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November 4, 1998

Tim O'Reilly Sends an "Open Letter to Microsoft"

Tim O'Reilly, President and CEO of O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., responds to the "Halloween Document", an internal Microsoft memorandum analyzing Open Source software and its potential impact for Microsoft. The memo, posted on the Internet by Open Source evangelist Eric Raymond two days ago, is at: http://www.opensource.org/halloween/

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An Open Letter to Microsoft
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In the already infamous "Halloween Document", you laid out a strategy for competing with the Open Source movement. You say:

"OSS projects have been able to gain a foothold in many server applications because of the wide utility of highly commoditized, simple protocols. By extending these protocols and developing new protocols, we can deny OSS projects entry into the market."

The point that you seem to miss is that it is these simple, commoditized protocols and a culture of building freely on the work of others that brought us the explosion of innovation known as the Internet. And while the Internet has opened new areas of competition for Microsoft, it has also opened up enormous opportunities.

I'm not just talking about new information businesses like Expedia. You have only to look at your two major breadwinners, the Windows operating system and the Office application suite, to see the positive impact of Open Source on your bottom line. Internet-enabling Windows and Office has been the major source of new features that make it worthwhile for customers to buy new systems or upgrade their applications. Lacking the Internet, you would have had to rely on such dubious innovations as Microsoft Bob to drive upgrade revenue. And now you want to undermine Open Source? Try to be serious!

The collaborative, massively distributed development process behind the Internet and Open Source projects is not your enemy. It is your friend, the source of basic research that you can turn into your next generation of products.

At bottom, the Open Source movement is an expression of the Western academic tradition, innovation and discovery through the free exchange of ideas. You rig that system at your peril. You have only to look at the stagnation of Soviet science and industry under a centralized autocratic system, versus the innovation that happened in our free markets, to see what fate you have in store for yourselves if you succeed.

Microsoft is too smart a company to sacrifice long-term vitality for short-term advantage. Instead of trying to crush Open Source, you should follow the lead of companies like O'Reilly, IBM and Silicon Graphics, who are supporting various Open Source communities while finding ways to build commercial added-value products on the open platforms these communities provide.

-- Tim O'Reilly
    President and CEO, O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.

Read responses to Tim's letter.

About O'Reilly

O'Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O'Reilly Media has been a chronicler and catalyst of cutting-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption by amplifying "faint signals" from the alpha geeks who are creating the future. An active participant in the technology community, the company has a long history of advocacy, meme-making, and evangelism.

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