An internal Microsoft document leaked over the weekend confirms that the company view Open Source Software (OSS) in general, and Linux in particular, as real threats.
The document, which Microsoft confirmed as genuine yesterday, sees the "primary threat" as being to NT Server, but has little to offer in defence apart from the old Microsoft "proprietary protocols" gag.
Author Vinod Valloppillil puts forward "some specific attacks on Linux" which Microsoft can employ. All of the "standard product issues for NT vs Sun apply to Linux", he says. It's not entirely clear what he means here, as the Linux attack on NT will at least initially come at the commodity x86 server end, and Microsoft at least publicly denies that it sees Linux as a threat in the enterprise. By 'promoting' Linux in this way, Microsoft could accidentally give credence to the efforts various developers are making to push it into the enterprise space. Microsoft should also "fold extended functionality into commodity protocols/services and create new protocols".
Linux developer Eric Raymond, who has posted an annotated version of the document here, comments that "what the author is driving at is nothing less than trying to subvert the entire 'commodity network and server' infrastructure (featuring TCP/IP, SMTP, HTTP, POP3, IMAP, NFS and other open standards) into using protocols which, though they might have the same names, have actually been subverted into customer- and market-control devices for Microsoft". This seems a fair interpretation.
Microsoft habitually attempts to pull standards out of the public domain by 'enhancing' them for Windows, and thus breaking everybody else's versions. It is, however, remarkable that this should be proposed within a discussion document which appears to have been widely circulated within Microsoft.
In addition to recommending moving the goalposts, the author considers how Microsoft could capture some of the mindshare of the OSS community, and here he's obviously on shaky ground. "The ability of the OSS process to collect and harness the collective IQ of thousands of individuals across the Internet is simply amazing. More importantly, OSS evangelisation scales with the size of the Internet much faster than our own evangelisation efforts appear to scale." (our italics) His suggestions totter on the brink of breaking the Microsoft business model. "Be more liberal in handing out source code licences to NT to organisations such as universities and certain partners," provide free tools, "put out parts of the source code to generate hacker interest in adding value to MS-sponsored code bases… provide more extensibility [by] documenting/publishing some internal APIs as unsupported... Monitor OSS news groups. Learn new ideas and hire the best/brightest."
So Microsoft should try to turn NT into a sort of Microsoft-owned Linux, and it should also adopt the Linux OSS development environment internally, and use its bucks to buy up OSS talent. If Microsoft tried this, it quite obviously wouldn't work -- OSS developers work the way they do because it is open source, and opening little bits of NT isn't going to convince them. At this very moment, they're no doubt rolling in the aisles of the Linux List. But Microsoft can't try it anyway.
The traditional Microsoft model the author touched on earlier requires ownership and leverages market share from closed systems. Opening the model to any extent undermines it. So what the document really tells us is that Microsoft is figuring, but hasn't figured it out yet. ®