TalkBack Central: Red Hat's Windows smackdown

Linux and Windows backers got into it after Red Hat's CEO rose to Microsoft's rhetorical challenge.

"When Linux Pros Attack" may not be ready for prime time on Fox, but it's providing some quality entertainment among the battle-scarred platform gladiators of ZDNet News' TalkBack forum.

Provoked beyond endurance by a series of rhetorical dope slaps from Microsoft's executive tag team of open-source naysayers, Red Hat CEO Matthew J. Szulik delivered a few well-timed smackdowns of his own in a no-holds-barred quote-fest covered by Sm@rt Partner's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.

Szulik characterized as "bizarre" Microsoft Windows boss James Allchin's assertion that open source is an "intellectual-property destroyer" that stifles innovation. "I'd argue that a worldwide monopoly, enforced by business practices that a federal judge has found to be predatory and anti-competitive, probably has more to do with killing innovation than anything the open-source movement could ever do."

Two platforms enter; only one leaves!

Not the face!
Linux fans were quick to interpret Microsoft's gibes as the flop sweat of an industry Goliath priming for a resounding fall. "Well, well! The mighty Microsoft is at last having to come to terms with the fact that Linux is a threat!" mused "Daniel," a San Antonio, Texas, Web designer. "Microsoft was great for getting people introduced to computers, but it is inevitable that the more familiar with computers a person is, the more disgusted they get with Windows. Just like other mammoth corporations in the past, they are getting hidebound, and the newer, smaller company that offers up a better product is going to eat up that market share that Microsoft was once so proud of!"

"Why attack Linux?" asked "Scott," an engineer based in Iowa. "Microsoft is about ready to put the squeeze on us with copy protection and the .Net rent-your-software scheme. Their profits are down, and they do not want anywhere for us to jump ship to when they start the big cash extraction from computer user's pockets.

"Upgrades are no longer creating a continuous cash stream, and they are losing market share on the server side. Their new initiatives are designed to cause people to buy more copies of their software via their highly user-unfriendly copy-protection methods and to provide a continuous revenue stream via software rental. This will be bitter medicine to take, and they must be sure that we will swallow and not spit up. That is why they are attacking Linux.

"Microsoft is talking trash because it's attempting to close off all the escape routes before springing the trap on all of us. … Microsoft also knows that as businesses employ Linux on the server side, they might start considering it on the desktop, especially in a tough economic period. If businesses start converting over to Linux, many more applications will begin to emerge. Programmers and programming languages for Linux are already rapidly increasing. If a significant number of desktop users begin to embrace Linux it will evolve more rapidly into a highly viable desktop environment as the marketplace follows new users and creates more high quality applications. This is Microsoft's nightmare scenario and my dream as a computer user: true operating-system competition."

"I give the M$ monopoly another two years--tops," opined Boston programmer-analyst Ed Maloney. "They are getting blown out of the marketplace by Linux, Oracle and IBM. As soon as there's a Linux desktop--which may oddly turn out to be Mac OS X--M$ is in deep trouble from which they will not recover. A much smaller M$ will emerge, and they will succeed in the areas where they can compete on product merits, not FUD and monopoly practices."

Stick and jab
Meanwhile, there are still plenty of Windows partisans who are ready to back their champion in any battle of the platform heavyweights. "Without property rights, there can be no individual rights," wrote college professor Steven Brockerman. "Linux is not only on the wrong side of history, but also on the wrong side of logic.

"Of course, when you're the one urging the DOJ to throttle your competitor, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

And finally, a few lonely voices in the stands took issue with the whole premise of the latest grudge match: "Does anyone really care about this anymore?" asked Joshua Steinberg, a senior Web developer in Omaha, Nebraska. "Back in 1997, this was a big deal, but now it's tired posturing on both sides.

"We don't need CEOs issuing press releases and making faux headlines to know the strengths and weaknesses of each operating system (and they each have just as many). Not too different from the old Mac-versus-Windows arguments of yore. Some of us even remember the old IBM-versus-Windows grandstanding, way back when IBM was the Big Bad Guy and Microsoft was the plucky startup that everyone cheered. Five years from now Linux will be defending itself from something better/faster/cooler/smarter/whatever.

"I'm going out for a Bloody Mary; y'all hash it out amongst yourselves if you think it's still worth arguing about..."

Thanks for the even-handed analysis, Mr. Steinberg. Now, on to the next TalkBack Central debate: Smirnoff versus Stoli as the Bloody Mary engine of choice!