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MS masters NC mind-set
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2001 04:16:12 -0500 (CDT)


The Open Source 
Nicholas Petreley 
June 21, 2001

WAKE UP, open-source community. The battle is not for the desktop; it
is not for the server; it is not for the operating system; it is not
for the development environment; it is not about the GNU General
Public License (GPL) vs. Microsoft's business model. The battle is
primarily about who will control user-authentication services.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie Ghostbusters II takes place
during the taping of a TV show, "World of the Psychic, with Dr. Peter
Venkman." During the show, a guest named Elaine reveals how she found
out the date for the end of the world, "As I told my husband: It was
in the Paramus Holiday Inn. I was having a drink at the bar, alone,
and this alien approached me. He started talking to me, he bought me a
drink, and then I think he must have used some kind of a ray or a
mind-control device because he forced me to follow him to his room;
and that's where he told me about the end of the world." Bill Murray
replies incredulously, "So your alien had a room at the Holiday Inn in

As humorous as that may appear, I have come to the conclusion that one
of two things must be true: Either Microsoft has a mind-control device
similar to the one mentioned above, or some members of the mainstream
media are as gullible as Elaine. I can think of no other explanation
why people are reacting so differently to Microsoft's .NET than they
did to IBM, Oracle, and Sun's promotion of NC (network computing) a
few years back.

I have maintained for years that NC is the inevitable future. I also
believe Microsoft knew this to be true even as it fought NC tooth and
nail. Once it squashed the real threat -- the type of NC that would
have been free from Microsoft's control -- it simply had to redefine
NC as some new plan created by Microsoft. Hence .NET was born. Now
that Microsoft has convinced much of the mainstream media that .NET is
something new, all .NET has to do is simply ride the natural momentum
of NC that Microsoft managed only to stall.

None of this would have been possible without the mind-control ray,
which has been working beautifully. Compared to the acceptance .NET
now enjoys, the reaction to NC was virulent almost beyond belief.
Columnists and pundits denounced the centralized computing model and
exalted the PC almost daily for the better part of two years. In fact,
the media spread so much propaganda and misinformation about NC that
my late Webzine, NC World, published a bimonthly expos of the idiocy
that was printed by mainstream publications. Some of you who may have
followed NC World may recall that the series was called "Running

We made more than a few enemies by poking fun at the reams of poor
journalism about NC. I wish I could point you to archives of the
articles, but I'm not aware of any way to reach them. The campaign
against NC was ultimately successful. For that among other reasons,
the magazine folded, and the content disappeared forever, at least as
far as I know.

That's a shame because I would love to review all those articles that
trumpeted the virtues of the NetPC and proclaimed how Microsoft's
zero-administration Windows initiative would enable the PC to retain
its regal status without having to sacrifice the benefits of network
computing. Where is the NetPC and zero-administration Windows the
concept that earned my coveted "Beverage through the nose award" that
year? They disappeared the moment people stopped perceiving network
computing as a threat to Microsoft and began to view .NET as something
other than what it really is: Network computing redefined to allow
Microsoft to extend its monopoly control.

The network computing concepts promoted by IBM, Oracle, Sun, and
others were almost identical to .NET concepts as promoted by
Microsoft. Just look at the Microsoft white paper on HailStorm
published at www.microsoft.com/net/HailStorm.asp if you have any
doubts. All of the network computing principles are there, including
the most important one: That users should be able to access services
from any location via simple appliances rather than having to
duplicate services and data on individual PCs.

To realize the goals set forth by .NET, you have to have platform
independence. Centralization of data and resources. Reliability
through redundancy. In other words, you need to adopt all of the
elements of network computing that were anathema to the mainstream
media before they were re-invented by Microsoft. (It should come as no
surprise that I should at this point remind you of Petreley's first
law of computer journalism, which is "No technology exists until
Microsoft invents it.")

The problem with Microsoft's .NET is that it is designed to establish
Microsoft as the controlling entity of the future of network
computing. Microsoft is not only planning to provide the platform and
the tools. It is going to provide the authentication services that
allow Microsoft to control how people use platforms and tools. It is
the only way Microsoft can thrive in the post-PC world. Microsoft
realizes it can no longer grow based on sales of software upgrades or
licenses. So it has to start charging for authentication and access to

Many journalists recognize the most obvious consequence of this
scheme. This is how Microsoft can keep you paying for its software
without having to tempt you with updates.

But what many are missing is the more dangerous threat behind this
closed part of Microsoft's so-called new open-standards approach to
network computing. If Microsoft controls the management of user data
and user authentication, it controls the flow of the services others
can provide. It's the Windows desktop all over again, business-wise.
You can't compete with Microsoft without first making a deal with
Microsoft over something as basic as where your customer's data is
stored and how one must access it.

If that thought doesn't bother you, given Microsoft's abuse of its
authority in the past, then by all means, embrace what you must view
as the beneficent dictator of the future of network computing. After
all, most of the concepts of .NET are themselves desirable because
.NET is, indeed, simply a warmed over version of platform-neutral
network computing. And network computing was the right direction to go
in the first place.

If it does bother you that Microsoft could control most authentication
services, however, then now is the time to join me in sending a
wake-up call to the open source community. We must not only be
diligent to provide the operating system, the tools, and the standards
upon which the future of network computing may be built. We must also
provide the services based on those tools. To do any less is to allow
Microsoft to slip through the back door and sabotage the future of
open standards and open source while we are distracted by the battles
Microsoft pretends to wage in the foreground.

Nick is the founding editor of VarLinux.org ( www.varlinux.org ).
Reach him at nicholas () petreley com  

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