Bonum Certa Men Certa

Microsoft Cuts Off Free and Open Source Software From Using the Windows Store for Donations

Guest post by Ryan, reprinted with permission from the original


icrosoft has made a change to the Windows Store rules prohibiting the sale of Free and Open Source Software unless the program’s author has the policy of billing everyone who receives a copy of the software outside the store.

The Windows Store already makes it impossible to comply with Copyleft Free Software licenses, such as the GPL.

The GPL and many copyleft licenses require that the user is guaranteed to be able to run as many copies as they care to for whatever reason they want to use the program, and to make more copies to share, and to have access to the source code to modify, run, and share with others on the same, or perhaps at their option, later terms of the same license.

Microsoft says their new policy of de-funding Free and Open Source Software is designed to solve a problem that really does exist and is out of control in the Windows store, that there are many obviously fake and exploitative applications that charge money, and none of it actually goes to the project.

For example, people have come along and put LibreOffice into an AppX package and then dumped it into the Windows store, failed to keep it up to date, and then sat back and started taking money from users who didn’t know any better.

I complained about Microsoft allowing things like this to happen, but this is not a legitimate way to handle that. It’s probably, however, for the best, for other reasons.

You can sell copies of Free and Open Source Software. In fact, it wouldn’t be FOSS if you couldn’t. Even Richard Stallman encourages you to sell software, copying services, and usage manuals, professional services, etc.

As long as the software itself remains Free (as in Freedom), the Free Software proponents certainly don’t wish that nobody made money off of it. In fact, Free Software is very big business.

But there are only so many ways you can do that, and one of them is not Digital Restrictions Malware, or DRM.

Enforcing DRM implicitly makes software non-Free, because there is no way to copy, modify, and share a useful version of the software at that point, and if you told anyone how it worked, it would be useless, so you can’t share the source code if you expect it to hold up.

There’s a thought-provoking mental exercise. It’s a simple question.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? The answer: As many as want to.

How many users may have a copy of a Free Software program? As many as want to.

So, DRM cannot be “Free Software”, yet the Windows Store is a form of DRM, like the Apple Store is.

The Windows Store is designed to be anti-competitive.

In addition to imposing DRM that forces you to be a jerk when your friend asks for a copy and you can’t give it to them, it’s designed as an attack on Wine (a Free Software program that allows GNU/Linux and *BSD users to run Windows programs, without Windows) because there’s no way to move the program out of the Windows Store and install the package into Wine.

Nothing published in the Windows Store is Free Software because of this. It deprives the user of his or her Freedom by the intended method of its operation.

To maintain the Freedom for your users, you have to reject the Windows Store entirely. Yes, it’s possible to publish Free and Open Source Software on Windows.

Using Windows is a bad idea, and it’s very foolhardy, but the underlying platform being problematic has no bearing on whether a program the user is running is Free or not unless that platform is getting in the way of the user enjoying their Freedom as it pertains to that program.

This means, you would have to install software for Windows the traditional way, by including it in a NSIS installer or something, so that the platform doesn’t constrain the user.

Some projects that don’t care that they violate and internally conflict with their own license, or use some pushover license that is Free until they put it in the Windows Store, but doesn’t do anything to make sure it stays Free, and becomes Non-Free do publish in the Windows Store, and that is very unfortunate.

On my Android phone, I run into this problem too. Because the Google Play store has pretty much all of the same problems as the Windows Store (except that it’s not 9 fake apps per 1 real one, approximately).

I absolutely never install Free and Open Source applications from the Play Store because then I don’t have much control over them and Google has shoved them full of nasty things even if the author objects.

I use the F-Droid store.

Some projects and software authors say that you are using a “trial” copy of their program in the Windows Store, but the trial works exactly the same as the paid version and never expires, so you would only buy it to “make a donation”.

Unfortunately, when you do this, at least when it was allowed, Microsoft takes 20% of your money for not doing much at all.

There’s a better way to ask your users for money than having them fund Microsoft, such as including a donation link, or a place they could send you a money order.

In the 1990s, before Nullsoft was purchased by AOL, Justin Frankel said that enough users found his program useful that just asking for $10 in the mail to a PO Box was enough to live comfortably and run the company.

There’s nothing wrong with asking your user to make a donation if they found your software helpful. That isn’t DRM, (done tastefully) it doesn’t make you a pest, and you shouldn’t devalue your efforts by feeling you can’t ask them for help developing the software.

Doing it the right way doesn’t poison their rights to use and share the program, and it doesn’t involve funding the Archenemy of the Free World.

The Windows Store is not an “ecosystem” and Microsoft is not a “community”. If you make it super convenient to use the Windows Store, you help them to attack all computer users.

This is another of those times we have to stop and consider the kind of world we want to build and live in.

The Windows Store has been sitting there as a joke, overflowing with malware and fake apps, getting little attention from legitimate software publishers or users for a decade.

The way I understand it, the “LTSC” version of Windows doesn’t even have the Store.

Let’s let it die and make it another failed dirty trick that Microsoft spent a lot of money on.

When I was a teenager, I found a man who had a Web site where he listed “free” software, but in the way he used the term, it meant free of cost, not “freedom” to do whatever you wanted to with it. His name was Graham Pockett and I don’t know if he’s still around.

He said he was a software pirate who used to have get togethers with other computer users in Australia to copy programs for one another that cost a lot of money to buy in the store. You’d bring diskettes and other people would too, and you’d all see what each other had and what you could use.

He then converted to Christianity and then changed his mind to “copying software without permission is stealing”. It may be a copyright violation. You might be civilly liable for it, but copying software gratis to help others is a fundamentally social activity. In comparison, hoarding is being a jerk. Proprietary software licenses force you to be a jerk and to be at odds with social behavior, therefore they force you to behave in an anti-social way to obey the wording of a license.

A person of conscience should simply walk away and refuse to play this anti-social game of being a jerk because some software company says they have to be one if they use that program.

Most software companies are not hurting for money. That’s just the plain and simple truth of it.

They have a product that costs money one time to produce and then costs them essentially nothing to produce from there on out.

They use DRM as a way of keeping prices high.

In some ways, it’s like grocery stores who buy food that had to be grown or raised and then pour bleach all over it in front of hungry people before tossing it in a dumpster because it would reach its sell by date.

You could feed every hungry person in the city twice with half of what Walmart, Aldi, Kroger, and Albertson’s bleach and throw away.

They would rather ruin it and force people who cannot afford it to go without, and throw it away right in front of them, than adjust production or lower prices.

The copyright industry knows that when they have pirates, most of them don’t actually have money (kids, third world country, dead end job, etc…), and if they do, it’s not enough disposable income that they would buy a copy of that software. But when it comes time to tell the government how much “piracy” is allegedly hurting them, they claim every single pirate copy was a lost sale.

Hollywood goes even further and starts talking about how jobs will be lost because of the corn that wasn’t used to sell you a $30 bucket of popcorn at the movies.

The truth is that they’re trying to muddy the waters.

When Microsoft started to lose a lot of money to GNU/Linux and other Free Software, they started to call it a cancer and a stolen product.

They made the same claim against it that the MPEG-LA patent troll did about media codecs. “It’s impossible to make or use anything without paying us.”.

So even if you don’t pirate anything and go use something they didn’t even contribute to, they complain and argue that laws should be changed to put an end to it.

Again, why do we even put up with these people? Much less make excuses and new channels of revenue for them?

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