Having a bash bashing Microsoft: Shell game? or Shell game!

I’ve been active in open-source since 1998, and in all that time I’ve only been subject to one unexpected act of censorship.

While reading one of the Linux news sites a few months ago I came across an article or editorial which had some particularly snide remarks about Microsoft, how they were the anti-Linux, the source of evil, that sort of thing. I posted a comment along the lines of:

If you want to make Linux better then work on writing code that will make it better. You will not make Linux better by attacking Microsoft. All you can ask about Microsoft and Linux is what has Microsoft contributed to the Liniux code lately? Needless bashing of Microsoft is a waste of time and a disservice to the open-source community. Let your code do the talking.

Having just started blogging a few weeks earlier, I chose what I thought was a “catchy” title, something that would encourage the casual reader to read the post. It was something along the lines of “why not rename the sites to msbasher?” [1]

Within a few minutes I got back an e-mail from one of the site’s editors. It said that my post had violated their Terms of Service. The post had been erased and my account disabled.”

I couldn’t even read what I had written because it had been deleted and my account disabled, all in a matter of minutes, with no prior discussion! And to think they were complaining about the way Microsoft behaved!

Though Microsoft does use open-source code in their TCP/IP code and has recently engaged in some open-source activity there is as yet no significant activity in the Linux arena. Let them tend to their own garden.

We in the open-source community need to worry not about the garden, but about the beach. To paraphrase a famous quote by Steven Johnson: “Bashing Microsoft is like kicking a dead whale along a beach.” To engage in needless bashing is to play a shell game that serves no one well.

Yes, it can be fun, but in the long run it serves no useful purpose. MS-bashing is particularly common among the Linux press folks; it is all to easy follow the advice of Chef Emeril and “kick it up a notch” by adding a dash of anti-MS comments to a piece and Windows and Linux, or whatever.

I’ve also been guilty of needless MS-bashing. If you read one of my earliest blogs, Letter to Robert J Stevens, CEO, Lockheed Martin you will find that I spoke to a group of secondary school students last February. I was asked to speak along with two other IBMers about Open-Source, as part of a year-long program based on the theme “The World is Flat” from Tom Friedman’s recent book. One of the questions from the audience was about Microsoft and Open Source, and though I don’t think I did any special bashing I do recall thinking to myself later that I should have been moderate in my response.

A significant problem with MS-bashing is that it reinforces the views of those that view open-source and Microsoft as enemies, dividing the world into “us” versus “them.” But the real world is much more nuanced, and in particular there are areas where there is every reason to write software that can interoperate with Microsoft software and hopefully could in part even be developed with Microsoft’s participation. These areas include those of great concern to open source volunteers: education and providing assistance to non-profit organizations.

So if you want to make Linux better, open up a shell window and start coding. That’s the shell game!


1. My wife has remarked that I probably blog just so I can have fun with puns. She’s probably right. I still try to have some fun coming up with titles for my posts, having a bash bashing the English language. [2]

2. “bash” is an interesting word. There is no entry for it in the 1974 edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second Edition. Today, via dictionary.com, I see that “bash” has many usages, including the three “To engage in harsh, accusatory, threatening criticism” and “A celebration; a party” and “Bourne Again SHell. GNU’s command interpreter for Unix.” that are used in the title of this post. [3]

3. The original Unix shell was written by Steve Bourne. A later shell known as the “Korn shell” or “ksh” was written by Dave Korn. The standard Linux shell is known as “bash” for “Bourne Again SHell.” As it happens I have met both Mr. Bourne and Mr. Korn. One day in the late 70’s Robert Dewar, who then had an office next to mine at the Courant Institute, introduced me one day to a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Bourne”>Steve Bourne. Steve said he and Robert had worked together on Algol 68, and he was on his way from England to New Jersey to start a new job at Bell Labs. I’ve known David Korn since the 60’s, when were fellow graduate students at Courant. He and Frances Bauer, a staff member, did ground-breaking (if that’s the right word to use in this context) work under the direction of Paul Garabedian in developering numerical solutions to the partial differential equations governing air flow. David was a first-rate numerical analyst; he left Courant to work for Bell Labs, and while there he wrote ksh. There is an amusing story in the wikipeda article about David Korn about some comments by David during a Microsoft presentation.

Copyright (c) 2006 by David Shields. Licensed under the Apache License 2.0.


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