Whenever I mention in a crowd that I use free software, someone always seems to comment that I must hate Microsoft. When I add that I write about free software for a living, someone is apt to call me a Microsoft-basher. In either case, the implication seems to be that my identity is defined by Microsoft, and, perhaps, is composed of an unhealthy amount of envy. When I reply calmly that Microsoft is mostly irrelevant to me, the people who made these comments seem disbelieving, or at least disappointed. But why would I care about what Microsoft is doing, beyond a mild interest in news that doesn’t particularly concern me?
Oh, I know that some free software users seem fixated on denouncing Microsoft at every opportunity. You can find them on any forum with a free software slant, writing about “Micro$oft” and referring to Windoze, and seeing a deep conspiracy in every move that the company makes. Mostly, I suspect, these users are in their teens, and either passionately young or anxious to sound as though they belong.
Personally, though, my teen years are long gone. These days, I tend to hold my beliefs with a quieter but no less deep conviction.
Yet, even when I was younger, I could never rally more than an abstract dislike about Microsoft. Sure, I object to a monopoly. I’d have to be an idiot not to think that the constant anti-trust cases brought against the company world-wide are coincidences. And my personal sense of aesthetics and quality revolt against anything that is designed poorly and intended to keep the user ignorant.
But I’ve never felt much need to convert others to my beliefs, and I certainly wouldn’t be rude to Windows users. I’ve even chatted amiably with a number of Microsoft employees; some of them are pleasant people.
My move to free software was not a rejection of Microsoft so much as a discovery of a philosophy that was in sync with the rest of my social principles, and a decision to go with the superior software.
Since I made that decision, I’ve generally had a small partition with Windows on at least one machine. But it’s been kept mostly for games, and months sometimes passed between the times I booted it. For the last eight months, I didn’t have a copy of Windows running anywhere in the house, and that only changed because my new laptop came with one. I immediately minimized the partition and allocated four-fifths of the hard drive to Fedora 7. Probably, I’ll only boot into Windows when I’m doing comparison articles. I certainly don’t need it for anything else.
Under such circumstances, why would I care about Microsoft one way or the other?
The only time I’m interested at all is when a Microsoft executive makes some far-fetched statement about free software or makes a tentative attempts to interact with the free and open source software community. Yet, even then, the most I can muster is a mild professional interest. Mostly, Microsoft interacts with free software-based companies, while I prefer to use community GNU/Linux distributions, so on a personal level, I don’t care much.
I suppose that one reason people assume that I must spend my time conducting Three Minutes’ Hate sessions against Microsoft is that I earn a living from free software, so all the related issues must be of absorbing interest to me. But, the truth is, I usually leave writing about Microsoft-related issues to other people. It’s a beat that I prefer not to cover.
Anyway, even those who do write about Microsoft are rarely rabid about it. They’re professionals. They work eight hours or more a day with free software, and very few people are capable of sustaining a fierce hatred for forty hours a week. Nor are editors especially interested in paeans of hate, even if some of them have a fondness for stirring up controversy. For these reasons, if you are passionately anti-Microsoft going into free software journalism, you either don’t last long or mellow.
I could be wrong, but I suspect that the main reason people assume that I hate Microsoft is the poverty of their own imagination. For many people, Microsoft is such a large fixture in their world that — love or loathe it — the idea of not caring what the company does is almost inconceivable. They seem unable to comprehend that, among other things, the free and open source communities are refuges where – unlike the larger world – Microsoft’s latest doings or Windows’ new security patch are irrelevant.
Frankly, the obsession with Microsoft is theirs, not mine. There are days, even weeks sometimes, when I don’t think of Microsoft one way or the other. Believe it or not, mostly Microsoft just doesn’t enter into my life.