Linux Don't Blink
Wednesday, July 7, 1999 by Dave Winer.
This morning I'm listening to Elvis Costello's New Amsterdam from the Get Happy!! album.
"Twice shy and dog tired because you've been bitten. Everything you say now sounds like it was ghost-written."
Bitter and ironic poetry. A pitter-patter sing-song rhythm. A European math-major geek-like persona. He's an Elvis, but he's also a Costello!
Ask 29-year-old Linus Torvalds what if Microsoft crushes his Linux. He doesn't care, he'll just keep working on it.
I learned this lesson more than ten years ago. Lotus was constantly launching attacks on ThinkTank, which was our mainstay. Every time they barked, I changed my strategy to get out of their way. Then in 1986 I had what I believed was an unqualified winner in the pipe. I ran into Philippe Kahn, CEO of Borland, on the floor of MacWorld Expo and he told me, as a friend (hah!), that we should get out his way because they were going to launch something on the Mac that would blow us away. I looked him in the eye and told him to suck my dick. They never shipped anything, and we went ahead and shipped the Product of the Year.
To Philippe, who has mellowed over the years and is now on his boat sailing to Asia, all is forgiven, and thanks to contributing to my personal folklore. Bygones are gone. Throw away the memories, keep the lessons. Onward!
A few years later, again on the floor of MacWorld Expo, an Apple program manager says "We're not trying to crush you." I walk away in disgust. No bravado this time. And of course he named their tune, they did crush us (famous last words!), and we let them do it. Yes, attitude counts.
"I found myself down at the dockside, thinking of the old days of Liverpool and Rotherhithe. The transparent people who live on the other side, living a life that is almost like suicide."
Lately I've been writing poetry to Linus on news.userland.com. I wrote a piece on Saturday, and a beautiful discussion followed. Earlier I compared Linus to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, even Buddha. I understand that it's the persona of Linus that I'm writing to and about. He's just a human being. But much more than earlier software icons, Linus has the power to lead and he doesn't give it up.
He doesn't blink. He looks Microsoft in the eye and tells them what I told Philippe. I admire that. And I know it's going to work! It's fun to watch the Microsoft machine rumble into position for a battle that ain't gonna happen. They post bug reports about Linux in the Wall Street Journal and PC WEEK. After a bit of hand-wringing and groveling, what does Linus's community do? They fix the damned bugs. I love it! Whistle while you work.
If you have a winner, the ones you leave behind will always make barking noises. The trick is to know when you have the winner, and stick with it and ignore the barking.
Last week, talking with Victor Raisys, Microsoft's guy watching Linux, a heated conversation -- they were playing the "There have always been a lot of Unixes" tape for me, and I said emphatically, Linux is not Unix. Linux is Lotus in the early days. Linux is Apple. Linux is a bright hope that millions of young programmers have for an independent and free future. In the past it was independence from IBM that mattered, now it's independence from Microsoft.
Linux is an insurance policy that Microsoft will not control us. For me it's a throwback to the bright past where we met the future with open arms. Remember what the first Mac said? Hello! That's all, and that's all it had to say.
At the end of the Microsoft conversation they asked what I would do about Linux if I called the shots at Microsoft. Here's what I told them.
Come out with a low-priced version of NT Server that installs in 15 minutes, and comes up ready to blow dynamic pages out port 80, and does nothing more. No hooks for Office, no FrontPage Express, I even want them to leave out IIS. Just bare-bones fastest-possible NT, no socket limits, Between $0 and $300 retail. One CD. Allow OEMs to customize to their hearts-content. This would enable many Qube-type products to be built around NT, and would keep the pressure on Linux to keep moving.
Do absolutely nothing to interfere with Linux. This time around, if Microsoft screws with it, it'll backfire. There are no VCs controlling Linux to make the same kinds of mistakes Netscape did. Alan Baratz has nothing to say about the future of Linux. There are now millions of developers who do not want to be Microsoft developers. Ultimately Microsoft is going to want the support of these people, I'm sure of it.
As long as we carefully analyze what Microsoft says for nuggets of truth, and know what the relative merits are of NT vs Linux, we win. There is no threat to Microsoft, unless they want us to support their now-inflated pricing structure. I imagine that Steve Ballmer knows this, and the pricing of NT will change to meet Linux squarely in the market, which is where it counts.
Net-net, force Microsoft to market to us, based on our intelligence, not ignorance. The Linux community has done admirably in this way so far, and I see no signs of it changing. It's incredible to see the earnestness and bright eyes. A long time ago, I remember when Microsoft had that kind of brilliance.
Having witnessed the Internet turned into a battlefield, and assessing that at least half of the blame for that belongs to Microsoft, I am in no mood for another contentious, irrelevant do-or-die battle. This time around either Microsoft grows up and learns to be the statesman of the industry that it could be, or we'll do a Linus, and keep doing the work we love, revolutionizing the communication media of the world.
If Microsoft won't give us the server platform we need, it's sitting right here on Linux, ready to go, for a very reasonable price, without any lock-in. (None of the analysts include that in their reasoning, how many dollars is the lack of lock-in worth?)
Finally, I am an Internet developer because it's the platform without the platform vendor. There's enough energy in the platform to make it thru all the turmoil that's sure to come.
Comments are welcome.