War on Two Fronts: The U.S. Justice Department, Open Source,
and Microsoft, 1995-2000
Paul E. Ceruzzi
National Air & Space Museum
published: 13 September 2002
this material has been prepared for a Second Edition of A
History of Modern Computing, by the author, to be published
by MIT Press in 2002. MIT Press will assume the copyright
for the printed version.)
in the mid 1990s, the dominance of Microsoft in the arena
of personal computer software was attacked on two fronts.
One was an antitrust suit brought against Microsoft by the
U.S. Justice Department. The other was the enthusiastic embrace
of a rival operating system, Linux, that was available for
"free" (in a carefully-defined way, as the paper
explains). Both assaults were based on technical, social,
political, and even emotional concerns and issues. This paper
examines each attack, and attempts to place them in historical
context. While it is too soon to know how they will turn out,
enough has happened to provide at least a beginning of a history.
Microsoft Corporation, Linux, open source, UNIX
The U.S. Justice Department vs. Microsoft
commercial, aired during the third quarter of the game, was
the most memorable part of the broadcast of the January 1984
Super Bowl. The Macintosh, Apple assured us, would usher in
a new era of personal computing, and therefore the year 1984
would not be one of dreary conformity and oppression as prophesied
by George Orwell's novel 1984. A revolution in personal
computing was indeed in the works, and the Macintosh was leading
the way. Unfortunately for Apple, it was Microsoft, not Apple,
who brought the revolution to a mass market. That happened
not in 1984, the year the Mac appeared, but in 1992, when
Microsoft began shipping version 3.1 of its Windows program.
[end of page 1] In 1984, Apple hoped that the Mac would bring
the innovative ideas from the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center,
ideas already present in a few personal computer systems,
to the consumer. A dozen years later, Microsoft, not Apple,
would dominate personal computing. And that domination, in
turn, would lead to its entanglement in a bitter antitrust
Just as IBM spent
a significant fraction of its resources during the 1970s facing
a challenge by the U.S. Justice Department, so too is Microsoft
in the same situation, following a similar filing against
it in 1997. In November 2001 the Federal government announced
a settlement, but several states, and the European Union,
refused to go along and are continuing to press charges. Almost
daily, the business press reports whenever a judge or lawyer
from either side makes a statement or renders a ruling. Until
the case is settled, one can only make provisional comments
about its significance. One lesson of the IBM trial, however,
applies to the present case against Microsoft: the Justice
Department once again does not recognize how advancing technology
may render the lawsuit irrelevant. What is the Microsoft-equivalent
of the personal computer, whose appearance in the midst of
the IBM trial was ignored as the litigants fought over mainframe
dominance? It is too early to tell, although I will discuss
some candidates later. What is certain is that advances in
computing already threaten, and will continue to threaten,
Microsoft's ability to dominate personal computing, based
on its Windows and Office software.
policies of Microsoft and Intel gave rise to clone manufacturers,
like Dell, Compaq, and Gateway, who provided choices unavailable
to Apple customers. That yielded a greater variety of products
and, above all, lower prices. Windows version 3.1, the introduction
of the Pentium processor, and the combining of applications
software into a suite called Microsoft Office, together gave
consumers approximately eighty percent of what the Macintosh
was offering, at a lower price. To Apple's surprise (and to
the chagrin of Mac fans), that percentage was good enough
to tip the balance, perhaps forever, away from Apple. By 1995
the advantage of Apple's more elegant design no longer mattered,
as the Microsoft/Intel combination became a standard, like
COBOL in the 1960s. As with COBOL, what mattered was the very
existence of a standard, not the intrinsic value or lack thereof
of the software.
One could begin
this story of Microsoft's triumph and troubles at any number
of places, but the introduction of the Macintosh conveniently
allows us to introduce several critical factors. The first
was that when the Mac appeared in 1984, it had a magnificent
user interface but almost no applications softwareprograms
that people actually bought personal computers for. The most
interesting application that it had was MacPaint, a drawing
program descended from the pioneering work at Xerox, and something
that no software for IBM compatibles could approach. [end
of page 2] But for word processing, an application that any
serious new computer had to have, Apple offered only MacWrite,
which took advantage of its graphical interface, but which
otherwise was extremely limited in capability.
Both MacPaint and MacWrite were developed in-house.
Early Mac customers
could also get a spreadsheet: Multiplan, developed by Microsoft
for other computers but ported to the Mac. Although some popular
accounts enjoy setting up Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as mortal
enemies, for much of this period the two men had a cordial
and mutually beneficial business relationship. At the onset
of the Mac's development, in June 1981, Jobs and Jef Raskin
(who had the initial idea for the Macintosh) met with Gates,
and in January of the following year Microsoft agreed to develop
software for the new machine.
Gates needed little
convincing of where personal computing was going. Even as
Microsoft was negotiating to supply DOS for the IBM PC in
1980, Gates hired a programmer who would take the company
in the opposite direction. That was Charles Simonyi, a native
of Hungary who learned how to program first on a Soviet-built
vacuum tube computer called the Ural-II, then on a Danish
transistorized computer that had an advanced Algol compiler
installed on it. In the 1970s Simonyi worked at Xerox PARC,
where he developed a word processor called Bravo for the Alto
workstation. Bravo is often credited with having the first
true WYSIWYG ("What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get") display,
a concept that other Xerox alumni brought to Apple.
In 1985 Microsoft
produced another spreadsheet, Excel, for the Macintosh, which
took advantage of all that the Macintosh interface had to
offer. Excel was a success and helped Apple get through a
difficult period when Mac sales were in danger of completely
drying up. Mac users finally had a spreadsheet that was comparable
to Lotus 1-2-3 on the IBM PCs. For its efforts, Microsoft
gained something too: besides producing a successful product,
Microsoft programmers learned how to develop software for
a windows-based interfacesomething that Lotus and Word
Perfect would have a hard time learning.
The ultimate impact
of hiring Simonyi, and of these interactions between Microsoft
and Apple, was that Bill Gates decided to recreate the Macintosh
experience on the Intel 80x86 platform. Consider the context
of that decision. In the mid-1980s, "Windows" was
but one of many graphical systems (e.g., VisiOn, GEM, et al.)
proposed for IBM compatibles. And Microsoft's applications
programs, like Multiplan, were not as well regarded by industry
critics as programs like Lotus 1-2-3 or Word Perfect. The
Windows model was also being challenged by a competing idea,
mainly from Lotus: that of a single program, running
under DOS, that combined spreadsheets, databases, and word
processing. Lotus offered such a program called Symphony for
the IBM PC and was working on one for the Mac called Jazz.
At Ashton-Tate, the leading supplier of database software
for the PC, a Xerox PARC alumnus named Robert Carr was developing
a similar program called Framework.
It turned out
that keeping the applications separate, while insisting that
each of them adhere to a common graphical interface, would
That was what Jobs insisted for all Macintosh developers,
and Gates made it the focus (slightly less sharp) at Microsoft.
Simonyi developed a system of programming that allowed Microsoft
to manage increasingly larger and more complex programming
jobs as the company grew. The style involved a way of naming
variables, and was called "Hungarian," an inside
joke referring to its incomprehensibility to anyone not familiar
with Microsoft's programming, like Simonyi's native Hungarian
language supposedly is to speakers of other European languages.
If Hungarian captured
the spirit if not the letter of formal computer science, so
too did Microsoft's management of software development. Although
the technique had been used elsewhere, Microsoft embraced
it and applied it on a large scale not seen before, and in
doing so it broke radically from the way large projects were
managed at mainframe software houses. At Microsoft, programmers
working on a section of a new product were required to submit
their work to a central file at the end of each day, where
overnight it would be compiled, along with everyone else's,
into a daily "build."
If your contribution caused the central file to crash, you
were responsible for fixing it. That build then became the
basis for the next day's work.
As soon as the build became marginally functional, members
of the programming team were required to use it, regardless
of how inefficient that might be. This requirement made life
difficult, especially when the software was in an early stage
and little of it worked well, but it kept the programmers
focused on shipping a finished product of high quality. This
process, too, had an evocative name: "eating your own
The public has since become aware of the large fortunes amassed
by Microsoft programmers who worked there long enough to have
their stock options vest. Less well-known is the dog's life
of no sleep, eating out of vending machines, endless staring
into a computer screen, no social or family life, and other
amenities for a programmer caught in the "death march"
of fixing a "broken" build while getting a program
finished to ship on time.
effect of these efforts was a steady stream of ever-improved
versions of Windows and an ever-expanding suite of applications.
Word and Excel were the two pillars of applications software,
soon joined by the database Access, the presentation program
PowerPoint, the management planning program Project, and a
host of others (see table below). Microsoft purchased
many of these from smaller, independent companies and then
reworked them to conform to the Windows interface.
Major applications were combined into an applications suite
called Microsoft Office.
its earliest days Microsoft was a supplier of language compilers;
then it became known as the supplier of operating systems
for the PC. [end of page 4] By 1991 over fifty percent of Microsoft's
revenues came from applications, especially Office. The resulting
juggernaut of Windows and Office rolled over IBM and Digital
Research among the operating system suppliers, and Lotus,
Ashton-Tate, and Word Perfect among the applications providers.
By the mid-1990s, many independent software companies supplied
applications for the Windows platform, but only a few were
of significant size, and fewer still offered word processing,
database, or spreadsheet applications.
Selected Chronology of Microsoft Software, 1983-2001
[end of page 5]
Manager" announced, not shipped
for PC (DOS)
Chart; Word for Macintosh
2.0 for PC (DOS); Excel for Macintosh
(later PowerPoint); Excel for PC (Windows)
for Windows 1.0; Office
95; Network (MSN); Internet Explorer 1.0
Explorer 3.0; Exchange
97; Internet Explorer 4.0
When that juggernaut
finally caught the attention of antitrust lawyers at the U.S.
Justice Department, few outside of Microsoft were surprised,
as pressure had been building up to do something to stop the
company. The specific action that triggered the lawsuit was
Microsoft's bundling a Web browser into Windows. In December
1994, Microsoft paid Spyglass for a license to use its work
as the basis for a Web browser, which Microsoft renamed Internet
Explorer. (Spyglass, like Netscape, descended from Mosaic
at the University of Illinois.) In the summer of 1995, just
after Netscape's public offering, Microsoft offered a version
of Spyglass's browser as part of Windows. From this point
Microsoft followed a familiar road: it issued successive versions
of the browser, each one having more features and greater integration
with the base operating system's functions. Note that by bundling
Internet Explorer into Windows and selling it at a single
price, Microsoft effectively prevented Spyglass from selling
a Windows version of its browser.
4.0, introduced in the fall of 1997, was just another new
version to Microsoft. It was something else entirely to Netscape
and to the Justice Department. In their view, Microsoft's
tight integration of IE 4.0 went too far. There had been plenty
of early warnings of trouble. With the fast pace of events,
few remembered these warnings by 1997. What follows is a brief
overview of only the most visible. Some of the colorful phrases
that arose in connection with those actions are also introduced.
The first indication
of a legal issue did not involve Microsoft but did introduce
a phrase that would figure in later trials. This was a suit
filed in 1987 by Lotus against a company called Paperback
Software, established by Adam Osborne of portable computer
fame. Paperback was selling a spreadsheet that functioned
identically to 1-2-3, but at a fraction of the price.
Lotus charged that Paperback, even if it did not copy or steal
Lotus's code, nonetheless copied the "look and feel"
of 1-2-3, and that was illegal. While that lawsuit was in
progress, in 1988 Apple sued Microsoft (and Hewlett-Packard)
for copying the "look and feel" of the Macintosh
in version 2.0 of Windows. Apple and Microsoft had signed
a licensing agreement, but Apple charged that it had only
licensed the Macintosh interface for Windows 1.0. It is worth
noting that by this time the head of Apple was John Sculley,
not Steve Jobs. Jobs not only admitted but even boasted of
having stolen the graphical interface from Xerox PARC.
Throughout 1989 the case dragged on, eventually to be overtaken
by events. Both parties also realized that they had a fundamental
need to do business with one another, a need that went back
to the founding of both companies in the 1970s.
In 1990 the Federal
Trade Commission investigated Microsoft in connection with
its agreements with IBM over the development of a joint IBM/Microsoft
operating system, which IBM marketed as OS/2. The FTC had
also investigated a charge that in 1990, Microsoft gained
access to details of a prototype pen-based computer developed
by a start-up called GO, and then announced at a trade show
that it would soon integrate pen-based input into Windows
(something Microsoft never really did). [end of page 6] The
effect was to immediately dry up all financial support for
GO, which eventually folded.
This technique was known by the phrase "Fear, Uncertainty,
and Doubt," or "FUD." It was a charge that
Control Data leveled against IBM in the 1960s for the same
reason, when IBM announced its System/360, Model 91 to compete
with Control Data's supercomputer. Who would buy a small company's
product when the dominant vendor promised that the same technology
would soon be part of its mainstream line?
Another phrase, which emerged at this time, was that Microsoft's
actions against GO amounted to "cutting off its air supply":
making it impossible for GO to sell its product or to raise
money. Some accused Microsoft of doing that to Spyglass as
well, when it bundled Internet Explorer. Beginning in 1999
and into 2001, litigants, journalists, and judges alike would
parse this phrase at great length, as it applied-or not-to
The Justice Department
threatened to sue Microsoft in 1994 over bundling of products
into Windows, but it dropped the suit after Microsoft entered
into a Consent Decree. Microsoft promised not to engage in
the practice of "tying" sales of one product to
another: that is, insisting that customers who bought Windows
also buy another Microsoft product. This concept of the tie-in
was well understood and had historical roots in early twentieth-century
antitrust legislation. Although Microsoft carefully guarded
the source code for Windows, it agreed to make available the
parts of Windows code that interacted with applications programs,
the so-called "Applications Program Interface,"
or "API." Thus, for example, developers of a database
program were assured that their product would, in theory,
work as smoothly with Windows as any database developed by
However, the company
developed a Windows pricing policy that was less magnanimous.
By 1995 consumers rarely bought Windows in a "shrink-wrapped"
package and installed it themselves; instead they bought a
computer on which Windows was already installed at the factory.
That brought distribution costs, already low, even lower;
the computer companies could negotiate a low price for Windows,
passing on part of the savings to consumers and taking care
of the cumbersome installation process. By the Consent Decree,
Microsoft could not insist that anyone who bought a computer
from, say, Compaq had to buy Windows, too. However,
Microsoft billed Compaq on a "per processor" basis,
not on the actual numbers of Windows programs installed. Therefore
Compaq had to pay for a copy of Windows even if it sold a
computer that had another operating systemor no
operating systeminstalled on it. Legal, but not a policy
to calm the growing army of Microsoft critics.
In 1995, Microsoft
announced that it would buy Intuit, the maker of the financial
program Quicken and one of the few independent suppliers of
an application that had a commanding market share. [end of
page 7] After initiating the purchase (and, critics charged,
learning the techniques of Intuit's best programmers), the
acquisition was dropped when the Department of Justice objected.
Clearly sentiment was building up against Microsoft.
That brings us
to the fall of 1997 and Internet Explorer, version 4.0. For
Netscape the case was complicated. Bundling Internet Explorer
implied that Microsoft was guilty of a tie-in, making it impossible
for Netscape to sell its browser. But when in December 1994
Netscape posted a preliminary version of its Navigator on
a Web server, users could download it for free.
In fact, the trade press called that a brilliant marketing
innovation by Netscape. By giving away the browser, Netscape
would "lock in" customers who, from that moment
onward, would be captive to a Netscape standard. The browser
was free to individuals. Businesses were charged a modest
licensing fee. The company assumed that once they established
their browser as a standard, everyone would pay for other
Netscape products that adhered to it.
For a while the
strategy worked brilliantly. So great was the interest in
Web browsers in general, and Netscape in particular, that
it was able to offer shares to the public in August 1995 before
the company was profitable. Economists wrote of the way Netscape
exploited the phenomenon of "lock-in," and of the
"tipping point" where one standard overtakes over
anotherand these mattered more than whether or not Netscape
was charging for its products.
The soaring price for the stock made multimillionaires of
its employees (on paper at least). The Internet madness began.
focused on the introduction of Windows 95, but it was aware
of what was happening to the Internet. Microsoft's critics
were gloating over how, in his book The Road Ahead
published in 1995, Gates missed the biggest thing on that
road, namely the World Wide Web.
The critics were wrong: the book frequently describes a future
based on networked computers. It just got the details about
the Web wrong. Most critics failed to note the passages in
The Road Ahead where Gates wrote of how IBM and Digital
Equipment Corporation failed to sense a sea change in computing
and stumbled badly.
Gates implied that Microsoft faced the same risk.
As the release
of Internet Explorer 4.0 approached, the company's public
relations apparatus kicked into high gear and touted the story
of how Gates, unlike his "hero" Ken Olsen at DEC,
listened to the message of his troops in the field.
The stories told of how Microsoft recruiters visited college
campuses and found students and professors conducting their
coursework by email and file transfers. Internal memos and
transcripts of speeches, released to the press, revealed a
fear among Microsoft employees that a properly-designed Web
browser could replace the Windows desktop that users saw when
they turned their computers on. On December 7th and 8th, 1995,
Gates spoke with analysts, to whom he declared "the sleeping
giant has awakened"a reference to the American
response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 54 years before.
[end of page 8] Microsoft won a key battle in March 1996,
when America Online agreed to provide its customers with Web
browsing through Internet Explorer instead of Netscape's browser.
From this point
on, the sequence of events gets murky, and it is impossible
to summarize in a few pages what has taken the courts several
years, unsuccessfully, to straighten out. A shelf of books
has already appeared on the trial, and once it is settled
there will be more. The simplest description of the charge
against Microsoft is that Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0 violated
the Consent Decree by being tied too closely to Windows. That
is, personal computer users, who by 1997 were overwhelmingly
using Windows, could not easily access the Web using Netscape's
or any other browser, but rather were steered too strongly
to IE. A corollary to the charge was that by bundling IE into
Windows, the browser was essentially free, for individuals
as well as for business customersan action that Microsoft
took primarily to cut off Netscape's major source of revenue.
In its defense,
Microsoft made blunders that led prosecutors to resurrect
charges that otherwise might have remained buriedcharges
of holding back the details of APIs from third-party developers,
for example. Microsoft's stormy relations with IBM during
the development of OS/2 also resurfaced. In the fall of 1997
Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer blurted out, in a speech
to employees, "to heck with [Attorney General] Janet
Reno!" In the summer of 1998, Gates gave a deposition
on video, in which he appeared nervous, evasive, and inarticulatethe
polar opposite of the confident public image he so carefully
cultivated. His evasiveness drew parallels with a video deposition
by President Clinton, who was then sparring with lawyers over
his involvement with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.
A good portion of the trial was devoted to the question of
whether one could remove the IE icon from the Windows desktop,
and whether such a removal, if it could be done, implied that
Microsoft was following the Consent Decree against a tie-in.
During the discovery process, internal email messages residing
on Microsoft's company servers were introduced into the record,
causing further embarrassment.
made blunders, too. The worst was an interview by Judge Thomas
Penfield Jackson, in which he flatly stated his prejudice
against Microsoft. That was enough to get most of his judgment
overturned in June 2001, and to have Jackson removed from
afford to wait for things to settle down before writing a
chronicle of these events, but historians do have an obligation
to assert independence from the findings of the courts. Historians
did this, with some difficulty, when they wrote about the
invention of the electronic digital computer itself, an invention
that the courts have credited to John V. Atanasoff. Atanasoff's
invention happened 60 years ago. Regardless of how the Microsoft
trial is settled, some historical themes still apply. One
clue may be found in a statement by Judge Jackson, made in
November 1999, that "There exists no commercially viable
alternative [to Windows] to which [customers] could switch
in response to a substantial and sustained price increase
or its equivalent by Microsoft."
[end of page 9] That sounds too close to the statement made
by a government economist after the government dropped its
suit against IBM in the 1980s.
From the perspective
of the past fifty years of computing, one could conclude that
Microsoft's brave attempt to avoid the pitfalls that caught
DEC and IBM may give it some breathing space but not for long.
It has no choice but to accommodate itself to the Internet
and its accessibility to the consumer via the World Wide Web.
I will refrain from further speculation, but I do wish to
mention one example that illustrates what is happening.
threat of networking, Microsoft introduced a proprietary network,
MSN, in 1995, and a "groupware" communications system,
Exchange, in 1996. These were aimed at America Online and
Lotus Notes, respectively. It also introduced a full-featured
email program called Outlook. But as the Web exploded, Microsoft
had to face a new threat: the advent of free services like
Yahoo! that offered mail, news, chat, and a friendly on-ramp
(called a "portal") to the Information Highway.
In 1997 Microsoft purchased (for $400 million) a mail program
called Hotmail to counter this threat. Hotmail was already
growing rapidly and soon became Microsoft's biggest presence
on the Web.
MSN was reconfigured to be an Internet portal rather than
a proprietary network, and Microsoft's market share for these
services began to grow rapidly. Not only was Hotmail free,
it was only loosely coupled to Windows. And it ran on UNIX
machines, not Windows NT, and continued to after Microsoft
bought it. Thus even Microsoft violated the sacred dictum
of "eating your own dog food."
with IBM's introduction of the Personal Computer, with its
Intel processor, Microsoft software, ASCII codes, and an open
architecture should be obvious. Microsoft derives most of
its revenues from successive versions of Windows and a few
applications tightly coupled to it; thus it will have to adapt
or lose its place as the leading personal computer software
company. Even if Microsoft does adapt successfully, it will
be a different company. Again, consider the example of IBM,
which under the leadership of Louis Gerstner successfully
adapted to the changing computing field after 1991. IBM today
is a successful and profitable company, but it is not the
mainframe company it was in 1980, and it no longer dominates
and controls the computer industry as its critics charged
it would after the lawsuit against it was dropped.
[end of page 10]
In 1988 the late
Seymour Cray gave one of his rare public appearances, in which
he described plans to build a new supercomputer with chips
made from gallium arsenide. A member of the audience asked
him what it was like working with this unusual material, whose
properties were far less understood than those of silicon,
to which Seymour is said to have replied, "Well, if you
can pronounce it, I guess that's the hardest thing about working
That also applies
to Linux, which since 1995 has been at the center of a highly-visible
movement to provide an alternative operating system to Microsoft's
Windows, and to break out of the Babel of dialects that was
threatening Unix after 1990. Linux is the creation of Linus
Torvalds, born in 1969 in Finland, where his name is pronounced
"Lee-noose." The name is not rare in Finland, but
his parents named him after the American biologist Linus Pauling,
whose name (like Snoopy's friend) is pronounced with a long
i. As for the operating system itself, Linux adherents say
it is pronounced "Lih-nooks," but many also pronounce
it "Lie-nux," or with a short i: "Lin-ux."
Hard-core Linux fans scoff at anyone who pronounces it "wrong,"
but since one of Linux's appeals is that it is an "open
source" program (more on that later), they can only exclude
newcomers so far. Pronouncing gallium arsenide is easy by
Leaving that issue
unresolved for the moment, what is Linux and why all the interest
in it? A little backtracking into the history of UNIX will
be helpful here. UNIX first took form at Bell Labs in 1969
as a set of basic file management tools, initially written
for the Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-7 and later PDP-11
minicomputers. The commands that actually moved data were
machine-specific, but after Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie
rewrote it in the programming language "C," UNIX
could be moved over ("ported") to other computers
from different manufacturers, as long as someone had written
a C compiler for those machines. And because of AT&T's
position as a regulated monopoly, UNIX quickly spread to locations
outside Bell Labs, especially in universities.
From its origins,
UNIX acquired characteristics that have set it apart from
all other programming systems, and these characteristics are
crucial to an understanding of Linux. One was social, not
technical: the wide use of UNIX in universities and other
non-commercial locations outside Bell Labs. It grew by a cooperative
effort of researchers scattered widely, who worked with an
existing version of UNIX as they built improvements: thus
an early instance of "eating your own dog food."
Thompson and Ritchie said,
[end of page 11]
the designers of a system are forced to use that system,
they quickly become aware of its functional and superficial
deficiencies and are strongly motivated to correct them
before it is too late. Because all source programs were
always available and easily modified online, we were willing
to revise and rewrite the system and its software when new
ideas were invented, discovered, or suggested by others.
characteristics include a "kernel" that consists
of only the most essential commands to move data and control
the processor. UNIX programmers are able to build up complex
and sophisticated operations from combinations of simpler
commands, primarily by allowing the output data of one program
to serve as the input data for another (using so-called "pipes").
Files are stored in UNIX with a minimum of structure or formatting:
"No particular structuring is expected by the system…the
structure of files is controlled by the programs that use
them, not by the system."
A final characteristic is the system's reliance on the C programming
language and the use of C compilers. Those who work with UNIX
speak of the elegance of its initial design. Ritchie and Thompson
modestly point to the physical constraints of the PDP-7 that
they had to use, a computer whose power was about equal to
a Commodore VIC-20, one of which Linus's grandfather let him
play with as a child. They clearly put a lot of careful thought
into the system's design.
UNIX was created
and nurtured on minicomputers and became the preferred operating
system for workstations. On IBM compatible personal computers,
which after 1985 were being sold in greater numbers, the situation
was different. In 1980, before Microsoft acquired DOS for
the IBM PC, it developed a version of UNIX called XENIX. Microsoft
hoped it would become a standard for 16-bit processors.
XENIX sold well, but the industry evolved in a different direction.
The portability of UNIX was less important once the IBM PC
drove competitors from the personal computer market. And XENIX
required more memory than MS-DOS. Thus personal computers
standardized around MS-DOS, written by Tim Paterson of Seattle
Computer Products. Later versions of DOS incorporated some
of UNIX's features, such as the tree-like structure of ordering
files, and even something like pipes. Other features, especially
the all-important multitasking, either never got into DOS
or else had to wait for Windows, where they were grafted on
in an inelegant fashion. The way that DOS stored files was
also different. In other respects the two systems had much
in common, especially in the way users typed in brief commands
at a "command line" to move, copy, delete, or port
files. Some of the commands, such as "mkdir" to
create a directory, were identical in both systems. (In the
fall of 2001 Microsoft officially retired DOS when it introduced
a version of Windows that, finally, did not have DOS code
at its core.)
In 1991, Linus
Torvalds set out to write a version of UNIX for his IBM-compatible
The details of how he came to do that are recorded in his
memoir of the era, and are summarized briefly here. The previous
year he had taken a course at the University of Helsinki on
UNIX. The instructor, he said, was as new to the subject as
the students, but that did not matter, as the enrollment in
the course gave him access to a version of Digital Equipment
Corporation's UNIX running on a time-shared VAX. Linus was
already familiar with UNIX from reading a book on operating
systems by Andrew Tanenbaum, of Vrije University in Amsterdam.
[end of page 12] Tanenbaum had also developed a teaching version
of UNIX, which he called "Minix."
Reading that book, combined with a childhood spent hacking
on personal computers like the Sinclair QL and the Commodore
VIC-20, convinced Torvalds that he wanted not only to learn
all he could about UNIX, but also that he wanted Minix on
his home computer. The Sinclair used an advanced Motorola
processor, but Torvalds recognized that the IBM-PC standard
was becoming so well-established that he had to switch to
the Intel-based architecture. Just at that time, PCs began
to appear on the Finnish market based on the Intel 80386 chipa
chip that enabled personal computers to offer performance
that was competitive with minicomputers and workstations.
(on the installment plan) a 386-based PC, and a version of
Minix for it about a month later. According to his memoir,
almost as soon as he had it installed and running, in the
winter of 1991, he found Minix wanting. Specifically, he needed
a terminal-emulation program, which would allow him to use
the PC as a terminal to access the University's computer,
with its software resources and access to online discussion
Rather than write it as a process under Minix, he wrote an
emulation program of his own, programming "to the bare
metal" as he described it. From that beginning eventually
came a version of UNIX that was separate from Minix, and which
was not crippled or restricted in any way, as he felt Minix
was. A brief note posted to a newsgroup in July 1991 gave
a hint to the world that he was thinking not just of an expanded
terminal emulator but a 386 implementation of UNIX that would
conform to a standard set out by a subcommittee of the International
One person responded to his query not with information on
the standard but with an offer of space on a computer at the
Helsinki University of Technology, where Torvalds could post
versions of his work and where others could download it via
the File-Transfer Protocol (FTP).
note to the discussion group in August 1991 went further:
"…I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby,
won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386 (486) AT clones…
I'd like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix,
as my OS resembles it somewhat …"
Note that he was still thinking in terms of addressing the
deficiencies that he saw in Minix. The next month he posted
his work on the FTP site, and at the suggestion of Ari Lemke,
who made the site available, the program was called "Linux."
As Linux got legs of its own, Torvalds thought less and less
of it as a derivative of Minix and more of it as a new version
of UNIX. That led to a break with Tanenbaum, who registered
his disapproval of Torvalds's approach in a posting to the
newsgroup in early 1992. Torvalds responded with a vigorous
defense of his work, accompanied by "flaming" rhetoric
that was typical of online discussions in those days.
(The discussions had been going on in the "comp.os.minix"
newsgroup; after a heated exchange with Tanenbaum, Linux discussions
moved to a newsgroup of its own.) [ end of page 13]
kept working on the program, with encouragement from people
on the discussion list. Like Marc Andreesen at Netscape, Torvalds
exploited the Internet's ability to distribute his work cheaply
around the world, and receive almost instant feedback from
enthusiastic users. No classical theories of marketing could
have foreseen the close relationship between creator and user
that Torvalds developed.
In spite of the
various flavors of UNIX then available, Linux was filling
a need. The fragmentation of UNIX after the breakup of AT&T
in the early 1980s turned to Torvalds's advantage. His version
allowed users to get the operating system with none of the
baggage associated with other versions then available. AT&T
had hoped to profit from its creation once the company was
free to market it; but its marketing was ineffective. AT&T
did manage to annoy people with its insistence on owning the
name "UNIX," leading to those other names ending
in "IX," spelling it "UN*X," or other
silliness. Worse than that, the company sued vendors who were
selling variants of UNIX that had portions, however small,
of AT&T's code in them. The Berkeley distributions of
UNIX were less restricted, owing to the U.S. government's
support through ARPA, but even SUN moved to a closed version
(Solaris) for its later generations of workstations. In 1993
AT&T sold its version of UNIX to Novell, who resold it
shortly thereafter. Berkeley distributions of UNIX have evolved
into several versions, some of them freely available.
1: UNIX License Plate, replica. The plates were produced
in 1983 by Armando Stettner, a DEC employee and resident
of New Hampshire, whose state motto appears on its license
plates. Stettner was the leading evangelist for UNIX at
DEC, where he faced resistance from Dave Cutler, the architect
of the VMS operating system and later of Microsoft's Windows
NT. Note the obligatory credit to Bell Labs, the result
of a letter from an AT&T lawyer to Stettner.
Institution collections, gift of Eugene Miya.
For the next decade,
Linux thus grew in size and quality. Around it grew a cadre
of enthusiasts, for whom Linux was much more than just an
operating system. To them, the successful development of Linux
by dedicated volunteers working around the globe represented
both a vindication and a refutation of the tenets of software
engineering set out by Fred Brooks in his classic book, The
Mythical Man-Month (Addison-Wesley, 1975). [end of page
14] Recall that Brooks wrote that book to explain the difficulties
he had, as project manager, in developing an operating system
for IBM's System/360 line of mainframes. He postulated "Brooks's
Law": adding people to a software development team in
the middle of a project actually hinders progress, as the
difficulties of coordination among its members overwhelm any
contributions the new members can make. To the growing numbers
of Linux enthusiasts, that seemed to be precisely what Linus
Torvalds was doing: he enlisted the help of users around the
world, and gradually turned over portions of the project to
those among that group whom he trusted.
Brooks suggested that one should organize a large software
project around a leader with strong technical skills who is
given proper authority. That certainly applies to Linus Torvalds,
even if not as Brooks had in mind. Torvalds has no authority
in any formal sense, yet he is able to act and speak with
authority on the evolution of the system that bears his name.
Brooks argued that large projects need both a "producer"
and "technical director": roles which in Linux development
are filled by Alan Cox and Torvalds, respectively.
In any event, it worked, and it continues to work as Torvalds
moved from Finland to Silicon Valley, where he works at a
company called Transmeta. Cox, a year older than Torvalds,
lives in Wales but is employed by the Linux company Red Hat
of North Carolina.
Whether the development
of Linux is a vindication or refutation of Brooks's Law is
of central importance to the Linux community. Fred Brooks's
writings are respected, but The Mythical Man-Month
is fundamentally a book about a project that failed. Linux
fans come to his writings with an agenda: to demonstrate that
what they are doing will not fail as IBM's OS/360 did. But
Linux enthusiasts are less concerned with IBM than they are
with the products of another company: Microsoft. Microsoft's
software development techniques evolved quite differently
from IBM's, and they owe something to the early development
of UNIX, as mentioned above. During the joint IBM-Microsoft
development of OS/2, Gates often expressed his disdain for
the cumbersome ways IBM worked. Now, Linux advocates believe
that their work will produce better quality software than
what Microsoft can produce. Brooks himself added several chapters
to the 1995 re-issue of his book, and in it he discussed at
length the evidence both for and against his theories of how
teams develop large-scale software projects. Although he discussed
the impact of commercial PC software, at that time still sold
in "shrink-wrapped" packages, the edition was published
before Linux became well-known. (Brooks did mention UNIX as
an example of an "exciting" project whose qualities
stem from having one or a few dedicated individuals involved
in its creation.)
Eric Raymond was
among those programmers who saw the merits of this model of
software development, and in an influential essay called "The
Cathedral and the Bazaar," he analyzed it with regard
to writings by Brooks and others about large software projects.
Raymond and others argued that by letting people look at,
and modify, the source code, bugs are found and fixed. [end
of page 15] As they do that, the general level of quality
rises, much faster than it possibly could in a closed system.
As Raymond's said (paraphrasing Torvalds), "Given enough
eyeballs, all bugs are shallow."
Raymond's philosophy recalled the spirit of the Homebrew Computer
Club of the 1970s, where sharing was the order of the day.
It recalls an even earlier time, in the 1950s, when IBM 704
programmers banded together to form SHARE, even if the individual
members worked for competing companies.
The Homebrew spirit
of sharing software was opposed by Bill Gates in his famous
"Open Letter to Hobbyists," written in 1976.
Twenty-five years later those arguments have resurfaced, and
Microsoft again plays the role of the "enemy." In
a few public speeches, Microsoft executives railed against
the philosophy of making source code available, arguing as
Gates did in his Open Letter that "free" software
would not properly reward talented programmers for their hard
work. Linux is free to the consumer, but who pays for its
development is not a simple matter. Most members of the Linux
development community have "day jobs," where their
employers allow them to work on Linux as a perk, in hopes
of keeping their talents available for developing commercial
products. With the recent downturn in the economy, some of
those employers may be less generous. Other free software
is supported by the publisher O'Reilly & Associates, which
makes money-selling books about UNIX. The commercial company
VA Linux also supports this effort, but recently VA Linux
announced that it was shifting its business model to proprietary
products (and changing its name to VA Systems).
also made the reasonable argument that nothing would prevent
the system from careening off in a dozen directionsa
likely scenario that is only prevented by the hard work and
talents of Linus Torvalds and his inner circle of collaborators.
Whether Linux can succeed without the dedication of Torvalds
and Cox is an open question. An internal memo, written by
someone in Microsoft in 1998, was leaked in October to Eric
Raymond, who promptly posted it on the Internet where it became
known as the notorious "Halloween Document." In
it, Microsoft allegedly laid out plans to make it difficult
for Windows users to install or use Linux on their machines.
Torvalds's claims that he was never motivated by political
considerations, nor did he feel any animosity toward Microsoft,
other than believing their code was technically not as good
as his. In any event, Linux grew on the shoulders of a worldwide,
voluntary group of enthusiasts.
of UNIX must include a discussion of the C programming language,
which was developed in tandem with it, and in which UNIX was
rewritten. Thus one of the first things Linus Torvalds did,
in the fall of 1991, was adapt a C compiler for use on his
machine. It was not an easy task but once it was done he would
gain access to a library of C programs, which allowed him
to bootstrap his way to a more developed UNIX system. [end
of page 16] The compiler he chose was GCC, the "GNU C
Compiler," which had been written by Richard Stallman
(b. 1953) of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
relationship to Richard Stallman, like his relationship to
Andrew Tanenbaum, is a complex one. Torvalds relied on work
done by the older programmers, but he deliberately set off
in a direction different from what either Tanenbaum or Stallman
would have preferred. Nevertheless, when it came to adopting
a C compiler, Stallman's was one of the best available, if
not the best. Its widespread adoption established a de
facto standard for the C programming language; i.e., a
"standard C" was defined as a language that the
GNU C Compiler understood. And it was free. Very free.
campaign to develop and spread software that is "free"
in a carefully-defined way is by now well-known.
Stallman's odyssey began at the MIT Artificial Intelligence
Laboratory, the home of a PDP-10 and the legendary "Incompatible
Timesharing System." In the early 1980s he felt that
the ethos of the Lab, in which programmers freely shared their
work, was being drained away by the founding of a company
that sought to commercialize some of the AI research being
done there. Stallman resolved to produce similar software,
with the distinction that it would be freely distributed.
The business model of commercializing AI research was flawed
anyway (especially after ARPA withdrew financial support around
1985), but Stallman's resolution remained. He decided to create
a free version of UNIX, an operating system he knew little
about, and give that away.
He would have preferred copying ITS, the system used on the
PDP-10, but UNIX had the advantage of being used on more than
just one or two machines from a single manufacturer. He called
his UNIX copy "GNU" (pronounced as a two-syllable
word): a recursive acronym for "Gnu's Not UNIX."
In a Usenet post
in September 1983 he wrote: "Starting this Thanksgiving
I am going to write a complete Unix-compatible software system
called GNU (for Gnu's Not Unix), and give it away free to
everyone who can use it. Contributions of time, money, programs
and equipment are greatly needed." Later in the same
posting he stated his philosophy of free software: "I
consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program
I must share it with other people who like it. I cannot in
good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software
license agreement. So that I can continue to use computers
without violating my principles, I have decided to put together
a sufficient body of free software so that I will be able
to get along without any software that is not free."
His definition of "free" would change but would
always retain the notion that free software would never have
a restrictive license attached to it.
that some software components of a UNIX system were already
available freethe X-Windows system and Donald Knuth's
TeX typesetting program, among others. [end of page 17] To those he added the
Emacs text editing system he had already written while at
MIT, which he rewrote for UNIX, and, of course, the C compiler.
To avoid legal problems with AT&T, he refused to look
at any source code for AT&T UNIX, just as those who recreated
the BIOS for the IBM Personal Computer worked in a "clean
room." Thus the Gnu C Compiler (gcc) was offered as a
replacement for "pcc," a compiler written by AT&T's
Steve Johnson and offered for a price. Stallman's "Bison"
parser generator (a component of a compiler) was offered as
a free replacement for "yacc" ("yet another
compiler compiler") also written by Steve Johnson. Note
the pun on the word "yak"; Stallman follows an old
hacker tradition of punning whenever possible.
He did much of this himself, in an office generously loaned
to him by MIT. For a while that was also his sleeping quarters.
(As with Linux, GNU benefited from an informal but nevertheless
real generosity from those who had access to computing resources.)
He suffered from carpal-tunnel syndrome from keyboarding.
Some observers skeptically compared his effort to building
a commercial jet airliner in your basement workshop. With
the help of a few colleagues, Stallman began building up a
body of software that was comparable to, or even better than,
what it took large teams of people to create in the commercial
or academic world.
Just as important
was the legal agreement he crafted to guarantee the rights
to his work. With the help of an attorney he developed a "GNU
General Public License" (GPL) that not only put his work
into the public domain, it also required that those who used
and modified it put their modifications in the public
domain as well. In his words, "It is a legal instrument
that requires those who pass on a program to include the rights
to use, modify, and redistribute the code; the code and the
freedoms become legally inseparable."
It did not prevent someone from selling the code in a packaged
product, as Red Hat does. The GPL does, however, prevent Red
Hat from owning the code portion of what they sell.
It is this last
provision that was so radical, and it defines the character
of Linux (which Torvalds released under the GPL) and other
so-called "open source" software. "Free"
software, defined by its specifications, was nothing new:
Microsoft began with the BASIC programming language, developed
at Dartmouth but modified by Gates, Allen, and Davidoff. The
creators of BASIC wanted their program to become widespread
and publicly described its specification with that in mind.
Microsoft's version of BASIC for the Altair was very different
from Dartmouth's BASIC, something that Kemeny and Kurtz did
not approve of, but such modifications of existing languages
were common. Other personal computer software, including dBase
II and some word processors, were modifications of software
developed at universities or with government support and therefore
considered "free." But once modified, their creators
could and did sell them for a profit. One cannot do that with
Linux, with GNU tools, or with other software under the GPL.
What is more, the GPL requires that if one uses such software
in a product, the entire product must be covered by
the GPL, even if other parts of it had previously been proprietary.
The GPL thus has the potential to "convert" proprietary
software into free software, the opposite of what had been
happening in the industry. [end of page 18] It is this provision
which is so threatening to companies like Microsoft, and which
led senior executives at Microsoft to denounce the movement
as being contrary to the "American Way" of free
accounts of the history of Linux emphasize the rift between
Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman, who are only a few years
apart in age but represent different generations in many ways.
Such accounts neglect the fact that Torvalds completed what
Stallman set out to do, and Linux is protected by the GPL.
Stallman ran into difficulties in developing a UNIX kernel,
which was the first thing that Torvalds wrote. Stallman came
from an environment of DEC mainframes like the PDP-10 and
minicomputers like the PDP-11; he may not have recognized
how the Intel 80386 and successor chips were taking over.
Or there may have been other reasons, related to the underlying
philosophy of how to write a good kernel. In any event, Stallman
reminds people, sometimes to the point of annoyance, that
the full set of UNIX tools should be called "GNU/Linux,"
not just "Linux." On that he is correct. Some advocates
of the GPL philosophy coined the term "open source,"
mainly to distance themselves from him personally. Their commitment
to the GNU Public License however is as strong as anyone's.
Software that is in the public domain but not covered by the
GPL is, strictly speaking, not a part of this social phenomenon.
might have gone unnoticed had it not been for the explosion
of Internet activity after the creation of the World Wide
Web and the Netscape browser. Suddenly there was a demand
for larger computers to run Web sites and route Internet traffic.
UNIX fit that need perfectly. Linux, and a free version of
Berkeley UNIX that had all the AT&T "cleansed,"
became the systems of choice. Each offered Web administrators
an ability to modify and extend their systems without legal
troubles or charges. As of this writing, the most popular
Web server software is Apache ("a patchy server"),
coordinated by Brian Behlendorf; the most popular mail-routing
program is "Sendmail," written by Eric Allman; and
the most-used scripting language for Web pages is Perl, written
by Larry Wall. All are based around UNIX, and all are free.
Web giants like Google rely on Linux, and as mentioned, Microsoft's
Hotmail service runs on the free Berkeley Distribution.
Apple's 1984 Super
Bowl commercial announced that the future would be nothing
like Orwell's vision, but in one respect Apple was wrong.
Orwell predicted a world where today's enemy becomes tomorrow's
ally, and as that happened, all memory of the previous alliance
or warfare was erased. That was Winston Smith's job: to put
all records of previous alliances down the "memory hole."
In 2001 IBM, the implied enemy in the Super Bowl commercial,
became an ally; Microsoft is the enemy. The trade press dutifully
does Winston Smith's job of erasing everyone's memory of the
relative roles of those two entities 20 years ago. [end of
IBM has embraced
Linux as an alternative to the closed, proprietary operating
systems it so jealously guarded in its days of "Big Iron."
Throughout its reign as the dominant computer company, IBM
was known as a company that set its own standardsthink
of EBCDIC instead of ASCIIand tried to impose them on
the rest of the computing community. But IBM suffered huge
losses in the early 1990s and might have vanished or shriveled
into insignificance, along with the rest of the BUNCH (Burroughs,
Univac, NCR, Control Data, and Honeywell), had it not changed.
The company's embrace of Linux is too recent for a coherent
story to emerge, but it appears that it began as a "Skunk
Works" project at IBM's Böblingen, Germany, lab
outside Stuttgart, where in late 1999 a team of young programmers
succeeded in porting Linux to an IBM 390 mainframe. That was
not IBM's first exposure to open source software. For the
1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, IBM was the prime contractor
in providing computer services, including a Web presence.
Instead of "eating your own dog food" and using
a server offered by the IBM subsidiary Lotus, it chose Apache
IBM was in trouble financially, it knew that the world would
be watching how well it handled the Olympics, and it had more
faith in Apache than in the Lotus product.
Nor was the notion
of a Skunk Works all that foreign to IBM either. It had always
supported such activities, going back at least to the famous
"wild duck" memo from Thomas Watson, Jr. Perhaps
senior executives remembered how software developed that way
at IBM's Cambridge, Massachusetts, laboratory stepped into
the breach when official versions of System/360 software came
in late or did not work. What was startling is how this effort
made its way through the layers of managers and programmers
committed to the classic IBM way, until it gained the attention
and approval of the Chairman, Lou Gerstner. According to one
account, the Linux effort was stuck in a vortex of memos,
meetings, and committees when John Markoff, a reporter for
the New York Times, reported in December 1998 on IBM's
plan to release a mail program developed by one of its staff
as Open Source.
Gerstner allegedly read the story and demanded that IBM develop
a coherent policy on Open Source from that day onward. In
any event, IBM made a substantial commitment to Linux and
announced that for the year 2002 it will devote twenty percent
of its R&D budget toward getting Linux to run on its product
In a series of ads in the trade press, IBM announced: "The
facts are clear: Linux is here and Linux is ready. Ready for
business, Ready for e-business. Ready for enterprise."
One ad showed a fuzzy black-and-white image of a penguin,
the Linux mascot, walking through the towers of a mainframe
installation, with the caption, "Fact: Linux in the enterprise."
Is it coincidental that Sasquatch, the elusive man-beast of
lore, is periodically sighted in the woods of the Pacific
Northwest, where Microsoft employees live?
reason for this embrace of Linux was IBM's experience with
Microsoft during the development of the personal computer
operating system, OS/2. By most accounts, Microsoft got the
best of that deal, and OS/2, the product of a great effort
by a large team of IBM programmers, was forgotten. [end of
page 20] Or perhaps the reason was simply that Linux offered
the best set of capabilities. This story is still developing.
It is not clear that Linux will prevail, but since those ads
appeared IBM has gone even further and introduced a line of
computers that run only Linux.
In the press release IBM claimed that Linux systems account
for eleven percent of the computing capacity that it shipped
in late 2001, based on millions of instructions per second.
All of this happening ten years after Linus Torvalds began
writing a terminal emulator for his PC.
Seymour Cray never
succeeded in building gallium arsenide circuits that could
compete with silicon. Linux, however it is pronounced, is
going to have to deal with Microsoft one way or another. Simply
being an alternative to Microsoft is not sufficient in itself
to prevail. Among Linux evangelists are a strong and vocal
group who tout Linux-based programs that offer a graphical
interface like Windows ("KDE" and "GNOME"),
word processors ("AbiWord"), and other products.
In keeping with the UNIX philosophy, and in contrast to Windows,
the code that generates the graphical user interfaces is kept
separate from the base Linux code. Linux is still accessed
by typing at a command line, like DOS of old. As Microsoft
moved away from DOS, Linux enthusiasts steadfastly prefer
typing cryptic commands at the command line. Apple seems to
be of two minds on this. When it introduced the Macintosh
in 1984 it got rid of the command line, but with the latest
version of the Mac operating system ("X," based
on UNIX), a savvy user can bypass the graphical interface
that Apple made so famous.
The Web site "Slashdot.org"
posts daily messages on the battle against Microsoft, the
tone of which suggests that flame wars are not extinct after
all. But not all messages are in favor of this approach: Rob
Malda, one of the founders of Slashdot who goes by the screen
name "CmdrTaco," recently took a less aggressive
stance. And Russ Mitchell, who worked for Red Hat, is even
more skeptical. He argues that going against Microsoft head-to-head
is a waste of time; Microsoft has won this battle. He hopes
to see Linux establish a stronger position in the server market,
as IBM has done. If well-executed, Microsoft might be unable
to threaten that market.
For its part, Microsoft is not going to let this happen without
might learn from the experience of Marc Andreessen, when he
was touting the Netscape Navigator as a competitor for Windows.
In an interview he described Windows as "a partially-debugged
set of device drivers."
Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer did not think that was funny.
Today, Netscape is buried in a corner of America Online.
Neither Andreessen nor Jim Clark have been forthright about
why Netscape ultimately lost the browser war to Microsoft,
but the hubris of statements like that one did not help. Someone
should have reminded Andreessen of the folk wisdom, "you
don't tug on Superman's cape." Unless you are IBM. In
any event, what started out as a footnote to the Microsoft
antitrust trial, something that Linus Torvalds claimed was
"…just a hobby, [and] won't be big and professional…"
is turning out to be quite interesting. We shall see. [end
of page 21]
E. Ceruzzi, "A War on Two Fronts: The U.S. Justice Department,
Open Source, and Microsoft, 1995-2000," Iterations:
An Interdisciplinary Journal of Software History 1 (September
13, 2002): 1-26.
had full WYSIWYG capabilities, which set it apart from the
IBM PC and its clones, but MacWrite users could not write
documents longer than ten pages. See Frank Rose, West of
Eden: The End of Innocence at Apple Computer (New York:
Penguin Books, 1989), chapter 11.
Manes & Paul Andrews, Gates (New York: Doubleday,
1993), Chapters 12, 13.
Lammers, Programmers at Work (Redmond, Washington:
Microsoft Press, 1986), pp. 6-22.
(1986), pp. 207-225. Figures for the relative sizes of Microsoft,
Lotus, and Ashton-Tate may be found in Martin Campbell-Kelly,
"Not Only Microsoft: the Maturing of the Personal Computer
Software Industry, 1982-1995," Business History Review
(Spring 2001), p. 109.
so-called "WIMP" interface: Windows, Icons, Mouse,
and Pull-down-menus. The reasons it prevailed over the integrated
single program are complex and probably have as much to do
with social forces as with technical superiority.
(1986), p. 13.
P. Brooks, Jr., The Mythical Man-Month; Essays on Software
Engineering. Anniverary Edition (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley
1995), pp. 270-271.
A. Cusumano and Richard W. Selby, Microsoft Secrets
(New York, Free Press, 1995), pp. 36, 269-270. The authors
note that Version 3.0 of Excel was the first Microsoft product
to employ this tactic.
Pascal Zachary, Showstopper! The Breakneck Race to Create
Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft (New York:
Free Press 1994), Chapter 1.
programmers who owned dogs probably fed them well, but the
poor animals must have been starved for affection. At rival
Netscape, programmers were allowed to bring their dogs to
work, an amenity the company was very proud of. Terms like
"Death March" and "broken" are also peculiar
to Microsoft and its peers among software developers.
had its roots in a database offered by Fox Software, which
Microsoft purchased in 1992.
an amusing story of how Power Point was first developed and
then acquired by Microsoft, see Ian Parker, "Absolute
PowerPoint," The New Yorker (May 28, 2001), pp.
86-87. According to Parker, "Today…there are great tracts
of corporate America where to appear at a meeting without
PowerPoint would be unwelcome and vaguely pretentious, like
wearing no shoes" (p. 78).
taken from a number of sources, including Cusumano, Campbell-Kelly,
Manes & Andrews, (all op. cit.), and a clipping file in
the possession of the author of selected articles from Infoworld
and PC Week, 1990-1994. In some cases the dates are
approximate, reflecting the difference between the announcement
of a product and its actual availability to consumers.
Osborne and John Dvorak, Hypergrowth (Berkeley, CA:
Idthekkethian Publishing, 1984), pp. 162-165; also Manes &
Andrews, Gates, pp. 360-361. Martin Campbell-Kelly has pointed
out that the pricing of programs like Lotus 1-2-3 in the range
of $350 - $550 was not based on any classical models of economics.
Few economic theories applied to PC software.
quoted Picasso, who allegedly said, "Great artists steal."
Some critics of Jobs claim that Picasso never said that. As
if that were enough, Jef Raskin claimed that Jobs's boast
was idle; he did not steal from Xerox after all! Only Steve
Jobs can have his reputation tarnished by charging that he
is not a thief.
that litigation proceeded, Apple and Microsoft entered an
agreement to license a technology for displaying and printing
type fonts, which later became a fundamental feature of Windows.
Kaplan, Start Up: A Silicon Valley Adventure (New York:
Houghton Mifflin, 1994), chapters 8, 9.
several false starts including GO's Penpoint and Apple's Newton,
pen-based computing gained a market foothold with the Palm
Pilot, introduced by a start-up called Palm Computing in 1996.
Microsoft countered with its own pen-based operating system
that was not compatible with the Palm, and at present the
two competing systems have about equal market share.
Start Up, pp. 178-181.
Quittner and Michelle Slatana, Speeding the Net: the Inside
Story of Netscape and how it Challenged Microsoft (New
York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998), pp. 172-174.
concepts appear initially to have descended from a paper by
the economist Paul David, on the reasons for the persistence
of the QWERTY typewriter keyboard. Its extension to things
like browsers and computer operating systems has been analyzed
in Stan J. Liebowitz and Stephen E. Margolis, Winners,
Losers, and Microsoft: Competition and Antitrust in High Technology
(Oakland, CA; the Independent Institute, 1999, 2001).
Gates, with Nathan Myhrvold and Peter Rinearson, The Road
Ahead (New York: Viking, 1995). For an example of some
of the criticism, see Mike Wilson, The Difference Between
God and Larry Ellison: Inside Oracle Corporation (New
York: William Morrow, 1997), pp. 337-338.
At one point (p. 36), Gates says that Ken Olsen of DEC was
"a hero of mine, a distant god."
appeared in several popular magazines; see for example, "Microsoft's
Road to the Internet," Business Week (July 15,
1996), cover, pp. 56-59.
fierce competition in computer software often led to metaphors
of combat and war. After the attacks on the United States
in September 2001, these metaphors no longer seem as harmless
computer on which this paper has been written, a computer
that uses Windows NT and MS-Word, has no IE icon on its desktop.
quoted in Richard B. McKenzie, Trust on Trial: How the
Microsoft Case is Reframing the Rules of Competition (Cambridge,
MA: Perseus Books, 2000), p. 51.
for this section consists mainly of observing the author's
pre-teen daughter and her friends, all of whom seem to be
addicted to Hotmail. See also Po Bronson, "Hot Male,"
Wired (December 1998), accessed electronically.
Trust on Trial, p, 53.
Bank, Breaking Windows: How Bill Gates Fumbled the Future
of Microsoft (New York: the Free Press, 2001).
have heard this story from several sources, and it is in keeping
with the legend surrounding Seymour Cray, but I have been
unable to verify it. It does not appear on a videotape of
a meeting he gave in Orlando, Florida, in November 1988, but
he had given essentially the same briefing at other venues
around that time.
Moody, Rebel Code: Inside the Open Source Revolution (Cambridge,
MA: Perseus Publishing, 2001), pp. 3, 7.
M. Ritchie and K. Thompson, "The UNIX Time-Sharing System,"
The Bell System Technical Journal 57/6, part 2 (July-August),
1978, pp. 1905-1929, especially p. 1927.
PDP-7 on which UNIX was first written had a memory capacity
of 18K, 18-bit words, or about 40K bytes. See Dennis M. Ritchie,
"The Development of the C Programming Language,"
in Thomas J. Bergin and Richard G. Gibson, eds., History
of Programming Languages-II (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley,
1996), pp. 671-698.
Manes and Paul Andrews, Gates (New York: Doubleday,
1993), p. 147. AT&T's licensing policies placed restrictions
on the name "UNIX," hence Microsoft's (and others')
adopting a different name.
Torvalds and David Diamond, Just for Fun: The Story of
an Accidental Revolutionary (New York: Harper, 2001),
Chapter 2, 3.
S. Tanenbaum, Operating Systems: Design and Implementation
(Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall 1987).
Just for Fun, Chapters 2, 3.
H. Follett and Jean E. Sammett, "Programming Language
Standards," in Anthony Ralston, Edwin Reilly, and David
Hemmendinger, eds., Encyclopedia of Computer Science, Fourth
Edition (London, 2000), pp. 1466-1470. The standard was
called "POSIX," for "Portable Operating System
Interface for Computer Environments."
p. 85. Punctuation and spelling are original. Some of these
postings have been saved and archived on the Web site Google.com.
notion of "flame wars," and whether they truly represented
the feelings of the persons posting such messages, is a matter
for future research and will not be further discussed here.
Seen out of context, phrases calling another's work "brain
damaged" or stating that it "sucks" can indeed
appear shocking, especially given the traditional respect
accorded to professors in European universities. Flame wars
seem to have died out recently, although they are alive in
a restricted form on the Web site Slashdot.org (see text).
P. Brooks, Jr., The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software
Engineering (Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1975). Russ
Mitchell lists the fifteen people in the "inner circle"
of Linux developers as of 2001, in his essay "Open War,"
Wired, October 2001, p. 137. They come from nine countries
and nearly all have "day jobs": they do something
else to earn money.
op cit., pp. 80-81.
P. Brooks Jr., The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software
Engineering, Anniversary Edition (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley),
p. 203. New material was added after Chapter 15. I have avoided
relying on this edition, as I feel that with a few exceptions
it does not add much to the classic qualities of the original.
essay is available on the Internet, but I have relied on a
published version, in Knowledge, Technology, and Policy
12/3 (Fall 1999), pp. 23-49.
letter was originally published in the newsletter of the MITS
Corporation, makers of the Altair computer, in February 1976,
p. 3. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American
Pfaffenberger, "The Rhetoric of Dread: Fear, Uncertainty,
and Doubt (FUD) in Information Technology Marketing,"
Knowledge, Technology & Policy 13/3 (Fall 2000),
Just for Fun, pp. 87-89.
personal Web page is http://www.stallman.org/; the Free Software
Foundation's official page is http://www.gnu.ai.mit.edu. The
online magazine Salon.com has been running an ongoing chronicle
of the Free Software movement, by Andrew Leonard. These sites
were accessed by the author in winter, 2001-2002, and they
Moody, Rebel Code (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2001), pp.
Usenet posting, to net.unix-wizards, was recovered and archived
in 2001 by the search engine Google.com, from which this passage
M. Stallman, "What is a GNU/Linux system?" in GNU's
Bulletin vol. 1 n. 23, , pp. 4-5.
Johnson, personal communication to the author, Jan. 31, 2002.
The names of these programs are often, but not always nor
consistently, written in lower-case letters. I have tried
to follow the conventions of those who created them wherever
relations with companies like Red Hat are fairly cordial,
but he objects to O'Reilly & Associates' making money
by selling books that serve as manuals for free software.
According to Stallman, those manuals are an integral part
of the software and should be free as well.
phrase was used by Microsoft VP Jim Allchin, quoted by Andrew
Leonard, "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Free Software,"
Salon.com (online), Feb. 15, 2001.
Lotus server was called "Domino." The basic outline
of this story has been taken from Andrew Leonard's online
history of Open Source, chronicled in Salon.com.
John Markoff, "Sharing Software, I.B.M. to Release Mail
Program Blueprint," New York Times (December 14,
1998), p. C-5.
E. Ante, "Big Blue's Big Bet on Free Software,"
Business Week, December 10, 2001, pp. 78-79. That same
magazine issue carried a two-page ad in which IBM affirmed
its commitment to Linux.
unveils first Linux-only Mainframes," IBM press release,
Friday, January 25, 2002.
stands for "Gnu Network Object Model Environment;"
KDE for "K Desktop Environment."
Mitchell, "Open War," Wired (October 2001),
is quoted in David Banks, Breaking Windows, p. 26,
but the phrase has become part of common folklore.
Source advocates are eagerly anticipating Netscape's latest
version of its browser, which it promises to be Open Source.
As of this writing that version, 7.0, has not been released.
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