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Microsoft's Takedown Plot - Part II: Stallman Appears to Have Fallen Into Microsoft's Trap

Previous: Microsoft's Takedown Plot - Part I: When Linux Actually Means Microsoft

Stallman at Microsoft



Summary: Microsoft's reaction to the talk from the founder of Free software (Stallman) seems to suggest that it was seen as a PR opportunity or openwashing stunt; but we still wait for an explanation from Stallman himself

RICHARD Stallman (RMS), who has been like a friend to me since more than a decade ago (our amicable connection goes a long way back), is being questioned. People want answers. I cannot give those answers. I asked him. He has not responded, which is uncharacteristic of him (I choose to blame a colossal backlog of mail, caused by reports of his talk at Microsoft [1, 2, 3]).



"Some people blame the RMS incident (this is what they call the talk -- an "incident") on bad judgment, a mistake basically."RMS is losing credibility among some people who send me mail and people who are regularly participating in our IRC channels. I don't know what to tell them. This might merit another follow-up post or even a whole mini series, which is what this is.

Some people blame the RMS incident (this is what they call the talk -- an "incident") on bad judgment, a mistake basically. And my wife asked about his mind's state... knowing that he's approaching 70. I assured her he's fine. I last met him in person some years ago and he was sharp like an eagle. His mind processes a lot of information and many strands/topics very well. My wife then put forth a theory that maybe Microsoft's surveillance netted something on RMS -- something by which to control him.

At the moment we don't know much about the RMS talk. There's no video of it. From that talk all we have is a "second-hand" account, delivered by a Microsoft media mole in a Microsoft-funded site (someone else actually wrote it, as the author in the media did not attend this talk). We're very suspicious of the publisher and her motivations. She's like Microsoft Peter but at different publisher (CBS).

"At the moment we don't know much about the RMS talk."To be very, very clear about it, RMS did not change his views on Microsoft. An IRC regular of ours, who lives in Russia, recently attended an RMS talk in Russia (weeks ago; there were photos). He said that RMS 'bashed' Microsoft there -- hardly an unprecedented thing. RMS said a long time ago that “Bill Gates cites copyright enforcement to justify Chinese censorship. Microsoft executives used to call us communists, but they are now clearly revealed as the ones who support communist-style dictatorship.”

Those were all along projection tactics. RMS also said that “[w]riting non-free software is not an ethically legitimate activity, so if people who do this run into trouble, that’s good! All businesses based on non-free software ought to fail, and the sooner the better.”

RMS still believes that and Microsoft is still a proprietary software company. It doesn't matter if they have events with "Open" in the name, e.g. "Open Cloud" -- that's just openwashing.

"Gates may be gone," RMS said after Bill Gates had stepped down, "but the walls and bars of proprietary software he helped create remain, for now. Dismantling them is up to us."

RMS got blasted for saying that at the time. Also, Gates has more or less come back to Microsoft since then. Gates is in charge of Nadella (through the Board).

Microsoft is not an open company. It's a pretender. It's open to bribery and it's also open to "private" GitHub repositories, i.e. proprietary software on top of a proprietary software platform (that Microsoft controls and censors).

Microsoft also opened the door to an RMS talk. But that's as far as "openness" goes.

"Full-spectrum dominance" comes to mind. This is what GitHub is to Microsoft in the software realm and we'll deal with GitHub's role in Microsoft strategy in a later part, which ought to be long and detailed.

"Microsoft also opened the door to an RMS talk. But that's as far as "openness" goes."Suffice to say, RMS is in a precarious position. His visit to Microsoft is now being exploited by Microsoft apologists.

They say things like, “even RMS is OK with Microsoft…”

People in IRC channels ask me questions because they too worry that such statement would be leveraged to paint them as "more extreme than RMS..."

What am I supposed to say?

I don’t know the pertinent facts because the story was 'broken' by Microsoft PR people.

As I wrote back in 2009, according to Microsoft apologists "Stallman is not permitted to defend Free software from Microsoft."

That would be "extreme" -- more extreme than Microsoft actively attacking Software Freedom, apparently...

The way I see it, RMS was likely 'tricked' by Microsoft. Maybe some cleverly-worded invitation, maybe sent to him through a former associate of his.

A year ago Jim Zemlin appeared at a Microsoft event in Israel (I assume he was invited and was shy to decline, for fear the declination might be misinterpreted as intolerance; RMS is familiar with such a situation because he decided to cancel his talk in Israel for purely political reasons). A video of him was taken and uploaded by a Microsoft executive (in an extremely short form that only shows him saying "Open Source loves Microsoft" while a GitHub takeover was assessed by antitrust regulators).

"The way I see it, RMS was likely 'tricked' by Microsoft."The RMS talk at Microsoft, irrespective of the backstory and no matter its content, can be spun as RMS being "OK" with Microsoft. And if Microsoft is trying to discredit and suck the life out of GNU/Linux (or discouraging developers), then it may be succeeding. It would certainly have the most to gain from that. They try to incite developers against GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) whilst overlooking Microsoft's ongoing crimes, which include bribery and shakedowns. That's not a particularly new strategy. But it's persistent.

What Microsoft does with GitHub is very bad. It's not acting in good faith. "Copying all or parts of a program is as natural to a programmer as breathing, and as productive. It ought to be as free," Richard Stallman once said. Unless you're Persian and the project you want/need is on Microsoft GitHub.

"I could have made money this way," Richard Stallman once said, "and perhaps amused myself writing code. But I knew that at the end of my career, I would look back on years of building walls to divide people, and feel I had spent my life making the world a worse place."

Microsoft owning GitHub certainly makes the world a worse place. Just look how many scandals they've had in the past year alone!

What did RMS expect to accomplish by talking to Microsoft employees? It's like Church of Emacs went into a Mosque to teach people about Jesus and GNU. Obviously the number of (net) converts would be zero. So what's the point? He risks his credibility (if not his life in the case of religious preachings).

"What did RMS expect to accomplish by talking to Microsoft employees? It's like Church of Emacs went into a Mosque to teach people about Jesus and GNU."Well, based on what I saw (feedback on the Web), he only had a lot to lose by going there, nothing to gain. People in IRC agree. They call it a lose/lose, instead of the win/win he was perhaps expecting. Moreover, it harms morale in the GNU project and can discourage some GNU developers and maintainers.

RMS once said: "Prior art is as effective as US soldiers in Iraq: They control the ground they stand on, and nothing more. I used to say Vietnam, but, well, you know..."

Same is true for Microsoft campus... he controls nothing there.

An associate of Techrights basically agrees with me; he considers that an innocent act of poor judgment.

"I was going to ask about that after reading your post," he said. "They even had the gall to put the video in YouTube against his wishes so it is clear that Microsoft is not acting in good faith. Never have, never will. [...] Correction: there is no YouTube video of RMS, I read incorrectly."

If there's a video somewhere, we cannot verify that. We did see photos however. Microsoft staff took and uploaded photos.

"Otherwise," he continued, "I'm not sure what to say. I am still thinking about it and also lack information such as what RMS and Microsoft representatives said publicly about the rationale for such an incident. One thing for sure is the FSF has lost control of the PR because his upcoming talk was not publicized. The microsofters will spin the heck out this incident."

"If there's a video somewhere, we cannot verify that. We did see photos however."There's that word again: incident.

"My initial reaction is that RMS has made a mistake which is a very, very severe and sore blow to his credibility and to the advancement of Free Software," our associate continued. "I hope it was only a mistake and not that he is giving up. Or it could be that he was trying to make some kind of dangerous maneuver involving Microsoft. But from the little I know of his personality that seems unlikely. My money is just that he made a mistake but since he is not the kind to make mistakes like that I hope he is not getting up to the age where his mind is going (judgment can go bad when the heart, or circulation in general, starts to fail).

"I should ask then, is RMS ok both before and after the incident? I hope he's not glassy eyed and starting to weakly bleat Microsoft talking points like Durusau and the others did."

To bear in mind, in light of the RMS talk...

We apologise if questioning of his mental state came up; that's just what some people are saying. Denying that they say this isn't going to help. That would be censorship.

"There is apparently yet another campaign against both Linus and RMS," this associate noted, linking to this new YouTube video as an example ("Response To Distrotube On RMS And Linus Stifling Linux").

"There's no doubt in our minds that regardless of intent (from RMS) the main party to gain was Microsoft.""I'm not finding any news about RMS' visit to Muppet Labs in the FOSS channels," he said. "However, as linked to in the other mail, there seems to be an increased campaign against him and Linus on YouTube ramped up to 11 during the last week. Probably intended to coincide with RMS' visit."

Techrights decided to say nothing further (about this RMS talk) until RMS gets back with an explanation (lack of an explanation in its own right would be a sort of an explanation). I'm still looking at my inbox right now. Nothing. I hope for a message that helps clarify. He always responds to me, but not this time (at least not yet)...

In the next and perhaps final part (we might split it further) we'll explain how that fits into Microsoft's 'grand strategy'. There's no doubt in our minds that regardless of intent (from RMS) the main party to gain was Microsoft.

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