Ed Muth, described in the article as a “group product manager” is fairly well-known in the Linux community as one of the least clueful of Micro$oft’s talking heads. There are quite a few folks at M$ with a much better grasp of what the whole open-source/free-software movement is about than his. Nevertheless, he makes some comments in this interview which I think further indicate his (and possibly their) utter lack of understanding of what they’re really dealing with.
“I find it hard to believe that some of the best scientists in the world will want to do their work for free,” he said. “Without a long-term technical road map, without multimillion-dollar test labs, someone wants me to believe these visionary programmers and developers will want to do the best work of their lives and then give it away. I do not believe in that vision of the future.”
He could not have more succinctly demonstrated the chasm between the Micro$oftian worldview and the one they’re dealing with behind projects like Linux. I think this paradigm may be the hardest one Bill Gates has ever tried to grasp, because it runs diametrically counter to everything he believes in. Even as a pimply-faced kid, Bill wrote a now-legendary “open letter” opposing “sharing” of software, because he knew even then that he wanted to “own” something which was intuitively non-ownable.
I think the biggest single flaw in Mr. Ed’s argument is his clear view that these “visionary programmers” need a “long-term technical road map” to be motivated to do their work. But whose road-map are they supposed to follow? Bill’s? Microsoft’s? Of course not. The very definition of “visionary” is “having a vision”, and people with vision specifically do not follow someone else’s roadmap, they follow their own. And that happens to be the precise reason why some of the very best and brightest and most visionary developers in the world are drawn to open-source projects (not just Linux) like moths to a flame.
And as Micro$oft has realized internally, you just can’t build a “multi-million dollar test lab” as effective (and fast) than the de facto one which the Internet provides. Basically, there’s a constant, 24-hour-a-day (literally) community of thousands and thousands of hardcore geeks who are just panting to download, break, shakeout, fix, and compete for geek glory over every new point release of software packages, in every conceivable environment and scope of operation. Most people would be shocked to see how much activity and participation happens on even small project mailing lists. The numbers of people working on testing product releases is just staggering.
I can’t tell if Ed Muth just is blissfully unaware of Eric Raymond’s Homesteading the Noosphere and The Cathedral and the Bazaar, or is simply unable to escape his Redmond mindset long enough to understand them. Nearly every argument that he attempts to make in this interview, apart from having been made before, are actually reasons behind the growth of the movement. If you have interest in understanding the differences, I highly, highly recommend these two documents.
I’m not a prophet, and I can’t say that Micro$oft is going to lose to Linux, or what. And Micro$oft being what they are, their attempts to destroy the Open Source movement with FUD tactics will improve as they get their bearings. But if Ed’s views truly reflect the “corporate” mindset about Linux & Co., then they’re in for a very rough road indeed.