Does the Pentagon Depend On Windows NT?


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Does the Pentagon Depend On NT?

From InfoWorld:

Down to the Wire
By Nicholas Petreley

July 27, 1998

Will Ballmer take the fall when Linux supplants Windows NT 5.0?

When I heard that Steve Ballmer was promoted to the office of president at Microsoft, I couldn't help but wonder if he was being set up to take the fall when Windows NT 5.0 proves to be a catastrophic market failure and Linux supplants Windows NT as the future server operating system of choice.

Yes, those are pretty wild predictions. But I'm making them because Microsoft has a terrible case of the runs. First, Microsoft is running out of credibility. Microsoft's so-called "visionary leadership" looks about as far ahead as the next threat to its desktop monopoly.

Remember Cairo? It was supposed to ship in 1994. Four years later, Microsoft can't even get an NT service pack out the door let alone deliver on its Cairo promises. If you want to understand how Microsoft got so far off course, look no further than Mountain View, Calif. When the Netscape Navigator browser threatened to turn Windows into a commodity, Microsoft diverted all its energy to the task of crushing Netscape. Goodbye, Cairo. Hello to a desktop operating system that OEMs are warning its customers not to use and a version of Windows NT that lacks the one quality that made its predecessors worthwhile -- stability.

Case in point: According to Government Computer News (published by a division of The Washington Post), the chief information officer for the U.S. Navy decided to standardize on Windows NT.

Thanks to Microsoft innovation, the Yorktown Smart Ship has to be towed to port every time NT crashes. You can find the whole story, titled "Software glitches leave Navy Smart Ship dead in the water," at

But I warn you, it's depressing. If we go to war anytime soon, the Navy's choice of NT could give a whole new meaning to the expression "<>b>blue screen of death[/b]."

But, by golly, it's worth it because we now get a browser and Web server integrated into every copy of Windows.

Second, Microsoft is running out of friends in the hardware business. When a Microsoft representative argues that the dropping price of PCs makes the network computer irrelevant, who do you think is taking the loss on those cheap PCs? Microsoft gets its $300 per seat whether you buy a full-fledged copy of Windows NT or a license to run a thin client on NT's Terminal Server Edition.

Third, Microsoft is running out of friends in the ISV community. ISVs and the press led the cheerleading for Windows 95 because Microsoft promised the upgrade would usher in an age of prosperity. By the time Windows 98 came along, the ISVs figured out that Microsoft plans to be the only long-term beneficiary of said prosperity.

Which leads me to my prediction regarding Linux. Though Linux has a lot going for it, my prediction that it will overtake NT has nothing to do with technical merit. It is about consolidation of power and wealth. With Linux, there is none.

You can argue about the merits of this or that software license when it comes to applications, but when it comes to the dominant operating system, I'll argue the best possible license is the GNU public license (GPL). The GPL requires the Linux source code to remain open and available.

This ensures that no single person or company can leverage Linux to an unfair advantage -- the antithesis of the current market standard. To be fair, the state of the market is not all Microsoft's fault. Control over the dominant operating system is like J.R.R. Tolkien's One Ring. It will inevitably corrupt whoever wears it and turn that person into a tyrant. I suspect that if Windows had lost to OS/2, for example, the Ring would simply have been passed from Microsoft to IBM. I'd be writing this column about Lou Gerstner instead of Steve Ballmer.

Linux is like Tom Bombadil -- the only character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy immune to the seduction and effects of the evil ring. Oracle, IBM, and Sun have fantasized about owning the Ring. But they -- along with Informix, Netscape, Computer Associates, Software AG, InterBase, and Corel -- are finally facing the reality that they can't have it. And they are coming to the realization that, if they can't have the Ring, then maybe the world would be a lot better off if nobody did.

I think they're right. What about you?

Former consultant and programmer, Nick will hold a cardboard sign for food.
Reach him at [email protected]
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