LinuxWorld Expo Linus Torvalds capped an hour of debate over the future of Linux by dismissing the threat posed by Microsoft's Hailstorm caper.
A panel composed of Dirk Hohndel, Brian Behlendorf, Larry Augustin, Torvalds and Sheffield's finest, Jeremy Allison, was agonising over the future of the great open source adventure.
When the subject of Microsoft's .NET arose, a tanned Torvalds (he obviously hasn't spent the summer in San Francisco, but somewhere warmer... like Greenland) dismissed fears that users should be worried about the centralised control implicit in Hailstorm.
"Do not worry, it's not the issue," said Torvalds. "If Microsoft is going to tax everyone on the Internet, don't think the governments will watch their monopoly on tax collection go by." Nation states have as much power as a single corporation, he said. "Trust in Uncle Sam," he said, to great applause.
Behlendorf made a sharp distinction between the components of .NET - dismissing the me-too language C#, acknowledging that the common run-time element was something Sun had done but that yes, we ought to have got around to doing it ourselves, and warning that Hailstorm was the most dangerous portion. "Like Kerberos," he said, "but with one single server." The massive aggregation of user data had its own centrifical force, pulling in Hotmail, MSDN and Encarta users into its gravity field.
Torvalds' genius for project management, and specifically for resolving the most acrimonious disputes amicably is often remarked upon, but here was a perfectly example of it in practice. His soundbyte incited the largely libertarian audience to an ovation, but contained the message that governments do have the power to draw boundaries around private greed.
Yes, they may only be replacing unaccountable private greed with semi-accountable public greed, but that's a distinction that gets amongst advocates of globalisation. Made with throwaway good humour, here was an iron fist in a velvet glove.
The Beast's .NET drew the strongest reactions on the panel. Again, Behlendorf summed things up sweetly with the observation that although single sign-on was much needed, and widely welcomed, "having only one company running the profile server is a bad thing."
Jeremy Allison repeatedly returned to the point that much of the discussion would remain moot unless Microsoft's grip on the distribution and loading of Windows was weakened. While most of the panel wished there was a cleaner, healthier, open version of Hailstorm, Allison said that such efforts would be futile unless the clients could respond in kind:
"Why do so many people use SAMBA?" he asked rhetorically. "It's not because it's a great protocol, but because it's what's shipped with the client."
Loading alternatives, said Allison, remains difficult and a minority pursuit for the technical cognoscenti. Meanwhile world+dog will continue to use what's preloaded, because life is simpler that way.
"You have to break the client monopoly - unless you do you, your alternative infrastructure is irrelevant," he said. ®