The Washington Post claims that “Microsoft lobbies hard against free
software”–a well-timed revelation. One wonders whether the recent
mentioned in the article, which defended the use of free software, was
written in response to these pressures from Microsoft. When I read the
report I was wondering, “Who would suggest banning free software?” (Thanks to a reporter from C|Net for notifying me about the Post article.)
Microsoft (after the notorious “cancer” remarks reported in the
Washington Post article) has been trying to mend its reputation over
the last few months with the free software and Open Source
communities. Craig Mundie, one of the most aggressive of the anti-OS
wing of Microsoft, agreed to a
at the 2001 O’Reilly Open Source conference.
Microsoft praised BSD as the right kind of license (largely as a snub
to Linux, one presumes, because Linux is a bigger threat) and
volunteered to port sections of .NET to BSD in its
project. It is also cooperating with Miguel de Icaza
project, an open-source implementation of .NET.
So why go behind the backs of the free software community and engage
in the take-no-prisoners battle reported by the Post at the DoD? One
could simply call it hypocrisy and insincerity. But I tend to believe
that it reveals a split within Microsoft (several such splits have
been reported in the past, such as between the Windows 95 and the
Windows NT groups, and between pro-Internet and anti-Internet
factions). It’s no surprise that part of the company looks at nothing
but markets for domination and goes after them with well-known
Microsoft zeal. But the other wing had better get it in check; they’ve made fools of themselves plenty already.
Some of the statements in the Post article are a bit on the bizarre
side. Who says that “moneymaking applications should develop from
government-funded research”? Many of us believe the government has
gone much to far in letting companies and universities take over
intellectual property and tie up public research in closed products,
but I agree that it’s good in general for government research to spawn
business-making opportunities. Yet that applies to initiatives
coming out of government. (ARPANET, for instance.) There’s no
reason the government should take in proprietary products if
better ones are available for free. That’s plain old pork.
One can easily see why Mitre comes out in favor of free software. The
licensing costs for proprietary software at an institution as big as
the Department of Defense must be staggering. Support and trained
personnel for free software are sometimes cheaper. And then of course
there are the security issues that Microsoft laughably tries to
exploit. I just hope the lobbyists are wasting their time.
Does Microsoft have a point?