How Linux and the free software movement undercut the high-tech titans. A riveting look at the rise and popular acceptance of Linux and how free software is changing the nature of business and wealth. Linux and the Free Software Movement began its siege on the seemingly unshakeable Microsoft in 1999. But the story began as far back as 1984 when Richard Stallman, a prolific code writer, founded the Free Software Movement in an effort to break the bureaucratic stranglehold he saw forming in the computer industry.
Enter Linus Torvalds in the earl y'90s, a coding genius and a long-time Stallman disciple, who became the master of Linux code. The result: a marketplace where the best software solutions win and monolithic computer Goliaths are faced with the proverbial David. Free for All tells the fascinating story of how a simple idea provided a framework that organised thousands of open code users and revolutionised the nature of business. It also tells how a group of passionate people have dedicated their lives to creating software that's easier--and cheaper--than Microsoft's to use.
The world where cash was king, greed was good, and money was power fell off its axis and stopped rotating, if only for a second, in January 1999. Microsoft, the great software giant and unstoppable engine of cash, was defending itself in a courtroom in Washington, D.C. The Department of Justice claimed that Microsoft was a monopoly and was using this power to cut off competitors. Microsoft denied it all and claimed that the world was hurling threat after competitive threat its way. They weren’t a monopoly, they were just a very competitive company that managed to withstand the slings and arrows of other equally ruthless competitors out to steal its market share.
The trial quickly turned into everyone’s worst nightmare as the lawyers, the economists, and the programmers filled the courtroom with a thick mixture of technobabble and legal speak. On the stands, the computer nerds spewed out three-letter acronyms (TLAs) as they talked about creating operating systems. Afterward, the legal nerds started slicing them up into one-letter acronyms and testing to see just which of the three letters was really the one that committed the crime. Then the economists came forward and offered their theories on just when a monopoly is a monopoly. Were three letters working in collusion enough? What about two? Everyone in the courtroom began to dread spending the day cooped up in a small room as Microsoft tried to deny what was obvious to practically everyone.
In the fall and early winter of 1998 and 1999, the Department of Justice had presented its witnesses, who explained how Microsoft had slanted contracts, tweaked software, and twisted arms to ensure that it and it alone got the lion’s share of the computer business. Many watching the trial soon developed the opinion that Microsoft had adopted a mixture of tactics from the schoolyard bully, the local mob boss, and the mother from hell. The Department of Justice trotted out a number of witnesses who produced ample evidence that suggested the computer customers of the world will buy Microsoft products unless Microsoft decides otherwise. Competitors must be punished.
By January, the journalists covering the trial were quietly complaining about this endless waste of time. The Department of Justice’s case was so compelling that they saw the whole trial as just a delay in what would eventually come to be a ruling that would somehow split or shackle Microsoft.
But Microsoft wasn’t going to be bullied or pushed into splitting up. The trial allowed them to present their side of the story, and they had one ready. Sure, everyone seemed to use Microsoft products, but that was because they were great. It wasn’t because there weren’t any competitors, but because the competitors just weren’t good enough.
In the middle of January, Richard Schmalensee, the dean of the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, took the stand to defend Microsoft. Schmalensee had worked for the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice as an econo-mist who examined the marketplace and the effects of anti-competitive behavior. He studied how monopolies behave, and to him Microsoft had no monopoly power. Now, he was being paid handsomely by Microsoft as an expert witness to repeat this view in court.
Schmalensee’s argument was simple: competitors are popping up all over the place. Microsoft, he said in his direct testimony, “is in a constant struggle for competitive survival. That struggle—the race to win and the victor’s perpetual fear of being displaced—is the source of competitive vitality in the microcomputer software industry.”