Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category

In Jungian psychology, the Shadow is a figure who is everything that you are not. Often, it is seen as evil. The Shadow can be helpful in establishing a sense of self, but a personal identity based only on the Shadow is dependent and reactive, and can easily become unhealthy.. In fact, if you define yourself only in terms of the Shadow, you risk taking on characteristics of the Shadow, partly because you are refusing to deal with the aspects of your personality that you have invested in the Shadow, and partly because anything seems justified in order to fend off the shadow.

When people in the free software community solemnly tell me that “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” and draw obsessive diagrams of all the ways that Microsoft is undermining the community, that’s what I see: People on the brink of assuming some of the traits they claim to despite in their Shadow.

Fighting the Shadow can be dramatic and lend purpose to people’s lives, but it doesn’t make for sound thinking, even in their own terms. It lures them into thinking in dichotomies, believing that everyone must either be a vigilant soldier or else an optimist too full of naive to see a threat. With no middle ground, they can lose allies. Similarly, in focusing on one Shadowy figure, they risk overlooking other concerns.

And let’s say they’re right: Microsoft is the Great Satan, and an apocalyptic battle is just a matter of time. What happens once the Shadow is defeated? Inescapably, a good part of their purpose in life has gone, because they have lost all that they measured themselves against.
You can’t completely ignore Microsoft’s actions, even those that are not directly concerned with free software (In previous posts, I was exaggerating for rhetorical effect). Microsoft’s influence is simply too great. But I don’t want to ignore other things while keeping an eye out for possible concerns.

The free software community has a lot to be proud of. Collectively, its members have built an alternative that, overall, is comparable to its proprietary rivals. It’s done so by developing collaborative work methods, and principled stands that give ordinary people control over important parts of their lives, and helps the poor and those handicapped by a lack of national development meet the privileged on a more equal footing. It’s changed how business is done. It’s helped to preserve minority languages. It’s green. All these are important accomplishments.

That’s how you overcome the Shadow – by building a self-contained identity that robs it of its power over you.

I don’t know about anyone else, but, at the end of my life, I’d rather look back and remember that I played a small role in those accomplishments than admit I spent my life hating a corporation. It’s not as exciting as imagining yourself locked in adversity with a Dark Lord, but it’s certainly more constructive and longer lasting – to say nothing of more interesting.

Read Full Post »

Reading the comments left publicly and privately for “Why would I care about Microsoft?”, I realize that many people’s view of free software is outdated. To many, free software is a small, delicate idea that a juggernaut like Microsoft can overrun at will. In this circumstance – which may have existed ten years ago – fears, obsession, and paranoia are only natural. But having these emotions in 2007 may no longer be appropriate. Like parents who haven’t realized that their children are growing up, perhaps many of us in the community haven’t realized that free software isn’t as fragile as it used to be.

I’m not saying that Microsoft shouldn’t be watched or that its motives shouldn’t be questioned or guarded against. But I am saying that free software is in a much stronger position to defend itself than even a few years ago.

Consider, for example, the variety of responses that Microsoft has made to free software in the last year. It’s tried co-opting companies like Novell, Linspire, and Xandros. It’s made unsupported threats about patent violations in GNU/Linux. It’s talked about wanting to cooperate with the free software community. Just ask yourself: Are these the actions of the winning side? Or are they a sign that the company is desperately looking for a winning strategy in a losing fight, or divided internally?

The truth is, free software has come a long way from its days of vulnerability. In its early days, free software may have been vulnerable, but now it has strong defenders. For major corporations like IBM, Sun, and Hewlett-Packard, free software means billions. Why do you think they have surrendered some patents, or supported the anti-Tivoization and patent clauses in the third version of the GNU General Public License? Part of the reason may be altruism, depending on your view of human nature, but, on the whole, I doubt that many corporations like these provisions. Yet not one of these companies was willing to disagree with them in public. In the end, the price of dissent was more than the potential profit.

And that, in itself, is a prime reason why Microsoft is not much of a threat these days. These days, to take on free software means to take on the rest of the computer world. No single corporation, not even Microsoft, can afford that risk.

Just as importantly, free software has grown its own defenses. At the Software Freedom Law Center, Eben Moglen and Richard Fontana are educating the next generation of free software legal defenders. The Linux Foundation is working on patent pools. Peter Brown and Richard M. Stallman at the Free Software Foundation are linking with social activists, who are starting to add free software to their causes. So free software has a second line of defence as well, one not limited by budgets or the concerns of shareholders. And if you haven’t talked to these people, let me tell you: These are frighteningly intelligent and dedicated people. If I wasn’t on their side, I’d think twice about opposing them.

But there’s a third line of defence, even stronger than the first two: The community itself. It’s no longer just geeks. It’s educators, for whom free software is the only way they can function with their limited budgets. It’s government departments in both industrialized and developing nations. It’s groups like Free Geekers introducing free software to the general public. This, I suggest, is defence in depth. In the event of an attack, the community is like thousands of widely dispersed guerrillas, next to impossible to attack by conventional business or legal means, and needing, not to win any fight, but only to make the cost of fighting too high for its opponents to want to continue.

Maybe I’m in a privileged position as a journalist. As I research stories, I probably get to see more of the community than most people. That’s why I trust it to be able to defend itself. Against these defences, a company like Microsoft may gain a temporary or limited advantage. But the days when it could realistically be thought capable of destroying free software are long over.

That’s why I don’t spend a lot of time or emotional energy worrying about Microsoft. I keep an eye on them, certainly – just in case. But Microsoft’s days as a threat are gone, and so are free software’s as a helpless victim.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »