Home > GNU, linux, Linux, Microsoft, Ostatic, Steve Ballmer, Susan Linton > Watching our backs, and paging Dr. Godwin

Watching our backs, and paging Dr. Godwin

July 20, 2011

OSCON 2011
Next up: OSCON. Get there if you can, and give them my regards because I can’t make it this year 😦

Susan Linton at Ostatic writes a blog post about a poll taken by Tuxradar where the question is asked, “Is it time to start trusting Microsoft?”

I’ll wait for the laughter to die down.

The answer is clearly, “No. Absolutely not.” We should not trust Microsoft any farther than Steve Ballmer can throw a chair.

I’ve said this before publicly and despite being rebuked for it, I stand by it even though it’s a somewhat dogmatic position on the issue: You do everything — everything — in your power to keep Nazis from entering the synagogue. Clearly and historically, Microsoft has reveled in their role as digital brownshirts since one of their many ill-conceived, all-conquering goals was to strangle FOSS and Linux — which they consider a cancer — in its proverbial cradle; though 20 years later FOSS and Linux provide a more-than-viable alternative to the products coming out of Redmond, both in a commercial and a personal-computer realms.

Microsoft uber alles? Not on my watch, pal.

So don’t get me started on those who would be like Neville Chamberlain trying to achieve “peace in our time” with Microsoft when the results would more than likely be, well, catastrophic as they were in Europe in the late ’30s and ’40s.

A leopard (even a Snow Leopard, but we’re getting off-topic) can’t change its spots, and to hear folks even discuss bringing up the possibility of working with Microsoft arguably is akin to collaborating with the enemy.

Microsoft’s participation in contributions to the Linux kernel, as discussed here yesterday, is based on fixing virtualization code they contributed to the kernel when it appeared that they had taken GPLed code to include in their program. So their original contribution of the code to the Linux kernel a couple of years ago was to comply with the GPL; fixing it, too, was their responsibility as outlined by the license as well. Do they deserve any special consideration for doing what they’re supposed to do?

To think, even remotely, that Microsoft has somehow “seen the light” and has come around to embrace FOSS and Linux is pants-wetting laughable. Additionally, it remains to be seen how much “participation” will remain now that most, possibly all, of what they contributed may have been fixed this time around. My bet is that we’ll see Microsoft drop like a large stone from it’s “perch” as the fifth leading corporate contributor to the kernel, and very quickly.

So, you might ask — and even if you don’t — what can Microsoft do to earn the trust of FOSS/Linux advocates?

Simple. For Microsoft to earn my trust, they can merely do one thing: Open the code on their products, GPLing or releasing it under another acceptable license — that plain, that simple.

Let’s not hold our breaths for that one, since that will not happen, period. And let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that Microsoft, as they are today, even remotely would be a good corporate neighbor — let alone a trusted contributor — in the FOSS/Linux realm.

As my friend Ken Starks likes to say at the end of his blog posts, “All-righty then.”

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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  1. Colonel Panik
    July 20, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    So Mr. Free Software Guy, how do you really feel about the
    Rogues from Redmond?

  2. Bruce Byfield
    July 20, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Actually, Microsoft is really big on open source — so long as it means people writing extensions for free that improve their software.

    • July 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm

      Touche, Bruce! Excellent point.

  3. simfox
    July 20, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    Generally agree with the sentiments re MS, and the logic upon which they are based, but disagree with the Nazi reference. I work with Genocide survivors and perpetrators in Rwanda and view our human predilection to evil as both reversible and redeemable. We often encounter extraordinary instances of reconciliation and forgiveness here, but they are always (and I repeat, ALWAYS) based upon full and complete recognition of the wrong that was done, an attitude of contrition backed by consistent, long-term acts of restitution, and a humble, determined desire for forgiveness. It is real, and it happens, so even a Nazi supporter can, with a genuine change of heart and mind, find himself a welcome guest in your local Synagogue.
    Which brings me back to MS: what would they have to do to earn my trust as a long-term Linux user? Well, let’s see, where have I encountered this before? Step 0: recognition of wrong-doing. Step 1: acts that palpably demonstrate this change of attitude. Step 2: humble requests for forgiveness/reconciliation. In my assessment MS can achieve this without GPLing their IP, but their latest actions vis Kernel contributions are no indication of incipient rapprochement
    Butare, Rwanda

    • July 21, 2011 at 8:22 am

      As I mentioned in the blog, this is a controversial position and I have received the same reaction that you make in your comment whenever I make the Nazi analogy. I don’t make it often, and I don’t make this assessment flippantly or casually. I understand the gravity of the comparison. But as hardline and dogmatic as it might be, I stand by it.

      The Nazis in Germany called the Jews and Judaism “a disease” and, I would assume, that those who still advocate for Nazism still do. Microsoft calls Linux “a cancer” and hasn’t, to my knowledge, retracted that statement. Microsoft has made it clear in word and deed that they are out to exterminate Linux and any other competition. They have failed here on many fronts, thankfully. I find it hard to believe that they would change this policy no matter how conciliatory and how much repentance or restitution they might perform (and again, I’m not holding my breath for them to do this).

      Further, my hat is off to you for your opinion that the “human predilection to evil as both reversible and redeemable,” especially since you lived through the recent horror in Rwanda. Perhaps you are right, but I find it very difficult — bordering on impossible — to forgive anyone who participated in genocide. As an aside, I think my capacity to forgive is wide, but not wide enough to include such blatant and horrible sins against humanity. I believe that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who have participated in genocide, no matter how much they admit their wrongdoing, how much restitution they make, or how conciliatory they are.

      Which brings me back to the comparison: Is my comparing Microsoft to Nazi Germany “too much?” It could be. But the point I hope I’m making — the point that spurs this comparison — is that Microsoft, in a corporate and societal sense, is acting in a way that mirrors Germany in the ’30s and ’40s. By no uncertain terms do I mean to belittle or take away from the grave horror of the Holocaust or any other genocide.

      Regarding Microsoft earning our trust: Assuming they did take Steps 0 through 2 as you outline, history has shown that they have gone back on their word before, so to have them open their code and license it under any variety of licenses — having their remorse and restitution in writing in a legally binding document — seems to me to be the only way to approach this.

      Further, I think this exchange probably deserves more than to sit here in the comments section of my blog, so I am taking the liberty of posting your comment — probably one of the best I’ve received ever — and my reply, verbose as it is, as the next blog item. Thank you, Simfox, for sharing these thoughts and I salute you for your candor and courage.

  1. July 21, 2011 at 4:15 am
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