Scobleizer Weblog

Today's Stuff Saturday, March 01, 2003

Todd Cochrane says "Oh Boy those that have gotten a taste of Lindows are foaming at the mouth. If you like open source as much as I do you need to read this article. You thought the Apple versus PC battle was ugly wait till you read this." My comment: Um, I didn't think I was foaming at the mouth. I predicted that desktop Linux would have small numbers by 2005 -- I say one million in use. That pales to the numbers of installed base of Windows desktops. Is that foaming at the mouth? I don't think so. Clearly it's an interesting product ($799 laptop, $199 desktop) though. Mostly because of the low price. Not cause of anything else. I'd much prefer OSX or Windows XP on my own machine. In fact, if I buy a Lindows device (I might) I will immediately put XP on it.

Jason Defillippo posted pictures of me that he shot last night. Damn, gotta work on that gut! Sure makes the Tablet look thin, though. :-) You might know Jason -- he started

Steve Ivy says: "If you're in the tech business, writing software, building hardware, or making an OS, you need to be reading Robert Scoble. He rankles me sometimes, but I can tell he's put a lot of thought into stuff. I sure wish Apple had Scoble working for them - NEC's lucky." Wow, that's about the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me. Thanks Steve!

John Walkenbach says that FrontPage does comply with most of my guidelines. Cool!

Um, Dave, so Microsoft is claiming that FrontPage lets you build weblogs, huh? Well, here's how you figure out if Microsoft is pulling a marketing trick on you, or not:

1) Does it report to If not, it's not a modern weblog tool.

2) Does it generate an RSS/XML file? If not, it's not a modern weblog tool.

3) Is it easy to post? (Does it have one button posting?) If not, it's not a modern weblog tool.

4) Does it support the Blogger API? The MetaWeblog API? If not, it's not a modern weblog tool.

Microsoft named me one of the top five FrontPage users in 1995, and I'm not seeing any reason to abandon any of the modern weblog tools for FrontPage 11 (stuff like Radio UserLand, Moveable Type, Blogger, or Mike Amundsen's stuff).

A friend just wrote me in IM "including the OS for a side-by-side comparison will never happen." Um, wait a second, every OS I've purchased lately comes with a Web browser. If you have a Web browser you already DO have a side-by-side comparison of Windows vs. Linux. Most people choose to stick with Microsoft stuff, even though there's plenty of free (or cheap) alternatives out there.

Or, are you telling me that most computer users can't figure out how to type "Lindows" or "Linux" into Google? Nah, I'm not that naive. :-)

Bump of my standard disclaimer: what I say here is my opinion only and does not represent my employer's opinion, my family's opinion, or anyone else's for that matter. I'm often wrong, idiotic, or worse, but don't hold that against anyone but me, OK?

Samer Ibrahim, on the other hand, says "Robert is right Linux doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon and he's right Microsoft's current tactic only seems to be empowering the Linux programmers."

The comments over at Carnage4Life's blogs are very stinging. "That's the dumbest advice I've ever heard. I was thinking of replying to it point by point, but it soon descended into ridiculousness." says one gent. My comment: these are great comments and I'm learning a lot from them. There are obviously a lot of bugs in my thinking. That's part of learning. Put an idea out there into the "marketplace of ideas." If the idea is rotten, it quickly gets tossed aside. Don't expect me to cling mindlessly to a bad idea. The PC industry is about to see a huge amount of chaos. Linux/Lindows is releasing new stuff all the time. Apple is about to release a bunch of new stuff. Microsoft is too.

The way I deal with chaos is to start a conversation. Doing that sometimes requires jumping off a cliff without a parachute. Whee!

Dave reminds me that a year ago I laid myself off from UserLand. What he didn't say is that I continued to work for a month without getting paid because I believed in the company and its products.

Carnage4Life, over at Kuro5hin, says that my advice to Bill Gates is exactly what is NOT needed at Microsoft (he's a Microsoft employee).

Dear Bill Gates

I've just spent a few hours playing with Linux on a prototype of an upcoming laptop computer that'll sell for $799.

If you aren't yet scared of Linux, you should be. They've caught up enough to Windows that they'll start eating away at your market share if you don't do something. I would guess that Linux will have a hundred thousand desktops by the end of the year and possibly more than a million by the end of 2005.

Since Steve Ballmer gave me a dollar at the MVP summit, I owe you guys some consulting (of course, for a buck, you can choose to ignore my advice since it didn't really cost you any skin). So, here's my ideas on how to deal with the "Linux threat."

1) Don't "take away their oxygen" like you did with Netscape. That won't work this time and will cause you a death by thousands of paper cuts. Why? Because if you try to kill Lindows the way you tried to do away with Netscape, you'll end up back in court. Also, you'll cause a whole new generation of folks to hate Microsoft.

2) Learn the motivation for folks developing Lindows and Linux and other open source technologies. I've tried to find a "business model" and I've learned that there isn't one. These guys are fueled simply by their hatred of Microsoft. Well, OK, and maybe they think they'll eventually make money if they get enough market share away from you guys.

3) Don't disparage their technology or their tactics. Don't point out that their fonts aren't as nice. That their system isn't as secure. That they can't use Office apps. That their UI is a third-rate copy. That they don't run on all the hardware Windows does. That their users won't get support. That there aren't nearly as many books and magazines and stuff to teach you how to use Linux. That users will get 15 times more error messages when running Lindows than when running XP (you should see all the ones that popped up on me tonight). That there aren't nearly as many apps that run on Lindows as run on Windows. All these might be true, but if you say these things, all you do is motivate their 500 developers to stay home this weekend and fix a few more things.

4) Don't brag about the next version of Windows until it's out. It'll just motivate these guys to stay home and copy it.

So, if you can't fight Linux/Lindows/Open Source the way you fought Netscape, Novell, and other companies in your past, how do you win and keep your shareholders happy and your marketshare intact?

Be warned, these are the most heretical ideas I can think of telling you.

1) Give Linux away for free with every copy of Longhorn (Longhorn is the code name for the next version of Windows).

2) Start a new company, with Microsoft money and ownership, that will develop open source software and compete with both Linux and Windows (but that will build on top of Linux and the other technologies out there -- Mozilla, Apache, etc).

3) Put a link on Windows start screen that says "try alternates to Microsoft software" and then include a ton of Open Source apps and platforms for your customers to try.

Why will these things work better than doing the old "take away their oxygen" strategy?

1) The only way to win in the game against Open Source is not to fight. Lay down your sword. The harder you fight against these folks, the more motivated they become. Instead, switch tactics. Pour oxygen and fuel onto the movement. Why? Because their business model (er, lack thereof) simply won't hold up to more heat. Also, you'll be operating from a hand of strength. What's stronger? A Bill Gates that says "Open Source isn't as good as closed source" or a Bill Gates that says "Linux and Open Source is really great stuff, which is why we're including them with every copy of Windows, after all, we want to make sure our customers are the best served in the industry."

This is heretical, I know. And, the chances are, these ideas will be dismissed out of hand (as most heretical ideas are) but, there are some huge benefits that come along with this.

1) Microsoft motivates its employees to really kick a&& and get out an OS (and other apps, since I'm also advocating including things like Apache and Mozilla in Windows) that's so completely superior to anything the Open Source world has. This is a minor benefit, I know, because Microsoft's employees are already pretty motivated by the competition.

2) You get a reprieve from many of the governmental actions. You'll now be able to say to every judge "hey, we're the only platform vendor that gives our competitors a free ride." That should go a long way to closing down the remaining lawsuits against you.

3) You'll be able to position Linux and Lindows and other open source apps as not being as good as your own OS. Imagine if Microsoft had TV ads (and if you, Bill, went on Larry King Live) and said "we have the better OS and to prove it, we included our competitors along with our stuff, so you could try them both out and decide for yourself."

4) If someone talks my dad into trying Linux out, I can imagine that he'd spend $100 to get an upgrade to Windows AND get a copy of all the latest Linux stuff. So, you get the sale, he gets to try out Linux and decide for himself. What's the alternative? Well, he'll go to and download Linux there. You loose the sale and he doesn't get the upgrade to Windows, so now, instead of comparing Lindows to Windows Longhorn, he's comparing it to Windows 2000. Linux, when compared to Windows 2000, is a whole lot more attractive than if you compare it to Longhorn.

5) You'll get a lot of "feel good" press out of it. Something you haven't had in a long, long time. Imagine the headlines. Instead of having Jim Allchin quoted as saying "Google's a very nice system, but compared to my vision, it's pathetic" Jim could say "we believe our vision is so superior, that we're including many of our competitors products with Windows and letting you try them both out."

What are the downsides?

1) You'd legitimize the Open Source industry. Not that would really matter much anyway. I think that the Open Source movement has already been legitimized and your competitors are using that movement to get people to see Microsoft as a "has been" and as a vendor of "inferior" products. So, unless you do something radically different than the old "embrace and extend" or "take away their oxygen" strategies, I think you'll continue having your market share dribble away, even after you introduce a superior product.

2) You'd possibly alienate your shareholders. Many of your shareholders are expecting you to squash open source, just the same way you squashed Netscape and many other companies before you. The problem with that is your shareholders don't see that Linux is a disruptive technology and that if Linux isn't dealt with in an innovative way, they will continue to put pressure on your pricing and distribution advantages (er, profits). It's time for you to take on a strategy of "heat up the market" and see what'll happen.

3) You might send a message that there's money to be made in Open Source (and your employees might feel emboldened to start Open Source projects). The problem is, I don't believe that a great deal of money is there to be made by giving away software for free. We Silicon Valley types tried the "innovative business model" before, and I gotta say, it doesn't work. The real way to keep people employed in the software industry is to come out with great new products and charge a fair price for them. On the other hand, don't assume that there'll never be a business model on the Open Source side of the fence. Lindows is already showing that they're going to charge a monthly fee for access to some features (sorta like Tivo). That's a powerful business model, and you should have a company that lives outside of Microsoft's firewall, that'll explore the Open Source side of the fence, just in case. Remember Xerox's lesson? They had all the cool stuff, but they didn't realize what to do with it and they let other people steal their technology and ideas.

Thanks for listening and good luck with the next version of Windows. If you want any more ideas, please have Steve send me another buck.