The software sector is as political as any, but as it pertains to the one thing every computer needs the most, an operating system, the politics can resemble more of Medieval stage landscape, and it is the story of Microsoft and Linux that is perhaps the most riveting of all.
George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (the whole series titled A Song of Ice and Fire) is one of the most popular television shows to have aired in the last decade, and it is no wonder, it’s all the makings of an excellent drama, love, war, betrayal, and vengeance (full disclosure, I haven’t read the books, but I have loved the show). Although, when you analyze things a little more extensively, you see that the beliefs are not so fantastical at all and the topics are all too familiar.
For the last thirty years the commercial software arena is so fast paced and officially vicious that it could make an industry veteran shout; it requires a genuine hero to fight to the top without participating in the scandalous practices that pervade the sector, and a hero is merely what we have found.
Game of Thrones hosts a spectrum of really dimensional characters starting from the vile and cowardly to the benevolent and wrathful, the variety is actually so thorough that it is easy to find characters that are comparable to top combatants of the computing world. There are the wealthy empires, cutpurse marketplaces, the feudalistic patent trolls, and the list continues, but A Song of Ice and Fire is a story of heroics and generosity in the face of tyrannical misfortune, and so is that of Linux and the open source community.
In order to comprehend the history of computing we have to return back to somewhere near the beginning. The genesis of operating systems as we understand them today started with Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson’s UNIX system. UNIX is the conceptual forefather of many, if not practically all, commercial operating systems. UNIX reigned king for quite a while, but not without passing along the torch to descendants. The family tree of UNIX is dirty, it is full of crossed lines, intermingling, and political unions, basically the typical of any royal family ancestry. Animosity and tension immediately overtook the UNIX offspring and this was the beginning of the culture of Hammurabian customs.
- Microsoft was just a notion, let alone an official business, when Gates and Allen seized the Altair 8800 with their Altair BASIC interpreter. The immediate success with the Altair lead to the instantiating of Microsoft as a legal entity in the following weeks.
- Five years after Microsoft wed into the UNIX political paradigm with the release of Xenix which had a sprint of success before being acquired by SCO.
- While IBM rebranded MS DOS to PC-DOS, Microsoft was still at liberty to sell the MS DOS merchandise to other vendors, and this was a defining moment letting one of Microsoft’s products to cascade into a computing empire. MS DOS was soon sold on the majority of home and office computers.
- This all transpired in parallel to the development Apple’s products from which MS DOS fiercely won market share putting them at the top of operating system sales. Microsoft’s just realized market share afforded them a power that had not been wielded in computing before, the power of a close monopoly, and as it is said, power corrupts.
A brutal rivalry grew between Apple and Microsoft complete with corporate cloak and dagger. It was not unusual for either to approach smaller businesses with the objective to get their valuable products so that you can bolster their repertoires, and it was also not unusual to unethically exhaust these smaller businesses with legal fees until they’d no choice but to sell. Scott McNealy was quoted on the matter saying “R&D [research and development] and M&A [mergers and acquisitions] are the same thing [at Microsoft].” The feud between Apple and Microsoft was merely embellished by the high cost of UNIX systems that left the affordable computer market in a dipole. It was the exact concern Linus Torvalds determined to address when he started the Linux operating system in 1991, so when the war between Apple and Microsoft was waged, the brainchild that would grow up to be a hero came to be.
Linux was never meant to be professional, Torvalds acknowledged, the goal was to supply pupils with something that was UNIX compliant with no inherent UNIX cost. It looked to be a common ideal because Linux developed into a powerful victor heralding the banner of freedom of software in tandem with the GNU Project.
The possibility of Linux was soon realized in the corporate boardrooms. UNIX systems were still very expensive which left Linux completely unprecedented in its lack of cost. Linux quickly laid siege to the server market inciting an animosity of Linux in Microsoft that began to fester.