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Microsoft Creates Confusion Around Freedom and Price

Posted in Asia, Deception, Free/Libre Software, Microsoft at 2:42 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Freedom and price are not interchangeable


Summary: Microsoft fights Free software adoption in Russia using gratis proprietary software which criminalises the user and to make matters worse, Microsoft also pays companies to abandon Microsoft’s competition

Microsoft assisted the Russian authorities when they started suppressing dissent and when people found out about it, Microsoft Russia NGO spin started to flood the press. It was all PR [1, 2, 3] and a classic case of damage control. CNET’s Microsoft spin blog adds to it with a report which paints Microsoft positively after the bad thing it did and it also neglects to say that gratis is not libre (dumping is not freedom, it’s a suppressor of freedom, which is why Microsoft tolerates and sometimes encourages counterfeiting). From CNET:

A Russian court has dropped piracy charges against environmental group Baikal Wave due to drastic changes made to Microsoft’s licensing program for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) back in October, according to The New York Times.

These NGOs that include the environmental group should learn their lesson and move to GNU/Linux, which puts them in control of their own destiny. Microsoft wants people to view this only as a matter of price, as usual. Carlo Daffara has responded to the latest PR piece with Microsoft's Rajagopalan. “No, Microsoft, you still don’t get it,” the headline says and Carlo explains why:

The question is: is MS interested in an OSS business model? The answer: we already give out things for free. Well, we can probably thank Richard Stallman for his insistence in the use of the word “free”, but the answer miss the mark substantially. OSS is not about having something for free, and it never was (at least, from the point of view of the researcher). OSS is about collaborative development; as evidenced in a recent post by Henrik Ingo, “The state of MySQL forks: co-operating without co-operating”, being open source allowed the creation of an ecosystem of companies that cooperate (while being more or less competitors) and not only this fact increases the viability of a product even as its main developer (in this case, Oracle) changes its plans, but allows for the integration of features that are coming from outside the company – as Henrik wrote, “HandlerSocket is in my opinion the greatest MySQL innovation since the addition of InnoDB – both developed outside of MySQL”.

Microsoft still uses the idea of “free” as a purely economic competition, while I see OSS as a way to allow for far faster development and improvement of a product. And, at least, I have some academic results that point out that, actually, a live and active project do improve faster than comparable proprietary projects. That’s the difference: not price, that may be lower or not, as RedHat demonstrates; it is competition on value and speed of change.

“There’s free software and then there’s open source… there is this thing called the GPL, which we disagree with,” said Bill Gates in April 2008. He insists on making “free software” just cheap software.

Here is another highlight of an old trick being used again by Microsoft. “Microsoft Offers Cash to Drop Salesforce, Seibel & Deploy Dynamics CRM Online” says the headline of this article:

Microsoft’s (news, site) made an interesting offer this week that promises organizations currently using Salesforce.com CRM or Oracle’s Seibel (CRM) US$ 200 per license to make the jump to Dynamics CRM Online. The question is, is $200 enough?

This is not the first time (even recently) that Microsoft does this and we gave some examples before. It tries to use its pockets to promote lock-in at the expense of smaller rivals (these companies are smaller as a whole).

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  1. twitter said,

    December 8, 2010 at 1:13 pm


    I left Carlo this comment.

    Thanks for noticing this, but why do you blame RMS for Microsoft’s dishonesty and poor reporting by Linux for you? Microsoft understands the issues of software freedom and open source development. As Bill Gates said, “There’s free software and then there’s open source… there is this thing called the GPL, which we disagree with.” Microsoft’s spokesperson ducked the question to promote their second rate and restrictive development tools. The Linux for you reporter should have followed up to get a better answer instead of publishing an advertisement for Microsoft.

    If you want to help people understand software freedom, you can point to the GNU definition when you mention it. The moral and practical implications are not obvious but the four software freedoms are easy to grasp and the GNU page is concise. If you do this, everyone will eventually understand what RMS did twenty five years ago when he created the philosophical, social and technical foundations of gnu/linux and all the other fruits of the free software movement.

  2. Adrian Malacoda said,

    December 10, 2010 at 4:59 am


    Carlo Daffara doesn’t “get it” either. It has nothing to do with development (collaborative or otherwise), openness, or source code. It is about the four freedoms as outlined by GNU. It has been about those freedoms for over 27 years.

    He seems like one of those Asay-type “open source business” guys, so of course he’d pinpoint the problem straight on wording like “free.” The problem is that “open source” logically means something different than what OSI wanted it to; it gives the impression of “you can look at the code” (RMS said that in his essay about the phrase, and I’ve had to put up with people who try to label proprietary as open source using that definition). Microsoft’s been having their way with that phrase too, by the way.

    The wording does matter. Unfortunately, in this case, Daffara does have sort of a point – we traditionally consider that “things” are free-of-charge and that people are free-as-in-freedom, so it’s difficult for “Joe Average” to wrap his head around the idea that software (which is a “thing”) can possess “freedom.” Which, of course, isn’t really true. The software itself doesn’t have freedom, the software grants the user that freedom. So “free software” is sort of a misnomer (although, given that we haven’t come up with an alternative in 27 years, it’s probably the best we’ll be able to do in the English language. “Open source” doesn’t count). Benjamin Mako Hill explains this in http://www.fsf.org/appeal/2009/mako/.

    I put the blame squarely on whoever decided to introduce the word “liberty” into the English language without taking “libre”/”liber” along with it.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    You’ve put that very well. People may notice that I say “software freedom” as much as I say “Free software” (or say both interchangeably) to emphaise that the software grants freedom. People cannot view “freedom” as a matter of cost.

    Fortunately (in a tongue-in-cheek way), Apple and Microsoft help explain freedom to a lot people by showing to them what happens when freedom is taken away (DRM and kill switches for example). It’s just that freedom is one of those things you can only define or demonstrate in its absence. Freedom is the lack of something (barriers), so explaining ‘it’ — being an absence — is like trying to provide proof to a theist that something does not exist.

    twitter Reply:

    The short and sweet of it is that it’s not the software that’s free, it’s you. The term “free software” does as good a job as possible to deliver the ethical implications of software freedom to new users.

    The only point that the “open source” movement has is that people are often afraid to talk about freedom and “politics”. Businesses that are hierarchical and overbearing especially are not convinced by talk of freedom. For these kinds of people, the associated benefits of freedom are more appropriate to talk about. Peer review, efficiency, competition and all that are more convincing and useful to them. RMS described the problem with that:

    The rhetoric of open source has … extended our community—but only at the superficial, practical level. The philosophy of open source, with its purely practical values, impedes understanding of the deeper ideas of free software; it brings many people into our community, but does not teach them to defend it. … Sooner or later these users will be invited to switch back to proprietary software for some practical advantage. … [they will refuse only if they] value freedom in and of itself rather than the technical and practical convenience of specific free software.

    He also says that the answer is to say “free software” more rather than less.

    The term “free software” is prone to misinterpretation: an unintended meaning, “software you can get for zero price,” fits the term just as well as the intended meaning, “software which gives the user certain freedoms.” We address this problem by publishing the definition of free software, and by saying “Think of ‘free speech,’ not ‘free beer.’”

    There is also a practical arguments against non free bait, such as Adobe Trash, on a free system – that any amount of non free software fundamentally compromises your privacy, security and freedom. By it’s nature, it immediately restricts the user in the task it is designed to perform. It also opens the user up to keylogging and other problems the same way malware does. A computer with even a single piece of non free software is basically rooted.

    The term “free software” was deliberately chosen to echo cold war rhetoric about the “free world” and the “non-free world”. This was a point everyone at the time could identify with and understand. Non free software is centrally planned and controlled and puts restrictions on users that are in the best interest of the owner alone. Richard Stallman also compared software owners to Soviet officials who put a guard at every copy machine.

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