Summary: Chem4Word is an example of Free software which is trapped deep inside Microsoft’s proprietary cage and needs rescuing
From an academic and scientific point of view, Chem4Word’s developer does the right thing by becoming a Free software proponent and choosing the Apache licence for the project (not GPL, which would have been better). The only problem is that Chem4Word helps sell Microsoft Office, which means that any user of Chem4Word (even as Free software) will be pressured to buy a standards-hostile and closed-source office suite. Those who are close to this project are aware of the issue.
A while ago, I asked whether we are seeing a trend to promote shallow layers of “open source” on top of a deep proprietary software stack. Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action. [PMR: This refers to Microsoft’s funding of the British Library and the City of Edmonton; the phrase (from Goldfinger) argues that there is a concerted campaign by Microsoft to use Open Source to create lockin to its products].
As a lapsed chemist, it saddens me to criticise a project with such a worthy goal. But this software spreads proprietary lock-in, not freedom. Those wishing to use it can only do so by first buying a stack of proprietary software. Those receiving documents created using it may well not be able to open them unless they have the same software and the same plug-in. Those who distribute the software, or documents created using it, are making science less free.
First, to answer the questions:
1. There is currently no Microsoft funding to our group to translate Chem4Word into OpenOffice, but I will transmit the request to them and probably suggest they reply directly (although I can carry the message). Whether we are the best group to do it will depend on the scale of the project and what elements of research there are in it.
2. I cannot answer this from my personal interactions with Microsoft (I deal primarily with MSResearch). Microsoft has only fairly recently become active in the Open Source world. It has now joined the Apache Foundation. That means the issues will be more public and will be debated more openly. I would expect that Apache would be very concerned if it were to be converted to supporting “embrace, extend, etc.”. I am an optimist and believe that the influence is just as likely to be in the opposite direction where OSS successes get fed back into the culture of Microsoft and change it.
We have already remarked on Microsoft’s relationship with Apache in [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18]. This is yet another example where Microsoft is using (as in exploiting) Free software to sell its proprietary software.
Supporting Microsoft software is bad for a variety of reasons, not just because it’s proprietary and standards-hostile. Here for example is a new explanation from Omar, who exemplifies what Microsoft is doing to developing countries where cost matters a lot.
But then the grief doesn’t end here, because the problem will seem even worse if you ponder the fact that most people, around the world, who use computers can barely afford to pay their monthly bills, and that all these people are using pirated software because:
* A) That’s the only software they’ve ever known.
* B) They cannot afford to pay for the annual licensing fee of a genuine copy.
These people have been mass-hypnotized, they’ve been indoctrinated into believing that whatever MS gives them is right, and that MS software is the only software on Earth that actually works. Now, take under consideration that MS is a for-profit organization after all (Actually, MS is a for-nothing-but-profit organization, but ya know), and that sooner or later, MS will start collecting money in all ways possible.
“I would love to see all open source innovation happen on top of Windows.”
–Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO