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Edward Macnaghten [opinions]

Free software is the problem for Microsoft

Free software, not just Linux, is a major problem for Microsoft. It’s a big mistake thinking they don’t understand free software, or its mechanics.

They understand it all too well, and they don’t like it - not one little bit!

The problem Microsoft has with free software is that it benefits the customer directly, not the software IP holders. The ways to make money from free software are:

  • to use it (Google, Amazon etc.);
  • to service the guys using it (RedHat, IBM, SuSE etc.);
  • to include it as part of your product (Linksys etc).

If you look at Microsoft, their two biggest cash cows are selling licenses for Windows and Office - there is no room for that model in a FLOSS world. Not only do Microsoft need to kill FOSS to expand, I believe they need to kill it to survive!

Looking at their marketing, the approach seems to be to attack Linux from all sides at every opportunity. Soon, we can expect patent attacks on FOSS, either directly from Microsoft or from surrogate companies, financed by Microsoft to do the dirty work; if past records are any indication, they won’t premeditate an attack through a surrogate company, they’ll just finance companies that do "have a go" and then unceremoniously drop them afterwards.

Microsoft don’t need to encourage analysts to write for them since there is already a long queue waiting to get a slice of the pie. There are lots of people like Enderle around. The figures published in their campaign entitled "Get The Facts" may well not have been pre-ordered by Microsoft (despite the funding questions surrounding them). Their so called "independent evaluators" could well have produced the figures all by themselves! (That campaign has been stopped in the UK by the way.)

Microsoft are also very powerful. I live in the UK’s university town of Cambridge, and not only has Microsoft got the University's IT department well and truly sewn up, they’ve also contributed several hundred million UKP to the "William Gates Building" there. The members of Parliament here are simply not interested in breaking the Microsoft monopoly - citing the large donations Billy makes to charity. (For those of you in the US who think you have the most unwise politicians - think again).

Software patents are not implemented here in Europe yet and it’s going to be very difficult to stop them. We, free software advocates, are trying hard, but it’s like trying to stop a runaway train. I am sure that in the long term the Microsoft model will be defeated, but a lot of damage can be caused in the meantime if we don’t stop the nonsense now.

Don’t think for a second that Microsoft are stupid, or that Microsoft don’t understand free software. They are clever, and devious. They are using every opportunity to stop the advancement of free software, planned or unplanned. They will make sure they are not directly involved in ruthless lawsuits, though they'll more than happily finance them. Any "cross platform" ventures are solely written to bring people into the Microsoft fold (like SFU). Civil servants are dined. Politicians are petitioned. Statistics are made up. Advertisements and FUD are proliferated. Microsoft will stop at nothing because they have nothing to lose.

One effect I’m beginning to see is that their behaviour is beginning to be noticed, and people (here in Europe) are beginning to look elsewhere rather than to Microsoft for solutions. Not because of TCO or any other acronym, but simply because people don’t like them.


This work is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.