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Will Microsoft leave Mindcraft twisting slowly, slowly in the wind?

By Eric S. Raymond

Microsoft's latest FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) tactic may be backfiring.

A 21 April ITWeb story [1] reported results by a benchmarking shop called Mindcraft that supposedly showed NT to be faster than Linux at SMB and Web service. The story also claimed that technical support for tuning the Linux system had been impossible to find.

Previous independent benchmarks (such as [2]) have found Linux and other Unixes to be dramatically faster and more efficient than NT, and independent observers (beginning with a celebrated InfoWorld article in 1998 [3]) have lauded the Linux community's responsiveness to support problems. Linux fans smelled a rat somewhere (uttering responses typfied by [4]), and amidst the ensuing storm of protest some interesting facts came to light.

1. The benchmark had been paid for by Microsoft. The Mindcraft press release failed to mention this fact.

2. Mindcraft did in fact get a useful answer [5] to its request for help tuning the Linux system. But they did not answer the request for more information, neither did they follow the tuning suggestions given Also, they forged the reply email address to conceal themselves -- the connection was made after the fact by a Usenetter who noticed that the unusual machine configuration described in the request exactly matched that of the test system in the Mindcraft results.

3. Red Hat, the Linux distributor Mindcraft says it asked for help, reports that it got one phone call from them on the installation-help line, which isn't supposed to answer post-installation questions about things like advanced server tuning. Evidently Mindcraft's efforts to get help tuning the system were feeble -- at best incompetent, at worst cynical gestures.

4. An entertainingly-written article [6] by the head of the development team for Samba (one of the key pieces of Linux software involved in the benchmark) described how Mindcraft could have done a better job of tuning. The article revealed that one of Mindcraft's Samba tweaks had the effect of slowing their Linux down quite drastically.

5. Another Usenet article [7] independently pointed out that Mindcraft had deliberately chosen a logging format that imposed a lot of overhead on Apache (the web sever used for the Linux tests).

So far, so sordid -- a fairly standard tale of Microsoft paying to get exactly the FUD it wants from a nominally independent third party. But the story took a strange turn today (22 Mar) when Microsoft spokesperson Ian Hatton effectively admitted [8] that the test had been rigged! "A very highly-tuned NT server" Mr. Hatton said "was pitted against a very poorly tuned Linux server".

He then attempted to spin the whole episode around by complaining that Microsoft and its PR company had received "malicious and obscene" email from Linux fans and slamming this supposed "unprofessionalism". One wonders if Hatton believes it would be "unprofessional" to address strong language to a burglar caught in the act of nipping the family silver.

In any case, Microsoft's underhanded tactics seem (as with its clumsy "astroturf" campaign against the DOJ lawsuit) likely to come back to haunt it. The trade press had largely greeted the Mindcraft results with yawns and skepticism even before Hatton's admission. And it's hard to see how Microsoft will be able to credibly quote anti-Linux benchmarks in the future after this fiasco.

[1] "Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 out performs Linux"

[2] "Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 versus UNIX"

[3] "1997 Product of the Year"

[4] "Mindcraft Reality Check"

[5] "Re: Need help with performance"
http://x14.dejanews.com/[ST_rn=ps]/getdoc.xp?AN=453900037&CONTEXT=924792680.312 147973&hitnum=7

[6] "Trust no one: How Mindcraft could have made a better Linux file server"

[7] "It's the old DNS logging trick, Re: Is NT really 3.7 times faster than Linux?"
http://x13.dejanews.com/[ST_rn=qs]/getdoc.xp?AN=469420638&CONTEXT=924804285.163 6696091&hitnum=6

[8] "Outrage at Microsoft's independent, yet sponsored NT 4.0/Linux research"

Eric S. Raymond

Copyright © 1999, Eric S. Raymond
Published in Issue 41 of Linux Gazette, May 1999