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Microsoft pondering legal challenge to Linux

November 6, 1998
Web posted at: 8:05 PM EDT

by Bob Trott


(IDG) -- A second internal Microsoft memo on the threat Linux poses to Windows NT calls the operating system "a best-of-breed Unix" and wonders aloud if the open-source operating system's momentum could be slowed in the courts.

As with the first "Halloween Document," the memo -- written by product manager Vinod Valloppillil and another Microsoft employee, Josh Cohen -- was obtained by Linux developer Eric Raymond and posted on the Internet.

In it, Cohen and Valloppillil, who also authored the first "Halloween Document," appear to suggest that Microsoft could slow the open-source development of Linux with legal battles.

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"The effect of patents and copyright in combating Linux remains to be investigated," the duo wrote.

The Microsoft employees based that on what they called Linux developers' penchant for copying features, and raised the possibility that they might "cream skim" features from NT.

"The Linux community is very willing to copy features from other OS's if it will serve their needs," Cohen and Valloppillil wrote. "Consequently, there is the very real long-term threat that as Microsoft expends the development dollars to create a bevy of new features in NT, Linux will simply cherry pick the best features and incorporate them into their code base."

James Love, director of the consumer advocacy group Computer Project on Technology (CPT), in Washington, said the memos were proof that Microsoft, seeing a real threat to its Windows marketplace dominance, plans to crush Linux's development.

"CPT will be studying the Halloween documents, and asking [federal] antitrust authorities to determine if Microsoft's intended plans to corrupt open standards violate antitrust laws," Love wrote in a CPT e-mail message.

In his annotations accompanying the white paper, Raymond said it was leaked to him by a former Microsoft employee.

Linux's "real and perceived" virtues over NT, outlined in the memo, include customization, scalability, availability, reliability, and interoperability. The Linux community also seems to be improving its product at faster rates than Microsoft, the memo declared.

"Microsoft's market power doesn't stem from products as much as it does from our iterative process," the document stated. "The first release of a Microsoft product often fairs poorly in the market and primarily generates fine granularity feedback from consumers. Similarly, Linux has shown that they are capable of iterative cycles -- but at an order of magnitude faster rate. On the flip side, however, our incremental releases are arguably much larger whereas many of Linux's incremental releases are tantamount to pure bug fixing."

Microsoft representatives were not immediately available for comment. After the first "Halloween" memo was made public, officials said it was meant to generate discussion and was not the company's official policy toward Linux and open-source software.
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