Linux is the future, say former MS execs

From Redmond, via Damascus

While Microsoft pours buckets of vitriol over open source, some of its most distinguished former executives are backing Linux.

Eric Engstrom was one of a number of key management who departed as the MS anti-trust trial wore on. He started and led the Direct X project, was general manager at MSN, and testified on behalf of the Evil Empire in the trial.

Now, with a group of former Redmond colleagues, he's backing Linux. Their start-up Chromium is a Linux 'pure play', and he's effusive in his praise of the operating system.

"Linux is an awesome operating system," he says. "On the server side Linux is the most advanced operating system out there today," he tells us, as it lacks the architectural baggage of Windows. "It can be much faster."

Speed is pretty critical to Chromium. It hired Linux kernel Fabio Riccardi to tinker with the flagship product, ChromeLinux/WebServer, a $295 accelerator for Apache which Chromium claims boosts performance threefold. A mail server is in the works, and the company is keen to wrap up the software in a range of appliance servers.

Engstrom encourages both performance and price/performance comparisons between Linux running Chromium's Apache accelerator and Microsoft's Internet Information Server [IIS].

"It's a mistake to think of IIS as free," he says. "Parts of it are bundled, but a Windows license is still $1200."

The former Microsoft boss has no qualms about starving his former employer from one its key revenue streams either, the Windows Client Access or CAL.

So how was his new venture received by Redmond, we wondered? Engstrom and Bob Taniguchi, VP of product development, insist that Chromium is not looking for a fight.

"We're not competitive to Microsoft at all," Engstrom claims. Really? Even when he's trying to convince customer to go with Linux/Apache, as opposed to a Microsoft server?

"Microsoft is good at getting the extra things in software done. If you want .NET for example, you're probably not our customer. It's a different value proposition. We have good relationships with them, and we're careful about that," he says.

On the other hand, Chromium isn't making its software available in source form. Engstrom says he's never been convinced of the business case of software libre. Specifically, that the service side can generate enough revenue:

"It's a time-sold business. At Microsoft we tried charging for support and it never paid for itself," he says.

For now though, he's focused on accelerating the maturity of GNU/Linux. If he had to name a single area where the team wished Linux was stronger, what it would be? Both Taniguchi and Engstrom see scalability and performance a-plenty provided by the 2.4 kernel. Instead they cite ease of administration, and would be willing to contribute work to the standards base.

Bootnote

Engstrom is associated with a notorious quote that he never actually said: the 'Knife the Baby' episode in the anti-trust trial.

He still gets pretty steamed about that episode, and not only because it was peripheral to Apple's main argument, that Microsoft threatened to with hold Office development for the Mac unless IE was accepted as the default browser - (I don't know anything about that," he tells us). But largely he's annoyed because interoperability issues between QuickTime and Windows were traced back to Apple engineers.

"Apple didn't have a leg to stand on," he says. "I personally emailed them pointing out where to find the bugs in their own code." Auletta's account of the trial World War 3.0 notes the dismay in the Microsoft camp when its PR team was discouraged from making more of the episode by John Warden's 'for the record' legal strategy. ®

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