Free Software Foundation throwing a hissy fit over Windows 7
The folks over at the FSF have been known for some time now for their stances against proprietary and closed-source software. Their pent-up frustration toward large software companies has generally been channeled by pumping out lines of code and creating resources for free, open-source projects that provide alternatives to the payware already on the market. These free software initiatives are generally good for two things; providing software for people that don't need all the features and polish included in most commercial software packages, and keeping the open-source zealots occupied with relatively harmless work.
Occasionally, however, the zealots manage to escape their cages and enter the real world.
More after the break.
We've all seen it before; the FSF has opened campaigns from bashing the RIAA and media providers over digital rights management to telling our governments that all public documents should be provided according to their specifications. Hell, they're even taking a shot at our happy little capitalism with their battle against software patents. Of course, most of the people that are familiar with these campaigns (or even know the slightest bit about them) are... the open-sourcers that created them to start with.
These crusades, for the most part, have been relatively benign. The FSF and other backing entities have put out their press releases, waited for a few news stories to come up about them, and moved along from there. This time, however, the Free Software Foundation is getting somewhat more pushy about things. Their newest campaign, Windows 7 Sins, includes the usual news releases and campaign website. However, this crusade goes a little bit farther than the usual passive-aggressive game plan used by the zealots on previous ventures. This time, the FSF has written up a rather pushy-sounding letter to be sent to the Fortune 500 companies, to try to guilt them into moving to open-source solutions. Read a few choice excerpts from their letter:
With the release of Windows 7 in October, Microsoft is selling the new version on a combination of fear and threats.
With the threat to withdraw their support, they try to strongarm you into adopting new versions of their software even when you don't need them and may have a negative consequence to your ability to operate, once again abusing its monopoly position, explicitly inducing vendor lockin.
Anyone that reads this letter can clearly see that the Free Software Foundation is taking no objective tone to this campaign. Their letter reads as "Microsoft is bad, open-source is good. Why? Because we say so. So switch!" At the risk of deluging this post with inane quotes from the FSF's marketing materials, I have to share one final quote with you:Microsoft's continued attacks against the security, privacy and freedom of your organization, are no mistake. Microsoft has a history of manipulating computer manufacturers into installing its products onto the computers you purchase.
So, FSF, let me get this straight: by your logic, just because Lee has cooler facial hair, a faster car, and a bigger computer screen than me, he's automatically better than me in all aspects of life? I just want to make sure I understand where you're coming from.Free software provides all of the freedoms Microsoft tries to deny, and is therefore better in all areas: security, accountability and monetary cost.
One of the biggest arguments the FSF is using against corporations using proprietary software is software customizability; if a piece of software isn't quite right for your company, you can have your developer pull the source code and modify the program to your organization's needs. Sounds great, right? But what happens if there's a problem customizing the software? The best you can hope for, when getting support for open-source software, is to catch one of the project developers via email or some other method of communication, plead for their help, and hope they have time for you. There's simply no guarantee that you'll get any help with open-source software. Most proprietary enterprise software packages solve this problem in the form of something like a support contract; if you're paying for a piece of software, and it doesn't work quite the way you want it to, you can contact the support department of the software provider and ask for help from a professional, paid developer who works for the software company. This sort of contract provides assurance to enterprise customers that they won't be left out in the rain if they need changes made to the software they're licensing.
Oh, and speaking of being left out in the rain... last I checked, open-source project abandonment occurs much more often than proprietary software is tossed aside. Yes, of course, you can usually still get your hands on the source code to an abandoned open-source project, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to customize it or keep it up-to-date without outside help. That's why companies like Microsoft don't just drop software; they declare an end-of-life date, support the product until that date (and sometimes even after that date) and help customers move to newer versions of the product. Expecting Microsoft to continue supporting your Windows NT 3.51 Server installation is akin to expecting your local auto parts store to carry spare parts for your Model T. One simply can't expect a company to maintain old versions of their product forever; if Microsoft were still supporting Windows releases from the early '90s, they certainly wouldn't have time to do anything else.
The moral of the story? The FSF is, once again, angry at the software corporations of the world for doing their job. The idealistic ramblings of the open-source zealots will likely be heard by many, but acted upon by few. The views and intentions of the FSF are inherently good; the problem is that they go against an already-established business model shared by most of the companies and organizations on this planet. A world of free, completely open software and standards would be a good world, but it's not one that we can effectively apply to what we already have.