It’s almost Halloween—which marks 15 years since Eric S. Raymond published the first leaked “Halloween Documents” documenting Microsoft’s (MSFT) secret strategy to compete with Linux and open source. A lot has changed since then, when terms such as “fear, uncertainty and doubt” (FUD) first exploded into the lexicon. But how much remains the same? Do Microsoft and open source play nicely today?
The Halloween Documents, so-called because the first one leaked in October 1998, don’t actually have much to do with Halloween itself—which I find sad, as an avid fan of the holiday. But for understanding the historical relationship between Microsoft and open source, the memos are vital.
They were the first to reveal the particularly nasty “tricks” Microsoft planned in its effort to contain the open source movement, and to prevent Linux in particular from cutting too deeply into its revenue. One key strategy for the company was implementing proprietary protocols to lock customers into Microsoft software. Another was touting Microsoft software as offering lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than Linux, even though the documents showed that Microsoft itself found Linux to be the cheaper overall solution in many cases.
History, however, has proven Microsoft’s strategy largely wrong. Fifteen years after Raymond published the first of the documents (he subsequently added several more to his site, along with extensive commentary), which Microsoft later acknowleded to be authentic, Windows and Linux continue to coexist. And while Linux and open source never became an existential threat to Microsoft, as the Halloween Documents suggest executives at the company once feared, it’s hard to deny that they have significantly curtailed the company’s share of important markets, like servers operating systems and applications, for many years. Microsoft might be a richer enterprise today if it had achieved the goals it articulated in the Halloween Documents.
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