Ex-Microsoft employee: Free software will kill the company

CIO has posted an article about a man named Keith Curtis, a previous programmer for Microsoft, who has come out with the dramatic statement that free software will be the downfall of the Redmond company. Curtis, who was with Microsoft for 11 years, believes that free and open source software is technically superior to the proprietary alternative because it lets developers collaborate and innovate.

Curtis, a so-called Linux guru, apparently never actually tried the free operating system until after he left Microsoft in 2004, but he truly believes that as long as the software giant is dominant, then we will continue to live in, ""the dark ages of computing." Interesting, he also said that, "If Microsoft, 20 years ago, built Windows in an open way, Linux wouldn't exist, and millions of programmers would be improving Windows rather than competing with it."

So, how exactly will free software take down Microsoft? Curtis believes there are two ways this will happen. The first way is the belief that open source software is, as mentioned, technically superior. If everybody can contribute to software, then theoretically it will suit more needs. There are a few examples of this already in motion, apparently; the Firefox web browser, the Linux kernel which runs a wide variety of devices, including cellphones, and the point that Apple also uses a free kernel instead of a proprietary one. Secondly, Curtis thinks that the other potential threat is the fact that it's free. There are many ways that free software can be profitable to the companies that make it, but Microsoft does not rely on that, it relies on people purchasing its products.

It's unclear if, or when, Linux will take over. Curtis says that although software like Open Office does need some work, it is good enough for the vast majority of users. He said, "Even if Microsoft did embrace Linux, not only would it hurt their profit margins, they'd be forced to explain to customers why they should continue to pay for Office." If Microsoft had made Windows more openly about 20 years ago, Curtis thinks that Linux would not exist today, and programmings would be aiming at improving it as opposed to competing with it; he compares the situation to Microsoft "manning a leaky ship", and says that while Windows 7 is an improvement, it is still fundamentally flawed.

He's unclear on what Microsoft could do to stop this potential uprising of open source software. Bill Gates has been quoted to say, "It's easier for our software to compete with Linux when there's piracy than when there's not." He has an interesting outlook on things, and be sure to write back in the comments with your thoughts, too.

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...Not as long as the odds of recovering from a Linux crash/hang is at best on a par with that of Windows'.

And this is coming from someone striving to steer clear of Windows as much as possible.

Since Free Software runs on Windows it would only serve to entrench Windows further. Free Software is not exclusive to Linux. People need to wake the hell up and see how things really work.

He's got a point.
If you can't see it, you should take that Vista box out of your pants and start seeing sense.

If I couldn't pirate, I'd be using Linux + Opensource.

After reading the entire CIO article, I can unequivically state that this article on Keith Curtis is nothing more than a fluff-and-comb PR piece for his book. The questions were leading, planned and poised in a way to support the author's points. The piece from CIO fits right-in with Neowin's mantra about "unprofessional journalism".

In the "interview", what really made me laugh was this comnment from Mr. Curtis:

"...The biggest difference between Windows and Linux is that free software contains thousands of applications, installable with one click, and managed as one set. A Linux operating system includes all the obvious stuff like a spreadsheet, Web browser and instant messaging. But it also includes tools for making pictures and music, server software and development tools.

Since when is a Spreadsheet program part of the Operating System!?! Linux itself (the Linux OS) does not include things like OpenOffice, image editing and music - that's the purvey of the various distributions of Linux. How this person remained as a contractor for 10 years at Microsoft is beyond me.

What exactly is "The Linux OS" to you? :/
Do you know that it comes in *many* distrubitions, most of which include Open Office. That's what he is talking about.

He fails to mention what happens when you want software that isn't in your repository to be installed it can potentially lead to some horrible consequences.

Solid Knight said,
He fails to mention what happens when you want software that isn't in your repository to be installed it can potentially lead to some horrible consequences.

And you fail to mention that installing any untested software on any OS can lead to horrible consequences.

Penguin heads I like that! It's the first time I've heard it. Anyway this discussion is academic; R&D costs money, Open Source is low-budget, always will be due to it's underfunded, unfocused and unaccountable nature.
Free software? After that you'll want free hardware. Not going to happen....

I think that, FWIW, the ex-MS guy is simply saying what he likes best -- that his opinions should be given no more, nor less weight than anyone's. It's not really an indictment of MS, or Windows, but rather a statement of what OS he likes best today. Indeed, if Linux had been the 1st out the gate favorite a couple decades ago, Microsoft could have been the underdog. Please consider...

If the same resources had been spent on Linux rather than Windows over the years, Linux would look & act much more like the OSes out of Microsoft & Apple. You can debate whether the core of one is inherently better than another, but it's the development resources & the way they were applied, that resulted in the major OSes we have to choose from today. You can point out that Linux never had tremendous manufacturer support for drivers & such, since that had quite a lot to do with how resources were spent, the direction of development, and the growth rate & numbers of users... at the end of the day though this is more a VHS vs. Betamax sort of affair, pointing out once again that life's often unfair, & decisions made by a relative few can have far reaching consequences. What if the folks making hardware couldn't ignore Linux years ago, not having any alternatives?

You can debate open source vs. closed -- each has it's pluses & minuses -- but you can't argue that Linux & Windows have evolved in different directions for much of their life, & those directions were determined not just by whomever was in charge, but by the consensus of the user community. What if today's typical Windows user never had Windows as a choice? Wouldn't they still demand much of what Windows offers from whatever OS? What if meeting those demands required stepping away from open source ideals? You could even debate whether open source would have happened the same way -- how much of it was/is reaction to the MS way of doing biz. As the underdog upstart, might MS have been the open source champs?

This whole open source vs proprietary debate reminds me vaguely (I said vaguely) of communism vs capatalism. Sounds like a bunch of techno-hippi idealists who want the whole world to help each other so everyone can have the best software. That's crap! If you have a good idea, good product, good service, then you want to get paid for it so you can make the best life for yourself possible. That's ok. If you want the doohicki I created, then you have to pay for it. If I just give it to you, then what? You make it better and give it to Ted, who makes it better, and so on? Wrong! I give it to you, you make it better, you give it to Ted who breaks it and brings it back to you to fix: this continues add-nauseum until you have a few people working their asses to please everyone else and getting nothing in return. You don't want to pay for an operating system? Fine, build your own, but quit whining about how you think it should be open source so everyone can improve it when what you really mean is you want it to be free.

Sam Symons said,
[...] continue to live in, ""the dark ages of computing." Interesting, he also said [...]
I spy two erratum here. Double opening quote and a grammatical error, "Interestingly" would be preferred.

shhac said,
I spy two erratum here. Double opening quote and a grammatical error, "Interestingly" would be preferred.

Click the "Report a problem" link just above the article - that gets it straight to the editors

if only there was more of a connection between the developer's ability to see the source code , and the user's experience to use it easily....

so i am guessing firefox isnt a good example of open source software, because open source software in general isnt good?

People have been saying that Redmond will fall because of OSS for what...10 years now? Linux was ready for the desktop years ago according to Linux evangelists. This story seems to be nothing else than yet another claim by one who has "seen the light"

Look, I have nothing against Linux. In fact I run Ubuntu on one of my PC's and I like it. A lot actually. But naming innovation as one of the key aspects of OSS is a bit...ridiculous really. There is not a lot of innovation to be seen in Linux really. Just look at how many of the applications are basically clones of their Windows counterparts in terms of looks and functionality. One of the few true examples of innovation for me has been the new Gnome Shell that is being worked on. It remains to be seen however when this will show up and how people will react to it.

There's definitely advantages to OSS I will not deny that. In fact I use a lot of OSS apps, also on Windows. There are also disadvantages, but these aren't mentioned or acknowledged here. One is the fact that the OSS community is totally apposed to blending with closed source software, making things that should be very easy for the user harder than it needs to be. Open Source is not the holy grail and closed source software is not evil. Secondly, developers will work on what they want to work on. That way new stuff will be added and compatibility will be broken, leaving year old bugs in the source because noone is interested in fixing them because there's more fun stuff to do as well.

If everybody can contribute to software, then theoretically it will suit more needs.

This has been said for years by many, many people. Of the people saying it I wonder how many actually DO contribute. By far the largest part of the bigger software projects is being worked on by paid developers from Novell and the likes. All this "community driven" talk is romanticizing the thing.

Curtis, a so-called Linux guru, apparently never actually tried the free operating system until after he left Microsoft
in 2004


Ahhhhh, so someone is bitter that he lost his job. No problem but this is really more of an immature and horribly misinformed rant than "news". Microsoft isn't going anywhere, nor should they.

Gee I can't imagine why a person as unprofessional and immature as this would be let go from Microsoft. Hhmmm... let me think.

Curtis thinks that Linux would not exist today, and programmings would be aiming at improving it as opposed to competing with it; he compares the situation to Microsoft "manning a leaky ship", and says that while Windows 7 is an improvement, it is still fundamentally flawed.

minWIN is not enough for a fix for Windows 7, going onwards. It is a bloated piece of crap, like installing a 50cc engine in an 18 wheeler.

VIVIsectVI
Irony is, I'm posting this, from a Dell Studio 1737 laptop, running Ubuntu 9.04...and trying to figure out why it won't wake from suspend...like the oh-so-horrible Vista does easily.

I have never had an OS that can wake up from suspend. Windows 98, XP. Ubuntu no one can wake up, so I have to pull the power cord.

Alley Cat said,
minWIN is not enough for a fix for Windows 7, going onwards. It is a bloated piece of crap, like installing a 50cc engine in an 18 wheeler.

Irony of THAT is Windows 7 can even run well on netbooks with like 1.3GHz processors and 512MB of ram...oh well, guess theres no pleasing some people.

Alley Cat said,
minWIN is not enough for a fix for Windows 7, going onwards. It is a bloated piece of crap, like installing a 50cc engine in an 18 wheeler.

So you don't know what MinWin (or a meaningful analogy) is, then.

Alley Cat said,
I have never had an OS that can wake up from suspend. Windows 98, XP. Ubuntu no one can wake up, so I have to pull the power cord.

So you don't know what a power button is, then.

They have been saying this for many years now. It will never happen until Linux has the ability to run all windows software. Especially when it comes to games.

It's just like communism - if only there is no property, and the means of production belong to everyone (meaning, no one in particular), everybody will "contribute" for the common good.

I think it run counter to the trend that to produce high quality products, very deep labor specialization is needed, which is possible to achive only through equity ownership. For instance, companies like MS and Apple spend tons of money on usability studies, creating high-specialized professions that deal with these issues alone. The same can be said about vertical and horizontal integration. You just can't achieve the same depth when you move to the OSS model - since there is no direct monetary or equity compensation, the OSS only attracts a few "superstar" developers, but nothing more. All the "boring" stuff that makes up the other 90% of what makes a product valuable to the customers is simply not there.

I'm not holding my breath.

Microsoft has created Web sites where developers can use free code and collaborate, and the latest is called CodePlex. While it shows that Microsoft understands the benefits of free software, this site mostly contains tiny add-ons to proprietary Microsoft products.

This statement tells me he has no idea what he's on about.

The first thing that made me discount everything the guy was saying is that he started off by indicating he's a programmer.

For someone to even go into the field, they should have an indepth feel for how computers work. When there is a problem, they can work around it, or figure out how someone wrote what they are working with and work within those confines.

When we get a computer, we go for the power machines. We rarely even bother looking at what's on sale at Best Buy.

Because of those two things, A) we're out of touch of what 95% of computer users experience when they use the software we create("Works fine on my machine!"), and B) think somethings pretty cool when joe user thinks something is cumbersome and ugly("You must have clicked the wrong thing!" "You can do that if you go down to preferences, advanced, TentPole.Mudflap.CornHit.Enable and set to 0").

These are _not_ the people you should trust to predict the future. These are _not_ the people that should and try sell joe user anything. Argh!

Technically superior? come on... I agree the open-source model does work for some programs, but certainely not a majority. Guess what, developers are humans and humans need to eat, buy clothes and have somewhere to sleep in.

As for the "many ways" a software can be profitable when distributed free, if that was that easy, don't you think a lot more companies would use that model? A lot of developers create free software to get experience and add things on their resume in order to find a job. If the software world was a free world, do you really think all those developers would keep on doing this? There's no magic, you don't make money out of nothing and until we live in a Star Trek world, we'll need things like money to have a life and we'll need companies like Microsoft to create the software most of us use every day.

of course if windows is open , we well have ton of win distro !

and the endless fun of incompatibilities

If everybody can contribute to software, then theoretically it will suit more needs.

Everybody can contribute to software on Windows just not the core OS - to achieve what you want on Windows who really needs to be altering the OS code??? And then using the OS used to run a phone to compare against a desktop: saying "it works on phones - it will work on desktops" is crazy, and then looking at Apple they sell the OS on so that's again a non comparison.

Unless Microsoft cut funding to develop OS market share I do not see it declining anytime soon, Linux needs to massively catch up with Windows (for the everyday consumer) before it will be close to having huge impact.

"while Windows 7 is an improvement,it is still fundamentally flawed."

All s/w have their own flaws and downsides. Just use what fits your needs. I use windows because i want to get my work done asap and in a better way

Glendi said,
lol, Now that he doesn't work there he brings this stuff.
Do you think he'd do it while still at MS? Sounds like a quick way to lose your job.

Kirkburn said,
Do you think he'd do it while still at MS? Sounds like a quick way to lose your job.

The "article" makes it clear he hasn't worked there for 5 years...

excalpius said,
The "article" makes it clear he hasn't worked there for 5 years...

Well done. Not sure what that has to do with my quote, but well done.

Microsoft making profit from their intellectual property seems alright to me.. They've released a lot of APIs over time and continue doing so.. But thats just my opinion

SVG said,
Microsoft making profit from their intellectual property seems alright to me.. They've released a lot of APIs over time and continue doing so.. But thats just my opinion


That is just BS. Microsoft grabs open source software, massage it a bit to use their own underlaying APIs (like Win32), make it proprietary, and then release it as their own. That is why they are never first with anything.

Yeah... in related news: free stuff is always bad for companies that try to sell stuff.

That is deep. Sometimes I susprise myself!

It's really humbling to read such an open-minded opinion from someone from Microsoft. As much as I love some of Microsoft's products, I have to agree that open source software is the way of the future. Technology that anyone can contribute to and manipulate to serve individual needs will ALWAYS be superior to a closed, proprietary standards. I can't speak for anyone else, but for me, personally, I'm sick of having to eat from Microsoft's plate and dig around for alternative programs to do what I need to do, and literally pay the developers for my attention. I am in no way advocating piracy, but I would much rather use programs I know I'm free to manipulate to make life easier, and so would a lot of other people. Linux really has begun to become a much more appealing alternative, and I think it's only a matter of time before the whole world gives it the attention it needs. "Kumos" to Curtis for taking us one step closer.

Bri- said,
Technology that anyone can contribute to and manipulate to serve individual needs will ALWAYS be superior to a closed, proprietary standards. I can't speak for anyone else, but for me, personally, I'm sick of having to eat from Microsoft's plate and dig around for alternative programs to do what I need to do, and literally pay the developers for my attention.

If technology, ideas were freely shared like you said, the world would be in chaos and there would be no incentive to innovate. Why?

1. You have to recognize that there are many f^ckup people out there with dangerous mind. Letting having access to "technology" could lead to disasters. Example: North-Korea with its nuclear toys. Hey, nuclear technology nowadays is to produce electricity, not bomb. Look... Or another example, spyware, virus, phising scam artists. All those exploit "technology" are shared and contribute, aren't they?

2. if there were no competition in creating new technology, there wouldn't be any new innovation for u to use. Take a look at Linux. How long ago was it built? Today 2009, Linux looks the same. There is nothing change fundamentally that makes computer users scream out loud except for improved GUI in an effort to spread it around the world. Nice effort, but, it is not that impressive. Instead, today, you have many different version of linux competes against each other. Companies try to make money on it through training and support or donation. Give me a break!

If everything can happen easily like you wished, it would be great. But, the fact is just like communism, it doesn't work in reality.

excalpius said,
Um, he's neither "open minded" nor "from Microsoft". He's an EX programming contractor and an unabashed open source advocate.

Neither of those point dispute whether he's "open minded" or "from Microsoft".

Kirkburn said,
Neither of those point dispute whether he's "open minded" or "from Microsoft".

You just failed reading comprehension 101. :)

EX contract means he is not currently from Microsoft.

And being an unabashed open source advocate (in his own words!) immediately makes it clear he is no longer open minded about Windows.

Q.E.D.

excalpius said,
...
And being an unabashed open source advocate (in his own words!) immediately makes it clear he is no longer open minded about Windows.

Q.E.D.


Oh, so your premise is that he was an Open Source advocate before he even tried it for the first time?

It all makes sense now....

excalpius said,
You just failed reading comprehension 101. :)

EX contract means he is not currently from Microsoft.

And being an unabashed open source advocate (in his own words!) immediately makes it clear he is no longer open minded about Windows.

Q.E.D.


He worked for MS for many years. He knows how MS works.

He has an opinion. He, unlike you, knows how opinions work.

Kirkburn said,
Neither of those point dispute whether he's "open minded" or "from Microsoft".


Actually, they do dispute his "open minded"-ness or his previous relationship with Microsoft.

Since he has been an Open-Source advocate for quite some time, and not a new "convert" to F/OSS, the article paints the picture of him being a very-recent convert to F/OSS. The rendering of him being an Ex-Microsoft employee is an out-right lie - he was a CONTRACTOR to Microsoft, which does not allow anyone any benefits as a Microsoft employee. "from Microsoft" denotes that one is or was an employee of Microsoft...which he was not.

Based on the title, Free anything will kill any company. Defeats the purpose of making money. I understand the ad-driven business model, but it can't be a viable solution all the time.

darkmanx21 said,
Based on the title, Free anything will kill any company. Defeats the purpose of making money. I understand the ad-driven business model, but it can't be a viable solution all the time.


Thats exactly what I have been wondering all the time.. Free software companies cannot get as much revenue to aid professional testing of their softwares in office-like environments, etc.. Microsoft or any other profitable software company will always have an upper-hand with the trained personnel and R&D owing to the money they get in return

Free software will probably never go mainstream because consumers will always want to hold someone accountable for software not working. Paying a company money is supposed to be an incentive for the software you pay for to work. Besides, free software suffers from the fact that it presents people with TOO many choices, thus making none of them easy to use. And I just find that the fit and finish is never there enough to make a product worthwhile.

Don't get me wrong, software like Firefox is amazing, but I don't see companies switching to applications which businesses have usually paid for just to save a few bucks.

dagamer34 said,
Free software will probably never go mainstream because consumers will always want to hold someone accountable for software not working.

Consumers can't hold Microsoft accountable for Windows not working. Microsoft just sends you to the forums to try to get answers, or they tell you that you need to reinstall the operating system.

Right on brother this guy actually thought he could hold microsoft responsible for anything? If the europian union could not and still trying. And microsoft keeps laughing at them. To microsoft we are just bugs hitting their windshield. They just get annoyed that we put a stain on it and they have to squirt windshield fluid to was us off.

So all the knowledge base and other forums run by and updated BY MS staff and programmers is pointless and doesn't help? Sorry, but are you being serious here? And how are they not accountable when they fix things that people have problems with?

Microsoft has crappy support? That's news to me. The support I recieve is usually spot on. Plus I had to use on of my companies MSDN support calls at 3 in the morning once. They had a very knowlegable tech on the phone with me in minutes (they actually had to wake one up because there wasn't one currently there who could handle my problem), and he spent the next 2 hours troubleshooting my issue to get me up and running again.

@ roblife
The EU suit is bull**** and you know it. Microsoft can't bundle IE with Windows but Apple can put Safari with its OS? Nobody is forcing consumers to use IE, they can install Firefox or Opera or Chrome or whatever browser they want (I use Firefox myself).

Firefox is amazing? Firefox has an amazing extensibility capability, for everything else I can provide you dozens of browsers that work better and are closed source.

If Windows had been made openly 20 years ago, Microsoft would not be one of the largest and richest companies out there.

For good or ill...

So instead of giving it for cheap to nigerians so they can make up schemes to rip of people why dont he make it open source now. He made all the money on us. Now its time to give back to society. Open windows and lock the doors. The back doors. Instead of just giving your money to charity.

roblife said,
So instead of giving it for cheap to nigerians so they can make up schemes to rip of people why dont he make it open source now. He made all the money on us. Now its time to give back to society. Open windows and lock the doors. The back doors. Instead of just giving your money to charity.

... what?

I can't tell if that's racist, selfish, stupid or a combination of all three. Actually, nah, I'm going with the last one.

roblife said,
So instead of giving it for cheap to nigerians so they can make up schemes to rip of people why dont he make it open source now. He made all the money on us. Now its time to give back to society. Open windows and lock the doors. The back doors. Instead of just giving your money to charity.



What is it with all this talk about backdoors? Calm down and take the tinfoil hat off.

roblife said,
So instead of giving it for cheap to nigerians so they can make up schemes to rip of people why dont he make it open source now. He made all the money on us. Now its time to give back to society. Open windows and lock the doors. The back doors. Instead of just giving your money to charity.


I'm sorry that I have to reply to one of your comments again, @roblife - but this is even a more ignorant post than then one I just replied to.

The deal for Microsoft software went to the Nigerian GOVERNMENT, not to the citizens. Again, check your facts before you post!

How does "closing the backdoors" keep Nigerian 419 Scams from being sent? Show us!

In case you haven't heard, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donates hundreds of millions of dollars to fight AIDS and Malaria. Get a clue!

Linux fan. EX employee. As such, his opinion is clearly biased, self-delusional, and therefore irrelevant.

Why is this on the front page?

excalpius said,
Linux fan. EX employee. As such, his opinion is clearly biased, self-delusional, and therefore irrelevant.

Why is this on the front page?


Pot, kettle, black.......

The argument would be that it's just his opinion, the same opinion that has been said by others since linux started, yet here we are in 2009, loads of people love Win7 at this point, and Office 2007 is doing great as well.

Plus there is loads of free and open projects being done on Windows every day. MS also has many things that are open for developers to use and so on.

Bill Gates has been quoted to say, "It's easier for our software to compete with Linux when there's piracy than when there's not."

Of course, without Windows being pirated so much, there would be a lot more Linux.

excalpius said,
Linux fan. EX employee. As such, his opinion is clearly biased, self-delusional, and therefore irrelevant.

Why is this on the front page?


cuz this is neowin v2, where editorials are fp and the real news is nowhere to be found.

jme621 said,
cuz this is neowin v2, where editorials are fp and the real news is nowhere to be found.

Thanks. That's all I was saying.

excalpius said,
Linux fan. EX employee. As such, his opinion is clearly biased, self-delusional, and therefore irrelevant.

Why is this on the front page?


So because he likes the mindset of Linux, he is "self-delusional" and "irrelevant"?

How will Microsoft ever learn anything from the competition with stances like yours?

Lord Ba'al said,
Of course, without Windows being pirated so much, there would be a lot more Linux.

People who don't want to pay for windows can download it, if they couldn't download windows, they might go for the other free (and legal) alternative.

Kirkburn said,
Indeed. It helps if commenters actually have an argument.

Truly indeed. I am a Microsoft user, and it can be nice, but I also like Linux. Do I agree with the guy? Hmm, not really. People are not educated enough in technology to know what is right, or even what is better or worse. They go for ease of use, and that is something that Microsoft has dominated for a long time. Linux at first was clearly NOT something you could simply install. Windows was easy enough for computer 'users' to install or upgrade. Am I saying Windows is better or worse? Of course not, but it sure can be easy.

Jugalator said,

So because he likes the mindset of Linux, he is "self-delusional" and "irrelevant"?

How will Microsoft ever learn anything from the competition with stances like yours?


They don't need to learn, because they have a monopoly.

C_Guy said,
The same one where people forget that they get what they pay for.

How about the paid versions of Linux? How about Vista? I would not pay for Vista.