Halloween IV: When Software Things Were Rotten

Microsoft executives dismiss open-source as hype. Complex future projects [will] require big teams and big capital, said Ed Muth, a Microsoft group marketing manager. These are things that Robin Hood and his merry band in Sherwood Forest aren't well attuned to do.

-- From a 30 Dec 1998 pl.com story

Scene: Morning, Sherwood Forest

Linus Hood, his trusty lieutenant Alan-a-Cox, Friar Eric, Maid Tove, and sundry merry men enter, stage right.

Linus: Hey, my merry men! What entertainment shall we seek in the greenwood this day?

Alan-a-Cox: Let us betake ourselves to the Information Superhighway passing through this noble wood, and waylay some corporate IT managers!

Friar Eric: Shall I go to the town of Nottingham, Linus, and with smooth words recruit the gossips and trade press to our cause?

Maid Tove: And I, sweetheart, should practice my karate lest the Sheriff's dastards seek to lay hands on thee!     Maid Tove side-kicks a nearby tree by way of demonstration. The tree falls down.

Linus: And I have a new kernel release ready, the which to dazzle our enemies with. These plans seem good. Let us away!

Merry Men: Huzzah! Hurray for Linus!

All exit, stage left

Scene: Later That Day, Nottingham Castle

Present are Ed Muth, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and his nervous henchman Vinod.

Sheriff: My master, King Billy, is displeased. Reports have reached even to his palace in Seattle that Linus and his ruffians purloined another Fortune 500 account today.

Vinod:That's terrible, master! If this goes on, hardware vendors will begin to defect soon. Then how will you collect the Microsoft tax?

Sheriff: And those jackals in the trade press have been writing this-is-the-year-of-Linux stories again.

Vinod: It's dreadful, master! Dreadful!

The Sheriff rounds on Vinod, cuffing him soundly.

Sheriff: You fool! This is all your fault! If you hadn't let those damned memoranda leak, the peasants would still think we are invincible!

Vinod cringes elaborately.

Sheriff: We need a cunning plan. Some way to trap and crush those outlaws. Hmmm...

Vinod: Master, I have an idea. Why don't we write software so complicated and protocols so obscure and undocumented that only we can figure them out?

Sheriff: Yes! Then we will use our superior marketing forces to cram them down everyone's throat, and neither Linus's outlaws nor any other competition will be able to get a toehold in any IT shop anywhere, ever again!

Vinod: Exactly, master. I call it de-commoditizing.

Sheriff: Brilliant idea, Vinod! I'm glad I thought of it!

The two put their heads together, whispering...

Scene: Sherwood Forest, That Evening

Linus, Alan-a-Cox, Maid Tove, Friar Eric, and the merry men confer deep in the greenwood...

Friar Eric: I like not the rumors I have been hearing -- of some vast and complex engine the Sheriff's men are constructing, with which to crush us utterly.

Alan-a-Cox: Indeed. 'Tis said it is called Windows 2000. But the beta rollouts have been greatly delayed, and performance has been unimpressive. I fear it not.

Linus: We shall see, lads. On the morrow, there will be a great benchmarking contest in the town of Nottingham, with OS developers from across the land competing for the gold.

Maid Tove: Linus! This smells of a trap laid for thee!

Friar Eric: Verily. I like it not. Mayhap they will rig the results, and seek to discredit your work.

Linus: Natheless, I must attempt it. For surely they will display their fearsome engine, and I must take its measure with my own eyes.

Merry Men: Huzzah! Hurray for Linus!

Scene: Next Morning, Nottingham Town Square

Festive crowds mill around a number of PCs set on trestles in the square. Banners proclaim Solaris, Novell, SCO, and names of other competing teams.

On a castle balcony overlooking the crowd, the Sheriff confers with sundry marketroids and press shills.

Sheriff: That arrant knave could never resist a challenge to his prowess. Mark me, he will be among the contestants somewhere.

Vinod: Yes, master. And then?

Sheriff (smirking): When we discover his disguise, we shall FUD him without mercy!

Vinod: Yes, master. I go to watch the packet sniffers.

Linus, Alan-a-Cox, Tove, and Friar Eric enter the square disguised as peasants.

Friar Eric: Look! There it is!    He points.

At dead-center of the town square there looms a vast, complex and glittering device. A huge monitor stares forth from it like a lidless eye. Below the monitor Gothic letters proclaim: Windows 2000. MCSEs scurry about its base.

Maid Tove: But...it's huge!

Alan-a-Cox: It has to be. Haven't you seen the minimum hardware requirements for their last couple of releases?

Friar Eric: I've registered our handle with the heralds. You're `Robin of Helsinki', Linus. But...are you sure you want to go through with this? I can see dozens of flacks and marketroids from here. They're waiting to pounce if they figure out who you are.

Linus: Stout heart, lads!    He reaches into his quiver and withdraws a golden CD-ROM. On it is the fateful sigil 2.2.

A herald calls out: Let the throughput trials begin!

Linus inserts the golden CD-ROM into a nearby PC and boots it up. A vast Microsoft logo appears on the monitor in mid-square. Other teams finish their preparations. The heralds begin simulating a typical intranet job load on all servers. The load gradually rises.

Alan-a-Cox: So far, so good...uh oh! We're being port-scanned.

Around the square, machines are crashing. Meanwhile, on the balcony...

Vinod: Master! Master! I think I've found them!

Sheriff: Oh? Which ones?

Vinod: Yes. They're over there -- the only contestants I couldn't crash with the latest CERT exploit.

Sheriff: Curses. How do they do that? That alert has only been on the net for three hours!

Vinod: Well, master, I've told you before that the ability of the OSS process to collect and harness the collective IQ of thousands of individuals across the Internet is simply amazing.

The Sheriff cuffs Vinod. Vinod cringes elaborately.

Sheriff: Never mind that now, you idiot. We've got them where we want them.    Calls out: Unleash the dogs of FUD!

Various press shills and Microsoft lackeys, alerted, begin pointing fingers at Linus and his little band.

Shill #1: Linux has no support!

Shill #2: It's not a mature product!

Lackey #3: It's not a safe choice, like Microsoft!

Lackey #4: Yeah, those hippies will never build anything really complicated or difficult!

The crowd turns ugly. Rotten vegetables appear and are waved threateningly at our heroes.

Linus: Steady, lads, steady. Linux is still running. All we have to do is wait...

Suddenly there is a commotion from mid-square. Heads turn towards the giant monitor. The crowd gasps. Tove's soft voice is clearly audible in the ensuing silence.

Tove: Look! Look! It's the Blue Screen of Death!

Alan-a-Cox: Indeed it is. They're wedged solid.

Linus: And Linux is still running. Nobody beats our continuous-uptime figures!

Friar Eric: Time for me to do my bit.

The band quickly makes its way to the wedged Windows 2000 engine. A few MCSEs try to lay hands on them. Tove side-kicks the luckless minions. They fall down.

Friar Eric climbs atop the inert hulk and begins haranguing the crowd:

Friar Eric: What you've seen is the power of peer review unleashed. Yes, my friends, we've found a way to build truly reliable software -- publish the sources...

The Sheriff interrupts him, screaming from the balcony...

Sheriff: No! Noooo! Windows 2000 will be perfect when it comes out of beta. Honest!

Linus: Sure it will be. Just like Windows 98 was.

The crowd begins to laugh, louder and louder. The MCSEs, lackeys, and press shills flee in confusion. Pieces begin falling off the great engine with loud clanging noises. Vegetables pelt the Sheriff.

Sheriff: Aaaarrgggh! My stock options! Vinod, think of something! Vinod?

Vinod: Down here, boss.     He has slipped out the castle door at street level.

Sheriff: Well? Deal with them!

Vinod: I believe I will.     He walks over to Linus's band.     Boss? I quit. I always hated the Windows API, anyway, and these guys are smarter in their sleep than you are awake.

The crowd cheers: Huzzah! Hurray for Linus!

Exeunt omnes, laughing.

Early responses to this satire have suggested that a few of our less informed readers need to have the following points explained:

  • Vinod Valloppillil was the principal author of Halloween I and Halloween II.

  • Ed Muth was the person VinodV referred reporters' inquiries to when the Halloween Documents came out.

  • Tove Torvalds, Linus's wife, was six times karate champion of Finland.

This satire proved unexpectedly prescient. In October 1999, about five months after it was published, the author learned that Vinod Valloppillil had left Microsoft to join a Linux-based startup company in Silicon Valley.