[ISN] MS masters NC mind-set

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Thu Jun 21 2001 - 02:16:12 PDT

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    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 nicholasat_private 
    ISN is hosted by SecurityFocus.com
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