Smashing Windows

Linux, the David of Operating Systems, Poses a Threat to Microsoft's Goliath

WHAT THE INTERNATIONAL programmer community seems to be trying to tell Microsoft is that you can't stop the waves from breaking on a beach. The Linux phenomenon is not an old style, top-down "cathedral" enterprise à la J. P. Morgan or General Motors. It is organized from the bottom up, and it's the first time since the Industrial Revolution that consumers have built their own mass product with their own hands . . . for free. This is not something that can be turned around by courts or the lawyers in the Justice Department. And it won't be stopped by Microsoft.

One must look somewhere besides that software behemoth for the future of the industry. The way experts like Bob Jacobson see it, things will be much different "A.M." (After Microsoft). Jacobson, a senior consultant with the Business Intelligence Center, part of a large industrial research outfit, predicts that Microsoft will break up into five "Baby Softs"--independent companies, each with a share of the company's technological and marketing assets. One of those five would be a "Gates Foundation"--presumably operating in the same vein as Mellon or Rockefeller, with the purpose of quietly influencing public policy while loudly claiming to be acting in the name of the "public interest."

Raymond, in his paper on Linux, best sumed up why the computer industry should soon be following the path carved out by Torvalds: "I think the future of free software will increasingly belong to people who know how to play Linus's game, people who leave behind the cathedral and embrace the bazaar. . . . No commercial developer can match the pool of talent the Linux community can bring to bear on a problem. . . . Perhaps in the end the free-software culture will triumph not because cooperation is morally right or software 'hoarding' is morally wrong (assuming you believe the latter, which neither Linus nor I do), but simply because the commercial world cannot win an evolutionary arms race with free-software communities that can put orders of magnitude more skilled time into a problem."

Research assistance: Mark Maggiotti

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