroy Linux. Do some "studies" that show Linux uptake is slowing and mention that the reason is fear of the litigation. Have some pals buy an analyst company, and then their analysts can warn about the danger too.
Have Ballmer give a speech in Asia, or any place that is switching hogwild for Linux, and warn them that Linux has legal issues that can bite them, and have your salesmen mention that in their sales pitch. Use the phony baloney lawsuit as evidence. Next announce indemnification for your own products and make a pleasant contrast. Have the lawyers delay and delay and delay any litigation outcome to maximize PR benefits. Cross your fingers behind your back and say Microsoft is cheaper to run than Linux. Play with numbers until it can be "proven" in your paid-for "studies". A mainframe computer might help out there.
Have your PR firm hire astroturfers who will pretend to be Linux folks and have them leave comments all over the Linux Internet landscape. Have them lay low for a while, just planting helpful comments in numbers no one who wasn't paid to do it could possibly match, so they become fixtures. Then subtly start to undermine. ("I may be modded down for this, but Microsoft does have a point..."; "I used to love Groklaw, but now..."; use the same technique to point out "valid" points the phony baloney litigator has. They don't have to be true. Your overarching goal is to raise doubts and to lower respect for the Linux web site. Raise doubts about the web site's editor at all costs, so folks will discount what they read there.)
If the number of astroturfers is large enough, you'll definitely get some weak-minded individuals to follow along. It's all in the numbers. If there are enough, you could even take over Slashdot-type sites, because the real community members will get disgusted and leave, and numbers can win, as "The Wisdom of Crowds" points out, by tilting the balance so undecideds are influenced your way by the human tendency to want to be in the larger group. Work the mod system, so pro-Microsoft comments get modded up, Insightful, and comments you don't like get modded down to the center of the earth, so no one sees them. If there is no mod system, work in groups, so the group can thank the first operative for his comment, and so forth.
Take out ads, too, on the web site you are undermining, if it is a commercial site. It makes the publisher think twice about attacking you and inclines them to publish anti-Linux stories to please you and to prove they are not being biased, and then more readers will leave.
Then have your operatives stir up created "issues" and have them leave in a huff and set up other web sites where it gets talked about forever, around and around, in a mind-numbing detail that no normal person could maintain, because no normal person would care. Moderation issues are easy to manufacture, and some in the community will be blinded by it and follow you. Don't really leave the other sites, though. Keep striking with anonymous comments that hopefully get the web site sued and definitely make it look bad. The average passerby will think your astroturfers are community members, so you can paint the entire FOSS community in a bad light. Point out particularly awful comments you've had your people leave as examples of what's wrong with the community. If the comments get moderated away, complain about free speech and intolerance. Keep raising your issues, so new readers get reached. Point out some "valid" points in the phony baloney lawsuit, over and over. If there is a reaction, whine about bias and narrow-mindedness and that your free speech rights are being trampled on. If you are moderated, complain loudly. Get friendly journalists to write about how rude the community is, when it's actually you. Laugh.
Hire detectives to destroy the reputations, if possible, of any prominent figures in the FOSS community. Friendly journalists can be used to help dig up dirt, or if there isn't any, to manufacture some. They can just use innuendo if you fail utterly to find anything. Litigation can be used to help out, particularly in finding the location of those you wish to harass more fully if you could just find them. A few surrogate lawsuits by individuals pro se that just happen to say what you'd like said could be used. That keeps the costs down, and you can say anything you wish in a complaint without getting sued for slander, and because it's a surrogate plaintiff with no known direct ties to you, you can throw in the kitchen sink. It doesn't matter if they lose in the end. Because you have no ethical restraints, since all you care about is annihilating the competition, you can have the surrogate say absolutely any awful or stupid thing you like, and that bad publicity will spread like smoke in the air. Some in the community will foolishly explain how the loony lawsuits could improve, and you can take notes and either improve the loony litigation or save your notes for the next one.
Just keep the concepts in the air, in the media. Unmoderated boards are your friend, and you can plant your poison all over the place and force people to think about it and react to it. Some will eventually be converted, given enough "I think loony plaintiff number 1 might win" comments. If anyone dares to contradict your nonsense, attack them personally and with scorn, to influence the others. If they don't contradict you or moderate you, point to the comments as examples of how unreliable that web site is for publishing such off-the-wall comments. You can't lose, no matter what happens, unless folks are intelligent enough to figure out eventually that your operatives are operatives, and that takes time.
Meanwhile you are buying your way out of litigation by the dozens yourself, and making "friends". Undermine the standards process so as to exile your competition from the mainstream. Tell your Congress critters you need legislation. Give them any excuse, but make sure Linux is perceived as a security risk or as suitable only for universities. Attack the GPL as antibusiness, unConstitutional, whatever. Get all major companies to cross license patents with you, any way you can. Threaten litigation if they don't want to sign. And then patent, patent, patent. "Reform" patent laws, where they exist, to favor Microsoft. Try to get patent laws passed where they don't currently allow software patents so that they do.
Since no one can develop software any more in the US without stepping on someone's patent, you can have fun for years litigating over patents, or get another surrogate to do so. No one in the patent peace club will be able to block you, because of the deals you made, if you pick the patents carefully. FOSS has so few patents, they can't join the Rich Boys' Patent Club. The Club will, of course, have very little patent litigation because of the cross-licensing deals, and it will appear that only Linux has issues with patents. Paint it as IP theft, those pirates. Link Linux with music piracy for the cherry on top, even though you know there is no connection. Rinse and repeat.
So, Charlie, I hope this helps you to figure out an anti-Linux strategy Microsoft could use.
I know. I know. You meant that Microsoft doesn't have an effective anti-Linux marketing strategy. And you are correct. They don't have a fair-fight strategy. But that doesn't mean they don't have an anti-Linux stategy.
Oh, one final step. Get ready for an antitrust lawsuit someday charging you with all of the above.