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Surprise! Free Software Foundation Doesn't Like Windows 7

We're taking a break from running reader e-mails this week, although we've got plenty more to run and will get back to them (probably) next week. This week, though, we just couldn't resist the return of the Red Menace, the Free Software Foundation.

Yes, the industry's favorite communists are back, this time with a very nasty Web site that (guess what?) attacks Microsoft and Windows 7. The "Windows 7 Sins" site details the FSF's objections to Windows 7, Microsoft, proprietary software and presumably the American capitalist system. It also encouraged people to meet on Wednesday at noon on the Boston Common to dump proprietary software into a huge garbage can, or something like that -- a sort of Boston Software Party, if you will.

But we won't, and your editor didn't. Most of the arguments on the FSF's new Web site are nothing new. The Cambridge, Mass. (where else?)-based organization wants us to know that Microsoft is a monopolist, that it forces users to upgrade, that it doesn't always respect industry standards, that its software isn't as secure as it could be, etc., etc., etc. We've heard it all before.

And, to be honest, most of those criticisms are fair, at least on the surface. The forced-upgrade thing is not necessarily bad for partners, but Microsoft really could work on much of the other stuff, particularly respecting standards and tightening security -- although Redmond has made strides in both areas recently.

What gets us, though, is the whole premise of the FSF's argument, which is basically that proprietary software, no matter who makes it, is bad. Dig the first paragraph of the Windows 7 Sins text on the site:

"The new version of Microsoft's Windows operating system, Windows 7, has the same problem that Vista, XP, and all previous versions have had -- it's proprietary software."

Um, yeah. Windows 7 is software based on intellectual property developed by Microsoft (well, mostly...but let's not get into that right now), and by protecting its intellectual property, Microsoft maintains the value of its product. It's a concept that works pretty well in pretty much any industry in a capitalist society. Of course, the folks at the FSF have never come off as being too much in favor of capitalism.

Hey, we at RCPU see a lot of value in the open source movement and in open source software. We've come around on that issue to a great extent in the last year or so; we can even see open source being a threat to Microsoft in some markets, and it should be. But as any partner who has created a unique consulting methodology or developed its own software will happily admit, "proprietary" products are what grease the wheels of industry. Without any proprietary applications, software and the services that go with it would have little value -- and we don't even want to think about the consequences of that scenario.

Even open source companies like Red Hat that rail against software patents still hold them -- however reluctantly. They might think that patents impede innovation (and maybe they do, sometimes), but they understand the value of protecting their ideas and products. Google likes to position itself as open source-friendly, but just try to get some search algorithms from the Internet titan and see how far you get.

The basic message here is that ideas are worth something -- money, to be specific -- and that ideas put into action are worth even more. The FSF, as far as we can tell, envisions a world (or, at least, a software industry) in which everybody shares everything and (presumably) nobody pays for anything, a lovely thought that has no practical application whatsoever. We hope that the FSF doesn't represent the open source community as a whole. And we don't think it does, given that companies like Red Hat do seem to enjoy being profitable.

Microsoft has committed a lot of sins throughout its history, but simply being a proprietary software company isn't one of them. Maybe, as it develops, the open source movement can start competing with Microsoft not just on cost but on functionality and availability of service (especially in the enterprise), as it already does in some markets. Until then, partners will keep selling Microsoft software and customers will keep buying it because, despite their faults, Microsoft's apps are still worth paying for.    

What are your thoughts on open source? Is proprietary software evil? Why or why not? Sound off at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on August 27, 2009 at 11:55 AM