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The Anatomy of a Frontal Assault on Apache

Conrad Sanderson, a PhD student in Australia, and an advent critic of Microsoft, sent in an interesting piece about Microsoft's upcoming frontal assault on Apache with the release of Windows 2000, and its effect on Linux. To read the text, hit the details link.
Microsoft's Web Server Strategy - another case of integration

AKA The Anatomy of a Frontal Assault on Apache

v1.04 (updated)

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer has recently made some interesting noises in Austria. As mentioned in LinuxToday and Microsoft, Kanzler Klima ... (translated via Babelfish), during a keynote address (and/or an interview) Ballmer said "Apache is simply better." And then: "It is our own fault if we do not offer enough features with our servers to justify their price. When it comes to hosting several sites on one server version, Apache is simply better. Windows 2000 will solve this problem."

This is a warning sign 1000 miles high and wide that is easy to decipher knowing Microsoft's tactics and their history. Everybody knows what happened to Netscape. Let me dissect what is going to happen to Apache (and indirectly, to Linux):

  • Microsoft admitting that Apache is better ? Let's remember that Microsoft is more of a marketing company - they would never, ever, I repeat, ever do that. They are too accustomed to spreading FUD and proclaiming "our stuff is better than competition" even when it clearly isn't so. Since they are admitting that the price/performance/features equation of Apache is better than anything Microsoft has to offer, it means they have gotten used to the idea, mulled it over, and came up with a solution. Apache is not just hurting them financially in the server market - it is also hurting them in the statistics game, and Microsoft hates not being on top. They hate not being in control. At last count Apache has 57% of the server market while MS had about 23%.
  • The MS solution to the Apache problem: Windows 2000 will have a simple (lightweight?) web server - very easy to setup and maintain, prominently sitting on the desktop. This will be "integrated" into the operating system, just as Internet Explorer was in Win98.
  • This MS web server will also be available as a free download, for use on Win95 and Win98 machines. This is done purely to spread it and populate it everywhere - make use of the existing Windows userbase, since the Windows 2000 upgrade (read: migration) will take some time. Have you counted how many pirate MP3 sites use primitive FTP servers running on Windows ? The installed user base of Windows machines runs into the 100s of millions, while Linux and other UNIXes that run Apache are only a small percentage of that.
  • it will definitely be a lot better than the poor Personal Web Server currently on offer. Remember Internet Explorer 2.0 in Win95 ? It couldn't compete with the then market leader, Netscape. It was also "hidden" away, deep inside the start menu. But then IE 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 came out with a force, with Microsoft putting much more emphasis on it - directly on the desktop, and impossible to get away from in Win98.
  • This new free MS web server may not be as fast, or feature rich as their current IIS server, but people will be easier to convince to upgrade from the free server to WindowsNT (or whatever its called these days) and the IIS server after being used to a Microsoft product. Even if the free web server eats into their NT sales, their thinking is that it is at least a Microsoft web server and not Apache...
  • ... which leads us to: Microsoft will add some Internet Explorer-only features into their new web server (small at first), thus attempting to control the server and client side at the same time. Using Netscape to access the web server ? Too bad it won't do SomeCoolNewFeature - normal people and Windows geeks won't be impressed...
  • The new free web server / Windows 2000 combination will reduce the appeal of Apache, and hence, Linux (sinceit is the primary platform on which Apache runs on). The main attraction of Linux/Apache is the price and functionality. To most people, its Open SourceNess is a secondary bonus. Microsoft understands this and is attempting to weave a self-fullfilling prophecy of "Linux is only a fad". Stability is of course important, but Microsoft's Marketing Power (tm) will make sure that this is non-issue when the advertising (read: hype) campaign starts for Windows 2000.
  • Attacking Apache with this kind of tactic is not legally painful as integrating the browser was. After all, Apache isn't made by a company. To the legal system and Microsoft, Apache came out of the ether and its secretary is a website.
  • Overall, this strategy isn't much different from what Microsoft did to Netscape. MS is yet again leveraging the Windows installed user base to counter a new threat: Open Source Software. But this threat is of much greater importance and greater stakes are at play here. They know OSS works. They know it has better stuff than they make. They know it develops quicker. They are scared of becoming obsolete. But most of all they are scared of not being on top, not being able to dictate. Not being able to control.
  • The Mindcraft "Benchmarks" were the first phase of the Web Server straregy - designed to throw seeds of doubt against Apache. Too bad for Microsoft they actually helped the development of Linux and Apache.

Recommendations:
  • Fix the performance problems in the Linux kernel and Apache as soon as possible, to create yet another viable technical reason for choosing Linux/Apache over Microsoft products and take the wind out the sails of Microsoft's PR benchmark department.
  • Increase the population of Linux before Windows 2000 is released by having a good office suite for Linux (KOffice and Corel Office are good candidates).

Final Thoughts:
    Steve Ballmer on Linux: "one of the five problems, which employ me before falling asleep. But I sleep nevertheless still quite well."

    Let's make him sleep unwell.


(C) 1999 Conrad Sanderson, 29-Jun-1999. Free to reproduce in unmodified form.

Recent comments

06 Apr 2000 23:12 Avatar ecsd

preserving Apache
The easiest way to fix performance (if it's really an issue) is to run Apache on FreeBSD.
The most direct way to fix Microsoft, if it attempts to create proprietary client-side hooks for MS server features, is to boycott such sites and make noise about it.
I don't think Microsoft will be able to transcend the breach between servers and clients.
There will always be those who know better, even if only dimly, and "everyone else" = mass market = 'stupid' public. All Mr. Jones needs to know about his 2000-based 'server' (if he gets that far) is that half the world can't view it; he'll ask his nephew, his nephew will explain the difference between Microsoft software and the rest of the known universe, and Mr. Jones will be convinced to abandon his toy in favor of something real (Apache, which will run on 2000 and still be free) and that's all she wrote.

26 Nov 1999 18:08 Avatar mmoez

Winning isn't the goal
I don't understand why people are so urged to see the couple Linux/OpenSource win.
Let's focus on an essential thing: What made Linux kernel and open source programs better than commercial ones is the fact that they are always trying to compete with them and to prove that a band of geeks can do better than 1000 of Microsoft's guys.
I am not sure that if Linux will take over 50% of the market, things would be better... Remember what happened with CP/M. After years of success, Digital Research people forgot innovation and lost against the dirty DOS.
WINNING ISN'T THE FINAL GOAL... The goal of our community is to create, to innove and to provide people with high quality software regardless of Bill Gates' plans and declarations...

17 Sep 1999 06:31 Avatar danielnakasone

This is War
And If is war the greatest damage would be in the desktop arena where they feel invencibles. If M$ would use it's desktop base to attack Open Source then Open Source Movement must get desktop share avidly. Is not only Apache's problem, GNU's too, and ...

02 Sep 1999 13:25 Avatar robins19

Apache, etc.
Jason Straight is right: "Linux isn't about winning the war against microsoft, Just like I don't build my hotrod truck to beat top fuel racers, we don't build linux for the purpose of beating anyone, we build it to get the job done that we need to."

It's not linux or apache who will be threatened by this-- it's the vendors. But even that is doubtful: how do you hurt the business of a competitor who sells a product that's free in the first place?

I guess it's the linux dichotomy that's in question here-- are you using linux because it is technically and morally superior to Micro$oft, or are you just another snake oil salesman trying to get rich quick?

Sure I'll look at Win2000--I have to support it for my clients. But it's not going to displace linux on my personal systems.

13 Jul 1999 11:42 Avatar crashcontrol

This is the start
I would like to say that Im not a defendant of Linux, Ive found that it has holes. Not nearly as big as Windows but still holes. Yet Im not a fan of Windows. But I am an AntiMicrosoft individual. Microsoft has had taken alot of businesses out because it needs to be on top. Gates has a God complex that, at this point, is so out of control is laughable. When Microsoft killed Netscape this was the final straw. I believe that if computer makers and computer sevice engineers and techs dont take up against MS then it will bully and continue to do what is has done for a long time. I will comment more later.

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