How Microsoft distorted the facts in the Vienna conclusions

Posted by tadelste on Dec 31, 2005 5:56 PM EDT
Lxer Day Desk; By H. Kwint
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  LXer Day Desk: 12-07-2005

Lately, many signs exist showing how Microsoft's monopoly power extends to government and media. We can add a new example to this list: The “Vienna conclusions”. It seems, their power even extends to distorting findings in official UN documents. The story contains all usual elements: Sponsorship, not willing to participate in public discussions, a conflict of interest of one of the members of the committee, and a Microsoft PR worker making a ridiculous statement. After that, of course, Microsoft denied most of it and ignored the rest.

At the "UN WSIS Contributory Conference on ICT & Creativity", sponsered by Microsoft, there was a workshop about "Digital Rights/Creative Commons". One of the participators of the workshop was Georg C.F. Greve, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe. Microsoft didn't like Mr. Greve's participation in the workshop, which might have been the reason, they didn't send someone to attend it.

A part of the workshop, was the discussion about Free Software, Creative Commons and DRM. However, unlike someone may expect, Microsoft and the IFPI were not present at the workshop. As usual when many people meet, the views were quite different. Finally however, the participants came up with a common text. This text was forwarded to Professor Peter Bruck, the chair of the conference, who would make sure it ended up in the total draft of the conference.

However, the next time Georg saw it, strange things had changed in the text. References to Free Software went up in smoke, and pro-DRM statements were inserted in the text. It took a few days, before Georg found out what actually happened. (Click here to view the whole story, blogged by Georg himself).

The text, on which all the participants agreed, was put in a blog, after which people could discuss the findings of the text. No participant knew of this blog, but for some strange reason, Thomas Lutz, of Microsoft Österreich (Austria) did. Here's a snippet of Microsofts reaction on the text:

“...there have to be maintained all necessary prerequisites to ensure a flourish and competitive content & software market which ultimately safeguards a continued path of innovation and not only room for replication. High quality content and high quality software needs an unbroken “4i”-cycle of investment, invention, innovation and – income, in order to finance the next 4i cycle.“

One of the others who did know of the blog, and commenteded, was Ms Felzmann. FSFE's media coordinator, Joachim Jakobs, found her PR company doing the "Creative and Press Care" for a Microsoft co-sponsored conference on digital education for children.

So, it doesn't take rocket science to figure out what happened. Probably, Microsoft, as sponsor of the conference, contacted Professor Peter Bruck, and they had an 'interesting' discussion. After that, a blog was put somewhere, to give people the impression of a democratic process. But the participants in the workshop didn't know about the forum, however, Professor Bruck denied this and said the participant was sent a mail to announce the discussion blog. This raised the question, why someone would chose a blog to discuss something. Well, there's no need to guess, the 'secret' blog was just an excuse for Microsoft, and maybe the IFPI to, to change the text to their likenings.

It was funny to look at one of the powerpoint presentations, on the ”Advisory Panel on Media Diversity” of which Peter Bruck was the most important member, which states:

“Given the pressures towards concentration stemming from, among others, digital convergence, the widest interoperability of digital television equipment in the interest of citizens and consumers is necessary.”

Then, how can pro-DRM references end up in the common text? DRM isn't interoperable with anything, except with the wishes of crackers. What the presentation says, is, DRM isn't in the interest of citizens. I can add, it's only in the interest of, amongst others, Microsoft.

Then, there's the reaction of Thomas Lutz. He says implicitly, only closed software and DRM can lead to innovation, while open software only leads to replication. I beg your pardon? Apart from DirectX, what has Microsoft ever invented? Worse, when I think about replication, the first word my brain connects with it, IS Microsoft. Georg, in his blogs, already stressed, the Internet wouldn't be possible without open source. Lets go a bit further. The new, very innovative network operating system Inferno, is available as open source. This operating system was, unlike any MS product, designed, with security in mind. There's also the CoyotOS project, also an open source operating system, which aims at making an OS, of which the security can be proved in a formal way. Formal means, it can be proved, it is impossible to exploit the os. Now, that is what I call innovative. And what does Microsoft call innovative? New anti-spyware tools, some new graphics which we saw before in Project Looking Glass, things in IE7 which were taken from Opera and Firefox, patents on sudo and the double mouseclick, they would probably call the Sony rootkit innovative because it is close to their own dreams of DRM, should I go on? Microsoft is in fact so innovative, they even didn't invent DRM.

As usual, Microsoft thinks they can get away with it. But, this behaviour, and especially the distortion of the Vienna conclusions, starts to draw more and more attention. Particular since stuff like this happened before, even in Europe.

If we go back to March of this year, we find ourselves still in the middle of the European software-patent battle. One of the key figures of the battle is Euro-Commissioner McCreevy. He is the former minister of finance of Ireland, and a proponent of software patents. When he was still the Minister of finance in Ireland, Ireland was the 'chairman' of Europe (another country becomes this every six months). The biggest sponsor of the chairmanship of Ireland was Microsoft. When Denmark wanted to speak out against software patents, they were interrupted several times by the Irish. Finally, Denmark gave up. Microsoft Europe headquarters was still in Ireland at that moment, because Ireland has a very low tax for foreign companies. Before the low tax, which attracted the large multinationals including Microsoft, Ireland was a very poor country. Now, it is one of the richest countries of Europe. A while ago, Microsoft Europe headquarters moved to Luxembourg. It comes as no surprise, the president of Luxembourg also tried to push through software patents in Europe. However, the Euro Parliament finally rejected the software patents. This was probably one of the first times Microsoft failed on such a high political level.

Before that, Microsoft was fined €500 million in the EU, although it asked the US government to bully the EU government to prevent this. Today, Microsoft was fined around $30 million in South Korea, although it threatened to withdraw Windows from the Korean market. So, as you see, outside the US, Microsoft not always wins due to their political influence. Speaking about Vienna and government, the government of Vienna decided to switch to Linux by the way, so there are some bright spots yet.

Apart from the bright spots, it's sad to see how things can go if Microsoft uses their political influence. If the distortion of the Vienna Conclusions gets enough attention, it might be changed back to its original state. Till that time, it is only an example how Microsoft screws up democracy.

Related story: Linux News: Does Microsoft's Monopoly Power Extend to Government and Media?

» Read more about: Story Type: LXer Features; Groups: Microsoft

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