Microsoft didn't really pioneer open source...did it?


Feb 8, 2006
Last week in TG Daily, we took a look at Microsoft's new blog promoting its open source development efforts. Just on its face, the concept of Microsoft promoting anything "open source" can conjure a wide range of emotions, laughter undoubtedly among them. But we conjured some emotions all on our own, by suggesting that Microsoft perhaps was partly responsible for catalyzing the open source movement in the first place.

In Tuesday's TG Daily, we posted some responses from readers, including one of Linux' principal founding members, Jon "Maddog" Hall. Granted, he wasn't pleased, and neither were some of the others whose responses we've read.

But it's a legitimate question: Would the open source movement be the phenomenon it is today, were it not for the actions and attitude of Microsoft throughout the history of the software industry? We'd like to hear your own learned opinion on the subject, especially if you were around to have witnessed the emergence of both phenomena.

Scott M. Fulton, III


Jan 30, 2006
I can agree with Mr. Fulton to a degree. Back when I first started programming in Basic with DOS3.3 all my friends were doing the same thing. We made software and shared it and gave it out. Not just college stuff. I recall a nice bookkeeping app a few friends and myself developed that ran under Basic. Since most desktops at the time had basic "built in", it completely allowed us to give the software away as "free". We used this software in numerous companies around town. The companies didn't need to get some proprietary app that cost money and couldn't be modified like quickbooks. I think that alone shows how MS facilitated open source. Sure you had to have their basic to run it, but at that time everyone did and it cost no more than the OS to begin with.

I do not think they have anything to do with it anymore. Their comments are simply trying to put them in better light. And in my opinion it's not going to work.


Apr 12, 2006
Mr. Fulton,

You argue that Microsoft enabled the open-source industry by:
1. Writing a Basic interpreter; and
2. Building a software industry.

However, the first point overlooks a few facts:
1. The first Basic interpreter was written in 1963, pre-empting MS by 12 years;
2. The first high-level programming was FORTRAN, developed by IBM during 1954-1957;
3. Open-source software [OSS] existed before high-level programming languages, when academics shared and improved punch-cards.
Thus, Microsoft writing a Basic interpreter was hardly new, nor innovative.

As to the building of a software industry, you seem to soley rely on your observation that before 1975 there was no software industry, and after 1975 there was MicroSoft. Well, they weren't unique in selling software and were just one of *many* "garage"-based startups, defined by hobbyists who saw business opportunities.

Further, your same arguments could be used to prove that every company that has written a programming tool and makes money from software has contributed to the OSS industry. Very generally, that's true and congruent with the whole point of OSS: everybody contributes.


Apr 12, 2006
It seems like the Open Letter to Hobbyists was something akin to what just happened in the OpenBSD/SSH community.

OpenSSH is included with almost every if not all GNU/Linux distributions and *BSD derivatives. It is a free and open source.

The developers of OpenSSH recently made a call to the community at large because they were running out of money to do development work. These developers did not call the companies/people using OpenSSH pirates, instead maybe a better word would be 'ingrates' (this word is mine, they did not use it).

The developers did not want to make money from the software or keep it to themselves, but they do have bills to pay.


Mar 7, 2006
Lots of people fail to really understand. Open Source, doesnt mean it is free.....
Even the opensource guy here at work. WHO is one of the TOP OPEN BSD people on the planet. HE screams and howls at a MICROSOFT solution, and his main grip is the price. NOT the features but the price.

OUT of the box a win xp, 2k3 server is ROCK SOLID. As long as you follow the HCL. NUFF SAID. If you use the 3$ video card, well you are asking for it. I would have to say that MS, did a good thing in the past. BUT to keep doing things, you need to be compensated, IE, to pay for heat, and food. Buy new computers , employees to produce better product to make a better product.

Linux may be free, but it is free like beer, not like air. IE with a free beer at a bar, you have to pay to get there, free beer, but they throw pretzles at you, meaning, you want more beer. 2nd beer cost. So was the 1st beer actually free?

Back then, students , professionals, were doing the cool thing. Spending money on the Machine, but not really spending money on the software. Well, if that particular company goes bust, where do you get the new software. You can argue more people will just modify the software. Then we would be looking at hundreds or thousands of different modified software. To me opensource fanatics sound like cheap people not wanting to work to pioneer , but rather copy someones idea, and add a change, and expect to be compensated for it.


Mar 28, 2006
While I largely agree with Mr Fulton's premise, I think some of the disagreement stems from degree and intent rather than any contribution at all. Had MS not cultivated the software culture back then, it still would have happened, perhaps a bit slower, perhaps a bit less structured, but it would have happened.

I do wonder though if perhaps this article would have better been handled through the forums for the first article rather than posted as a separate article. It read to me much like several individual responses to specific posters and less like a new concept warranting being posted on the front page. While these responses would have been fine in a forum environment, they came accross as highly unprofessional in the format chosen.


Apr 12, 2006
However, the likelihood of Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak sharing their BASIC interpreter code with one another, and the rest of the world in turn, was obviously extremely low.

I seem to remember my Apple II+ and IIe coming with bound reference manuals that had doccumented assembly-language listings of the entire ROM monitor source code, including the BASIC interpreter. A couple pokes and a memory copy meant the ROM (and BASIC interpreter) was now duplicated in the 80-column card's RAM and you could modify it to your heart's extent. Beagle Bros. published a software product named Beagle Basic that did just that and also provided tools to assist in modification of the interpreter and some of its own enhancements as well. It also included the ability to dump your changes as a "patch" that you could distribute.


Apr 12, 2006
Revealing of Microsoft’s tactics is the leakage of an internal Microsoft memorandum in October of 1998. Referred to as the Halloween Document, its veracity has been confirmed by Microsoft staffers. It contains some interesting statements:
· Open Source Software poses a direct, short-term revenue and platform threat to Microsoft, particularly in server space. Additionally, the intrinsic parallelism and free idea exchange in OSS has benefits that are not replicable with our current licensing model and therefore present a long term developer mindshare threat.
· OSS is long-term credible ... Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) tactics cannot be used to combat it.
· Linux can win as long as services / protocols are commodities.
· De-commoditize protocols & applications: OSS projects have been able to gain a foothold in many server applications because of the wide utility of highly commoditized, simple protocols. By extending these protocols and developing new protocols, we can deny OSS projects entry into the market.
· The ability of the OSS process to collect and harness the collective IQ of thousands of individuals across the Internet is simply amazing. More importantly, OSS evangelization scales with the size of the Internet much faster than our own evangelization efforts appear to scale.

De-commoditizing is particularly sinister. It is interpreted to mean:
1. Buyers like being in a commodity market. Sellers dislike it.
2. Commodity services and protocols are good for customers; they're less expensive, they promote competition, they generate good choices.
3. "De-commoditizing" protocols means reducing choice, raising prices, and suppressing competition.
4. Therefore, for Microsoft to win, the customer must lose.
5. Open source pushes, indeed relies upon,

I understand Microsoft's desire to get in front of any popular movement, in hopes of coopting it, but in this case, the wolf is clearly in sheeps clothing and I'm surprised you are gullible enough to swallow it.


Apr 12, 2006
Just in case you don't accept the veracity of the Halloween memo, let me provide some other instances of Microsoft's open software:

1975 Bill Gates and Paul Allen use time on Harvard’s PDP-10 to complete their BASIC interpreter, a theft of resources.
1976 Microsoft sells exclusive rights to their BASIC to MITS, and then later sues MITS to gain the ability to market to other manufacturers.
1977 Tim Patterson rewrites CP/M and calls the result QDOS. He joins Microsoft and sells QDOS to them. This becomes PC-DOS, which Microsoft sells to IBM. Gary Kildall, who owns CP/M points out to IBM and Microsoft that his original copyright statement is still in the PC-DOS code. Digital Research wins a suit against Microsoft in 1982 and wins an undisclosed amount.
1985 Apple threatens to sue Microsoft over the patents on its Mac GUI. Microsoft threatens to stop development on Word for the Mac and other software unless Apple gives Microsoft a license for certain elements of the Mac GUI.
1987 Windows 2.0 comes out and Apple sues Microsoft, but loses because of the licenses they were forced to give earlier.
1993 Wang sues Microsoft over use of its Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) technology incorporated into Windows. Microsoft pays Wang $90 million, calling it an “investment.”
1994 Microsoft steals Stac’s Stacker disk compression software and includes it with MS-DOS 6. Stac wins $120 million in court, but Microsoft later coerces Stac into licensing their technology on terms favorable to Microsoft.
1997 Borland sues Microsoft over deliberate code to exclude Borland products from working with Windows. Microsoft settles out of court for an undisclosed amount.
1997 Digital Research, which won the right to market DR-DOS in the suit above, sues Microsoft for unfair trade practices. Microsoft settles out of court claiming they paid $150 million, but analysts believe the true amount is $350 to $500 million.
1998 Bristol Technologies sues Microsoft over theft of intellectual property. Bristol awarded 3.7 million. Microsoft settles future suits for an undisclosed amount and a gag order.
1998 Microsoft licensed NT to AT&T, but then refused to upgrade the code provided. AT&T sued and Microsoft settled out of court for an undisclosed amount and a gag order.
1998 Spyglass licenses a browser to Microsoft, which became Internet Explorer. Microsoft agrees to pay royalties as a percentage of each sale. Microsoft starts giving IE away for free and Spyglass sues for deception. Microsoft bought out the suit for a one-time payment.
1998 Palm sues Microsoft over the naming of the Palm PC. Palm contends that the name is intended to violate the trademark of Palm’s Palm Pilot. This is a common Microsoft practice, to name a similar product as the competition and steal their sales. Microsoft caves, calling theirs the Pocket PC.
1998 Goldtouch Technologies met with Microsoft in hopes that it would license its mouse technology. Microsoft examined the Goldtouch mouse then initiated and marketed an imitation as the Intellimouse Pro. Goldtouch sued for $1 billion for patent infringement, theft of trade secrets and fraud.
1998 Blue Mountain published on-line Internet greeting cards. Microsoft set up a competing site and distributed a trial version of IE that diverted Blue Mountain cards into the trash folder instead of delivering them. Blue Mountain won an injunction against Microsoft.
1999 The US Department of Justice reported that on July 11th, 1999, “Bill Gates wrote an email directing that Microsoft redesign its software to harm competitors” who make personal digital appliances. It indicated, “a willingness to change the details of its Office applications to favor devices that run on Windows, even if doing so would disadvantage other customers who now rely on the Palm Pilot.”
1999 Eolas sought an injunction against shipments of IE and damages for violation of its patent on the browser plug-in method used. Eolas awarded $521 million in 2003.
1999 Microsoft funds the Mindcraft report which determined that Windows NT was 3.7 times as fast as Linux as a web server and 2.5 times faster as a file server. The report also claims NT is superior to Sun’s Solaris and Novell’s Netware. It is later revealed that Microsoft tuned their NT platform and deliberately mistuned the platforms of the competitors.
2001 FTC charges Microsoft with false and misleading advertising over and advertisement comparing a new Windows CE device with an older model Palm Pilot. Microsoft did not bother to mention that the Windows device was using extra cost wireless add-ons, and didn’t make clear that current model Palm Pilots come with this wireless capability built in.
2001 Syn’x Relief creates a proprietary 3D animation tool called Character in the late 1980’s. SoftImage signs a contract in 1992 to integrate Character into SoftImage 3D in exchange for royalties. In 1994 SoftImage demanded the rights to Character and Syn’x calls off the deal. Syn’x files suit against SoftImage and Microsoft, but goes bankrupt in 1996. Character’s authors pick up the suit and in 2001 win a 3 million franc judgment against Microsoft.
2001 Sun licenses Java to Microsoft with the stipulation that Microsoft’s version must be compliant with the standards. Microsoft announces an “improved” version that does not match the standards. Sun sues in 1998. In 1998 Microsoft receives an injunction requiring them to make their Java compliant or remove it entirely within 90 days. Microsoft says they agree. In 2000 Microsoft is still not following the standards and Sun renews the suit. Microsoft settles in 2001 for $20 million and agrees to accept Sun’s termination of their license agreement. Microsoft also agrees to a permanent injunction against unauthorized use of Sun’s Java Compatible trademark.
2002 Be filed an antitrust suit claiming Microsoft leveraged its Windows monopoly power to destroy Be’s ability to field a competing operating system. Microsoft’s licensing to OEMs states that if Windows is on a hard disk, no other operating system may be on that hard disk. Several OEMs agreed to include BeOS, but Microsoft reminded them that if they did, they would lose their right to distribute Windows. Be went bankrupt and sold their assets to Palm.
2002 SPX won a $62 million judgment against Microsoft for infringement on their patent to the Whiteboard feature of Netmeeting.
2002 Microsoft offers $2.3 million to the University of Waterloo, Canada on the condition that the university would teach their students Microsoft’s new C# programming language as a mandatory subject for students entering the university’s Electrical and Computer Engineering program.
2003 AOL sues Microsoft on behalf of its Netscape Navigator subsidiary. Microsoft settles for $750 million. Whether IE is better than Netscape is debatable, but IE is limited to Windows platforms, whereas Netscape works on many platforms. Another example of limiting the appeal of other systems and of Microsoft’s resistance to cross platform compatibility.
2003 Mythic software runs an on-line roleplaying game based on Norse, Authurian, and Celtic mythology. Microsoft is setting up a similar game called Mythica. Mythic asked Microsoft to change their name and Microsoft refused. Mythic has filed suit, in a case similar to the Palm PC case that Microsoft was forced to back off from.
2003 Microsoft added an “innovative improvement” to the Kerberos authentication protocol developed by MIT and distributed as open source software. The improvement was a misuse of a reserved field specifying whether an NT machine was allowed to authenticate another Kerberos system. Microsoft called the result intellectual property and threatened to sue anyone who put it in their software. MIT’s threatened suit forced Microsoft to back down.
2004 Real Networks sues Microsoft on antitrust grounds. Microsoft demanded royalties from RealNetworks for latter’s Helix Universal Server even though it contained no Microsoft code. RealNetworks is asking for $1 billion.
2004 Microsoft agreed to pay Norway’s Opera Software $12.75 million to head off a lawsuit over deliberate code to make MSN pages look bad on Opera’s web browser.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me 29 times and I can write for Tom's Hardware. Microsoft's demonstrated meaning of "open software" is everything we can steal belongs to us. Trust them if you wish, but don't expect any person who can do research to follow suit.


Apr 12, 2006
For a software company to make money people have to buy their software. Yes with Open Source people can download and make changes to the software, but how many people actually buy Linux? I have never bought it, I download and install it. Enough people have broadband that most people don't buy it. Why do you think Suse was bought out? Corel has other pay to use software on the market, I don't think their making money off of Suse Linux. Even Red Hat has its pay version of and Fedora is the free version. Then there is Linspire which is not only a pay OS but you have to pay extra to get certain downloads. I'm not saying that there aren't any true free linux companies, but to make money they have to sell their product. Some sell to hardware companies to put into their gagets, but that version of linux was made for that gaget specifically for that product.

Does open source even work. On a somewhat small scale yes, look at firefox, but with something big like an OS? There isn't really a Linux distro that has gotten their act together to make things easy enough for everybody to use. Actually I blame it more on the distros using the two premade front ends KDE and Gnome instead of making their own. Look at OS X, Apple took an Open Source OS and made their own front end and changed the OS to make it easy for the every day person to use. I've been hearing for years that Linux was working its way into every day computing, and it still not there.

Microsoft and Apple are popular (even though MS is a whale while Apple is a goldfish) because they make programs that are easy to use. Their also both good at marketing their successful producs. There isn't one open source company out there that I see that doe either of those well and until there is one that does, Open Souce won't hit the regular joe. But thats just my opinion, I'll probably get tons of people disagreeing with me saying I don't know what I'm talking about.


Apr 15, 2006
Open source definitely does not mean free. Also (since people always equate Linux with open source), if you look at the big Linux distributions, they have MANY software compents that are not open source. SuSE Linux comes to mind with its many wizards, setup tools, etc. Does this make those software components unworthy or bad? Although, it seems like the last time I looked, even the big distros. of Linux (SuSE, Redhat, etc) were not 'free.' SuSE Pro version is close to $100, I think. (don't hold me to the price - but it is around that range).

Would I be better off buying a mostly Open Source OS or a closed source OS?

Another problem with the way people view Open Source is that they still mainly see it from the hobbyist/home user perspective. If you talk about professional software development outside of the RETAIL/CONSUMER market, it is NOT going to be Open Source. For one, a developer signs a non-disclosure/anti-competition agreement to not divulge the nature of software they develop while employeed with a given company.

As a software developer, I know that if I were to share code from a commercial/private sector project that I am working on, I more than likely would be terminated if found out.

There are very few (if any) production level software packages that are open source. I doubt if you will ever see (for example) Rockwell Automation release the source code for any of their ladder logic software packages.

Would I hesitate to purchase a piece of software just because I don't get the source code to go along with it? No way! I admire people who have enough spare time and dedication to develop software and give it or the source code away for free. but I also do not fault people who want to make money from their time vested. I do not admire people who think that someone who develops software should live in poverty or barely scrape by (RE the OpenSSH comments).

There's open source software available for Windows that runs just as easily as any other Windows software. Firefox and Thunderbird are perfect examples.

Now, open source operating systems can be a different matter altogether. Once they're setup they're great... but setting them up can be daunting for the average user. Hell, people are afraid of screwing something up when installing Windows programs... could you imagine those same people having a problem getting Linux running? Not a pretty sight. But if you set them down in front of it after it's all set up, it would be just as easy to use as Windows.