On Linux's 20th anniversary, recounting past slights from Microsoft

The operating system's proponents threw a party to celebrate its 20th anniversary

The mythical "year of the Linux desktop" still hasn't come, and may never, but on the 20th anniversary of Linux the free operating system's proponents threw a party to celebrate its success and scoff at past attacks launched by Microsoft, its biggest rival.

Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin - known among Network World readers for saying that bashing Microsoft is "like kicking a puppy" - used his keynote at the LinuxCon conference in Vancouver to recount past slights from Microsoft and explain how wrong they were, one by one.

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Noting that taking potshots at Microsoft "is pretty much my job," Zemlin presented a slide deck (it probably wasn't in PowerPoint) that included all the go-to quotes Linux fans use when they describe how evil Microsoft is. The list included Steve Ballmer's "Linux is a cancer" remark from 2001, Bill Gates insulting the GPL free software license and Craig Mundie saying Linux wouldn't be "successful in building a mass market and making powerful, easy-to-use software broadly accessible to consumers."

Microsoft recently produced a video wishing Linux a happy 20th birthday, and Zemlin took issue with that, too.

The Microsoft video, while mostly positive, says Microsofties felt Linux ideas were "childish," and asks "what happened?" to make Microsoft and Linux rivals.

"Could it have been... you called us cancer?" Zemlin said, drawing laughs from the audience.

The Microsoft "Happy Birthday, Linux" video also neglects to mention that Microsoft is still using its patent portfolio to undermine Linux-based technologies, particularly Android, Zemlin said.

"They're still up to the same old stuff," he said. But, "it's interesting to look at this stuff, the FUD and naysayers, and how Linux has overcome all these things."

Zemlin poked fun at himself for wrongly predicting in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 that "this is the year of the Linux desktop," but touted Linux's success in server and Web-based computing.

Although Linux hasn't displaced Windows in desktops or in traditional enterprise server workloads, the free software dominates Web servers, supercomputers, stock exchanges and more.

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Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst, who spoke after Zemlin, argued that Linux is the "default choice" for new types of workloads.

"Companies like Google would not exist today were it not for Linux," he said. "These business models only work if you can start them and get the innovation going cheaply."

Even Microsoft has become a frequent contributor of code to Linux, because it's trying to get its own Hyper-V virtualization technology into the kernel.

In that sense, Zemlin said Ballmer was partially right when he called Linux a cancer.

"Ballmer did turn out to be right on this one," Zemlin said. "Once Microsoft made their initial contribution, the contributions started to spread... With the 3.0 release, Microsoft is actually one of the top contributors to the Linux kernel."

Microsoft isn't the only threat Linux has faced. The SCO Group, which claimed ownership of the Unix trademark, launched numerous patent lawsuits, mostly unsuccessful.

"SCO did have their day in court," Zemlin said. "Unfortunately, that day in court was a bankruptcy hearing."

Zemlin predicted that Linux users will continue to be faced with legal and technical FUD, but said "Linux has arrived in 20 years and is now the largest force in computing, because Linux has one important attribute. Companies come and go. Products come and go. But one thing endures and that's freedom. The freedoms that are represented by Linux the access to the source code, the freedom to share changes with your friends and neighbors, it's all incredibly important."

LinuxCon will continue throughout the week and feature numerous luminaries in the open source world including, of course, Linux creator Linus Torvalds.

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

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