The War (II)

Posted by PaulFerris on Oct 18, 2005 2:00 PM EDT; By Paul (FeriCyde) Ferris
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Paul writes: "People should care about these issues, and over time we've seen things like the Electronic Frontier Foundation emerge and other politically oriented groups, but I believe in the past decade we've only scratched the surface of what we have to do to ensure digital democracy, so to speak."

by Paul Ferris Senior Editor

I've heard a lot of criticism over the years about the Linux community.

  • We're not cohesive enough.
  • We fight in public forums over technology, licenses and so on.
  • We use terminology that the uninitiated do not understand.
  • We're unprofessional.
  • We're all about hating Microsoft.

It's this last point that I take issue with the most.

While there's a lot of anger in this mob, it's not some kind of freak accident that brought us together. The paranoia that exhibits itself is also not an accident. Being who we are, by definition, puts us on the other side of a fence that we did not erect. It makes us an "enemy" of Microsoft.

This is not some Linux community-specific issue -- it's a function of the competition. Microsoft is known for dirty tactics. They don't just abuse their competitors, they even take on the people that previously bought their products. They're known for more than ruthless competition -- Microsoft is known for burying the survivors. Broken promises litter the Microsoft landscape.

Step over the fence, into Open-Source/Free Software (FOSS) land.

Our communication model is in public. Lying brings you a ton of people that will "correct" your perception. You can make dirty deals if you like -- but the long term relationships that sour are black marks on your record. Trust is what it's all about. Community, by definition, is about building trust over time.

That's what puts me firmly on this side of the fence. That's what this article is about. I'd like to state, again, why it's very hard for Linux community members to "just get along" with Microsoft, as some people have suggested over the years.

Just getting along. What a wonderful concept.

Let me speculate here over why we're not likely to "just get along." Our open standards have been repeatedly subject to slightly broken versions implemented by Microsoft. Standards that should have been used, have been replaced by proprietary ones that have legal implications when it comes to reverse engineering.

Getting along, doesn't that involve some kind of level playing field? Things like standards that are truly open where everyone can see them and use them for the collaborative greater good? Don't we need Standards that are not extended without a decision by committee?

When these standards don't work, the public doesn't always perceive the problem as being a Microsoft problem -- often they think there is something wrong on the Open Source / Free Software side of the fence.

Joe Public is often completely ignorant of the entire idea of open standards. People often wrongly assume that Microsoft's document formats are open standards, for example. Giving someone an open alternative is often perceived in a negative light, as changes in programs, attitude and process are required to make the world a better, more open place to compute.

People should care about these issues, and over time we've seen things like the Electronic Frontier Foundation emerge and other politically oriented groups, but I believe in the past decade we've only scratched the surface of what we have to do to ensure digital democracy, so to speak. Freedom of the press resides in the owner of that press. Each bad document format decision, proprietary choice and so on bring the ownership of that virtual press further out of the hands of Freedom. If the public understood just how bad things were, I think they would be up in arms -- but it's "too technical". They're having enough trouble just getting to the point of understanding the basic concepts required to be productive.

I honestly believe that Microsoft has exploited this confusion repeatedly over the years. The only way to stop it is to become more involved with your community (and not just the Linux one). To speak out when you can. To write your congressman. To be part of the solution. One thing for sure, the problem has not gone away -- it's gotten worse. Things are getting more complex by the minute, and simply ignoring the issues on the table will not make them go away.

Microsoft will use these and similar tricks to their advantage repeatedly. The only way to stop it currently is to hope that Joe Public will see benefits from interaction between several different operating systems, such as OSX, Linux and Windows.

Remember who your target audience is. This is the guy counting pennies at Best Buy, looking at PCs that come with Windows XP as a "free" feature. Often they aren't even aware that there's a choice being made.

What about legislating an end to this problem? It's not a new idea, but I don't believe that legislation, per se, picking technological features, would be a good idea. Some of what is going on with the Mass. government is an example of what might be an exception to this rule.

But is this what has to be done, or is it overkill? Is it a reaction to Microsoft, or something necessary to make the world a better place? They are different problems, in other words. I shudder at the thought of what extra legislation does to the computing universe, every time I read about it. The danger, in other words, is that some day we won't be able to code -- possibly no one will -- if things get any more complex in the compliance department.

I'm for it, in the mean time, if it helps reign in Microsoft. My reservations are for the long haul, however. At what point does our government get in the way of innovation with policies applied to software? Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that some of the articles passed prior help Microsoft, so the gut reaction by a lot of people is to respond with some kind of legislative "balance".

I repeat, we didn't choose this fight. We live by a totally different set of rules than Microsoft. Take the *BSD universe in conjunction with the Linux community. Do you see the BSD people breaking the TCP/IP implementation so that Linux won't work on the same network? It's an unthinkable idea, but common on the other side of the fence.

We live in a world where our cards are face up on the table. We, by definition, chose not to play the proprietary game. We refuse, by the very definition of who we are.

This doesn't mean we're going to "win", by the way.

What it does mean is that we're not about to stand idly by while viral proprietary software ruins our world. We're not about watching the losses from businesses taking the trip to the Microsoft store like a bunch of addicts visiting the local crack house. We're going to say and do things that go against this -- and that puts us on the other side of the fence.

No, I did not chose this war. I did not invent it -- it was done for me. It was sealed in stone the day my better informed decisions were over-ridden by others o simply didn't understand. The network effects of the Microsoft "marketing" equation cannot be ignored. If we don't hold the line and push back, we lose.

The cash on the table for Microsoft is enormous. They know that the less competition, the more freedom they have to charge whatever they want, break whatever standards they feel like, and ruin any competitor that shows up on the radar.

How did we, the Linux community, become the exception to this rule?

Revenue, for one, is not needed to sustain Linux (as much) as with other competitors, but especially Microsoft. This has lead to something they never expected: longevity. But still, very little desktop Linux is in sight of the typical PC buying individual. Will this matter? I'm beginning to believe that it's not as important as before, but time will tell. Paradigms are shifting faster and faster. Mozilla Firefox, for example, has done the unthinkable; it has taken ground that Microsoft thought was exclusively their own.

Still I'm skeptical that the FOSS revolution is simply going to happen without a good push and a recognition that we're in a war of sorts. I hate the visuals, but the description in the marketplace will always apply if Microsoft is going to continue the types of tactics they're known for.

I honestly think that the world would be a better place if there were more competition in the operating system environment -- and I think we're going to possibly see it as Apple takes some Intel market share, and things like pre-loaded Linux start to take an upswing.

This would not have even been thinkable prior to the anti-trust efforts won by the Department of Justice. It's amazing what some litigation can do, in other words. Too bad it had to come to this. Too bad we can't all just sing Kum Bah Yah and give it all big group hug. Face reality -- it ain't gonna happen any time soon.

This isn't about being nice, this is about having the technology that you need to do your job -- the stuff that helps you enjoy your work and be creative. Possibly this will help explain to some people why Linux enthusiasts are so passionate. Some technology is more than some bits and bytes sitting on a Microsoft install CD -- some technology empowers you to be creative, to make things that didn't exist before, instead of simply clicking some radio buttons and locking your company into God knows what future licensing and product choices. People care about the technology due to these kinds of concerns -- they often simply don't have the means to vocalize why.

I know some people make attempts to articulate the rage, to explain why, but in rude obnoxious posts to web sites. For every one of those people there are 50 more who are far more diplomatic, or much more reserved in their willingness to explain the issues at hand. These people know that FOSS solutions are often higher quality, far more stable, adhere to known open standards and (big surprise) save money in the long run. The fact that these solutions deliver the ability to be more creative and provide more degrees of freedom is often a hidden driving force.

These people aren't in the grandstands telling everyone to "just get along". These people are foot-soldiers in the revolution.

One of my old bosses used to say to me: "Paul, just because you are paranoid, that doesn't mean that someone isn't out to get you." Well, the Linux community, it's paranoid all right. They have seen the dead bodies of their predecessors on the field. They know what evil they face -- at least most of them do.

I feel that I do. The gut reaction by some of the spectators is to reduce the emotional charge of our message -- they feel it's counterproductive to communicating what we're all about. By now, maybe, you can see why that's not an option. You put someone in the gun sights, they're going to get emotional. We're not out sniping, by the way -- we're simply trying to make the world a better place. It's insanity to think that we can just wish away Microsoft's aggression for Linux and open standards in general.

This is why we can't just stand on the sidelines and think that this is a technical talk we're having. This part of the "battle" involves truthfully getting out the message of the choices that are at hand. We owe it to our peers and customers to explain the value of FOSS. The alternative is a bleak one. Let's look at the world as it doesn't exist today. Imagine going in to work, and helping a colleague with proprietary plague by installing the FOSS alternative.

Dream on.

It's a beautiful thought, isn't it? We could just choose the operating system or technology that best fit the job. We wouldn't worry about market share or whether or not we're gaining or losing any "battles"

Like it or not, we are at war.

Sound the alarm with a clear head and a truthful voice. Don't be lulled by kind words about us all "just getting along". I'd like to see it happen. Judging from past experience, it's going to be quite a long wait if it involves Microsoft.

The War (II) is a revisit to a topic over 5 years old. You can read the original article from July of 1999 ">here.

» Read more about: Story Type: LXer Features, News Story; Groups: Community, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
More like a force of nature. dinotrac 25 2,488 Oct 21, 2005 1:07 AM
Not "democracy" Bob_Robertson 14 2,367 Oct 20, 2005 5:30 PM
Untitled salparadise 0 1,676 Oct 18, 2005 9:53 PM

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