Slashdot Comment Responses #4 (Contests, Free Software Distribution, Halloween, and More)


This is the 4th of 5 planned entries in response to comments I’ve received because of this post.  I’m starting to run out of themes to cover. This post looks at some of the more interesting suggestions and responses that didn’t fall into the other buckets I’ve covered already.  The next post will highlight some of the positive reactions I saw from my post, but I’m sure less people will read that one.  Again, I’d like to thank everyone who left great comments and I hope some of you stuck around to read my responses. 

 

 

Is cost the only draw for OSS Software?

Mitch says “The big draw to Free/Open Source (F/OSS) is cost of entry. I can download an entire environment, operating system and server processes, and get started. What you propose requires me to buy Windows, then buy Visual Studio. And THEN I can get started? The average teenager will not be interested OR capable to pony up that dough. And when they hear of a free alternative, they will not be interested in commercial software (even if you give it to them), because they know that someday they will have to pay the piper...”

 

Certainly price can play a role in determining ones choice of a software environment.  I don’t want to start a war over the whole TCO struggle, so let’s take your scenario of the hobbyist teenager learning to code.  Realistically most teenagers probably get a computer that is bought for them at the store that comes with a Windows OS.  This cost was probably not much more than if they had to buy the hardware and assemble a Linux PC.  With VS 2005 we will have the Express SKU’s of Visual Studio.  For a hobbyist, as you describe, the cost will be a non-issue and they can start programming immediately with some of the most powerful IDE tools out there.  Sure, there will always be the totally GPL/Free as in beer (aside from hardware) route now available, but as I’ve said before I think we can co-exist and provide the added value that will make them want to stay with windows and VS long term because of the platform. 

 

 

Open Competitions for Shared Applications

Daniel Says: “Microsoft with its extra billions of cash and its extreme profit image should have the courage to behave consistently. Instead of mimicking others, it could organize open competition for original applications.”

 

You mean like this, this, or this?  J Yup, I think that this is a good idea too.  I think we should be extending what we are already doing to encourage more original and shared development on our platforms.  I do worry though how far this could be taken; it could backlash and be seen as pure bribery. 

 

Leverage/License our Patent Portfolio

Richard Tallent Says “Leverage MS's patent portfolio by offering open patent licenses on a large number of them, with the proviso of those patents being applied to software that uses MS operating systems. Many patents sitting on the shelf, if applied, would increase the quality of Windows software and would give ISVs a better comfort level when their Windows apps happen to compete or overlap with MS's own offerings. Of course, the Linux crowd wins nothing here, but Windows developers certainly do.”

 

Not sure if we do anything in this space, but it’s an interesting idea to selectively open up our patent library to ISV’s or people we share Windows Source with to enable them to be quicker to market with good ideas without fear we’ll sue them afterwards.

 

Halloween

A number of people sent me this link and some have even accused me or being part of some larger grand scheme to co-opt and kill off the OSS movement by getting in good then using classic embrace and extend techniques.  Yes, I have since read the Halloween documents.  As far as I know I’m not part of some larger plan to destroy the OSS movement and I’ve never been in a dark smoky room where someone says “Destroy all competitors!!!!” followed by maniacal laughter and the hashing of large conspiracies.  Maybe I haven’t been here long enough.

 

I am simply and individual that genuinely believes there are bridges to be built and some measure of diplomacy to be had on both sides that could learn from each other.  What I learned from reading the Halloween document is that both sides are still a long way off from that.  It’s FUD, Anti-FUD, rumors, and speculation on both sides.

 

Getting the Facts

Others pointed to the “Get the Facts” advertising campaign run by Microsoft that targets sites generally dedicated to the open competitors in our Marketplace.  I don’t work in marketing, but in general, since working at Microsoft I’ve been disappointed with our ads and very jealous of ads from other companies like Sun, Apple, or IBM.  Scoble hits on a few of the nails that bother me here and here.  Really I’m disappointed we don't seem to try and spread the word of what new features exist from one version to the other and why anyone should use Office 11 over Office 10.  These ads are just another example. I’d rather we spend the money and point people to other people or groups at Microsoft that are making a difference.  If the site is security focused, for example, point them to Michael Howard and let people read the real scope from one of the guys leading the change to a more security focused Microsoft.

 

Don’t Just Start, Participate

Another viewpoint offered by some is that we simply allow and encourage our developers to spend time contributing to existing solutions on sites like Gotdotnet or Codeproject. 

 

BillR Says “Little things come to mind, like would you allow developers to collaborate via IRC/jabber/etc, or is MSN the only avenue possible? Stuff like this matters.”

 

Benjamin SaysWindows-oriented open source sites like codeguru, codeproject etc are a big asset for MS, which can otherwise be a difficult environment to get started in and to find small free components in. MS should work with those sites, adding expertise (answering 'how do I...' questions) and resources (helping turn some of those useful free components into enterprise-grade ones). Everyone would benefit.
Unfortunately, MS has historically tended to work _against_ such efforts (remember SysInternals and NTFS). The days when this sort of tactic could work for anybody other than IBM are now over.
So, MS, why not assign a few developer man-hours to sifting through codeproject, answering and fixing, and see if a good open-source project emerges from any of the half-a-projects they have there?”

 

Highlighting and drawing external (and internal) attention to these efforts is one of the main reasons I started the Powertoys blog. I do, also believe after reading your comments, that our teams should have guidelines that enable our developers to feel confident doing this sort of work on external projects as an opportunity for them to interact with the developer community rather than just enabling them to start their own projects.  Good ideas.

 

Gotdotnet VS. Sourceforge

Chris Says: “An important part in any plan to promote open source or better community of code sharing requires good infrastructure. SourceForge.NET is years ahead of GotDotNet.com.
For some time I have felt the major shortcoming in Microsoft's strategy has not been to bolster GDN and advertise it. GDN is a great tool, but is notoriously slow and it's not a surprise to find it unavailable.”

 

There are many internally that also share your frustration with the Gotdotnet workspaces. I own at least 6 of them and I’m always debating moving them to Sourceforge and will probably follow through on that soon.  Another option for MS is to just leverage and partner more with Sourceforge.  Why build our own solution rather than playing nice with the market leader?

 

Distributing Windows Shared and Open Source Projects

MSB Says: “Aside from releasing its own software as open source I think Microsoft should start distributing open source. There are lots of open source packages for Windows. Why doesn't Microsoft ship a selection of software comparable to what you get with a Linux distro? They could do so at almost no additional cost. ”

 

Lets assume we don’t pre-load windows machines with all this stuff or ship the community driven software on the actual Windows or Visual Studio CD…

How would you like to see us aid in the distribution? An online catalog? A Free CD given away at shows of the best community software? I think it’s a good idea to investigate, but I would love more feedback about how this should work. I should probably have a whole other entry about how software would be nominated or qualify for this selection. 

 

That’s all for now… enjoy!

Comments (22)
  1. Norman Diamond says:

    > Realistically most teenagers probably get

    > a computer that is bought for them at the

    > store that comes with a Windows OS. This

    > cost was probably not much more than if they

    > had to buy the hardware and assemble a Linux

    > PC.

    Right, this year the difference is the price of Windows XP Home OEM, and that is not much. But that is not the entire issue.

    Not long ago the difference was the price of Windows 95 OEM. Windows 95’s bugs are so extensive that even MSDN doesn’t allow subscribers to download it now, while 3.1 and 98 are available. If a purchaser wanted an OS whose performance came close to matching its warranty, the only choices were NT4 SP3 and Linux. Of course the warranty issue with Linux is a joke, the only serious offering at the time was NT4. But in order to get NT4, the purchaser had to pay twice, paying for both 95 and NT4.

    Later any customer who wanted NT4 had to pay twice, paying for both 98 and NT4.

    Then SP4 smashed the hell out of the reliability that NT4 SP3 had, and SP5 only repaired part of the damage. During this time Linux started to become usable.

    In my experience Windows XP SP2 finally seems to be nearly as reliable as NT4 SP3 was. Almost. So as you said, the cost now is not bad. But Linux is getting closer and closer to being usable, and for servers of course it is very usable. After so many years of reneging on warranties, Microsoft should not be allowed to retain its product tying with people who only want to buy hardware.

  2. Matt says:

    I’m always amused when the slashdot crowd accuse MS of mimicking others and not having an original thought.

    Surely open source is the more substantial culprit here – trying UNIX, dotnet, Windows APIs, SMB/CIFS, Office etc. It’s hard to find too many original thoughts in the design of many open source programs. Yet the slashdot crowd like to accuse MS of stealing other people’s ideas!

  3. AT says:

    Community driven software CD/DVD ?

    Take a look on Sun Solutions CD at http://sdc.sun.com/partners/promote/cd.html

    They distribute it to bunch of people and increase awareness about Java platform and their partners offerings.

    Even more – they distribute not software – but simply information about it.

    I believe that this is possible to distribute software too – but you must provide a link to download latest version or create installer that will check for latest software versions.

    I think that Microsoft and partners will clearly benefit from this increased visibility and co-marketing.

    You can easily bundle this CD/DVD with MSDN/TechNet and others shipments at no additional cost (but provide a way for people to opt-out from this, for example because of taxes for international shipments).

    P.S> Why you have not visited Conspiracy Planning Center at Building 7 yet ? Contact your manager for permission 😉

  4. Ry Jones says:

    please don’t move to sourceforge, every time I go to get a project there it’s down (sourceforge, not the project).

  5. james says:

    great post and ditto on moving. sourceforge is at least as unavailable as gotdotnet in my experience.

  6. josh ledgard says:

    Norman: I’m not sure what your comment has to do with the barier to entry for hobyist developers.

    Matt: Yeah, Chris Pratleys blog on patents sums your sentiment up nicely.

    AT: thanks for the pointer

    Ry/James: Wow, you guys are the first ones I’ve heard complain about that. I know a few others who have been happy with the move to sourceforge.

  7. Mark Levison says:

    Another great post. On the subject of contributing to projects outside MS, consider MbUnit (http://mbunit.tigris.org/) – being written by Peli (Jonathan de Halleux http://blog.dotnetwiki.org/). I think it’s were the innovation in .NET Unit testing is right now.

  8. Norman Diamond says:

    9/1/2004 11:17 AM josh ledgard

    > Norman: I’m not sure what your comment has

    > to do with the barier to entry for hobyist

    > developers.

    My comment had to do with this comment:

    > Realistically most teenagers probably get

    > a computer that is bought for them at the

    > store that comes with a Windows OS. This

    > cost was probably not much more than if they

    > had to buy the hardware and assemble a Linux

    > PC.

    The cost was not much, but the very existence of that cost is an outrage. What was unclear about it? You need me to post more reasons why it’s an outrage?

  9. josh ledgard says:

    So you are saying no one should ever pay for an operating system that comes with a machine? I’ve homebuilt several machines without paying for an OS I’m not sure what the issue is?

  10. Norman Diamond says:

    9/1/2004 10:40 PM josh ledgard

    > So you are saying no one should ever pay

    > for an operating system that comes with a

    > machine?

    I’m saying that no one who wants to buy a machine and choose an operating system should be forced to pay for an unwanted operating system.

    Plus I think you already knew what I’m saying, you’ve already read the same opinion expressed by dozens of others (true there aren’t many of them), and you’re playing typical Microsoft games by twisting my words.

    Even when my case was so unusual, when my desired OS was a Microsoft OS that I wanted to pay for (NT4) but I still couldn’t get it without paying for W95, you still twist my words.

    Microsoft’s pretence at opennness didn’t last long. You’re the same as all the others.

  11. Josh Ledgard says:

    No, I was truely mis-understanding you. I thought you were saying that ANY OS software cost is an outrage. What you are saying, correct me if I’m wrong, is that anyone should be able to go to hp.com and buy a PC that does not come pre-installed with an OS. Sure. I don’t have a good reason why that shouldn’t be the case if there is demand for HP to create such a release. I’ve seen plenty of PC dealers where that is an option, just not one of the larger ones. And, as I said, if you build your own machine (as I and many others have done) you don’t pay for the OS.

  12. Norman Diamond says:

    9/3/2004 9:23 AM Josh Ledgard

    > What you are saying, correct me if I’m

    > wrong, is that anyone should be able to go

    > to hp.com and buy a PC that does not come

    > pre-installed with an OS.

    Yes. Or with a choice of OS.

    > I’ve seen plenty of PC dealers where that is

    > an option

    I haven’t, and my understanding is that for laptops you can’t even find plenty in the US.

    These days many makers give a choice of Windows XP Home or Windows XP Pro, and Windows XP Home doesn’t crash 50 times as often as Windows XP Pro does, so Windows XP Home doesn’t result in the same kind of misery that Windows 95 did. But still this kind of tying should be illegal. As a current example, my latest computer purchase wasn’t even a laptop, it was a small-size desktop solely for purposes of development and practice, I installed an OS from my MSDN subscription and activated it, and I should not have been forced to pay for an extra copy of Windows XP Home when buying the computer. But Dell wouldn’t sell the thing without Windows XP.

    A few years ago, a few makers offered a choice of Windows 98 or Windows 2000 on a small selection of laptops which were more or less deliberately crippled. If you wanted a laptop small enough to carry in a briefcase and use on a train, and features that were not crippled, every maker tied Windows 98 (or later Windows ME) to it, no choice.

    A couple of years before that, Dell US was offering some machines (too big to use on a train though) with a choice of Windows 98 or NT4, but Dell Japan was offering them with Windows 98 only, no choice.

    > And, as I said, if you build your own

    > machine

    Two or three times I’ve seen obscure makers offer laptop kits, but they didn’t last long. One reason could have been that they cost more than fully manufactured laptops. Besides, those laptops were too big to use on a train. Haven’t seen any in recent years.

    By the way, if you wonder why I talk so much about laptops, here’s why. Categories of PCs are pretty much: full size laptops for home use, small size laptops for portability and only used by geeks such as myself, PDAs which you can see a bit more often on trains, and cell phones which are carried by just about everyone. (In fact I’ve watched people play Tetris and other games on cell phones while riding trains.) Desktop PCs aren’t practical in most homes. In fact a co-worker has been trying to persuade me to accept a tower case as a gift, because he doesn’t have room for it, but I don’t have room for it either.

  13. jledgard says:

    I’m not sure where you get your crash numbers. That has not been my experience. You do have a good point about laptops and bundling. I’ve personally also been burned by this because I bought two laptops with XP home that I just replaced with XP pro. I had a nightmare getting them to work correctly, never mind the fact I had to pay for XP pro separately. (Though as you pointed out this was an MS employee discount for me.)

    I also agree with you WRT laptops and home use. In my house our laptops get more use than our desktops now that we have wireless.

  14. Norman Diamond says:

    9/8/2004 9:52 PM jledgard

    > I’m not sure where you get your crash

    > numbers. That has not been my experience.

    My experience, as stated, is that Windows XP Home doesn’t crash 50 times as often as Windows XP Pro does. Your experience is different? You mean that for you Windows XP Home DOES crash 50 times as often as Windows XP Pro does?

    In 1998 and 1999 when my then-employer insisted that engineers who sometimes used PCs had to continue using Windows 95 and Word 97 on them, Windows 95 was blue screening around 15 times per day. (This was without Developer Studio [developing was still done for other kinds of computers using those other kinds of computers]. This was all pre-packaged stuff.) I persuaded the company to let me use NT4 Workstation and for a while there were no blue screens on that machine. When SP4 and then SP5 came out I tried them and then naturally rolled them back to SP3, but the company said I had to use at least SP4 because of Y2K, so of course NT4 was no longer free of blue screens. But yes once or twice a week was about 1/50 as often as Windows 95’s fifteen per day.

    Actually NT4 SP3 wasn’t completely free of blue screens either, but on legacy architecture it was pretty reliable. In my experience Windows XP SP2 seems to have caught up with NT4 SP3’s stability. It does not seem to matter if XP is Home or Pro though, they seem to have equal degrees of stability, since their most critical components (Internet Explorer and OS kernel) are identical.

  15. josh ledgard says:

    My experience is that pro is more stable than home, but I’ve actually rarely had either crash. Of course everyone will probably see something different with all the machine varieties out there.

  16. Imagine a blog entry where I discuss Open Source at Microsoft via posts on Josh Ledgard’s blog.

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