Telling Lies: ESR on Microsoft

A senior Microsoft executive is telling lies in public. In other startling news, the sky is blue and water has been seen flowing downhill.

At www.suntimes.com/output/tech/cst-fin-micro01.html, Steve Ballmer of Microsoft answered this question:

Q: Do you view Linux and the open-source movement as a threat to Microsoft?

A: “Yeah. It's good competition. It will force us to be innovative. It will force us to justify the prices and value that we deliver. And that's only healthy. The only thing we have a problem with is when the government funds open-source work. Government funding should be for work that is available to everybody. Open source is not available to commercial companies. The way the license is written, if you use any open-source software, you have to make the rest of your software open source. If the government wants to put something in the public domain, it should. Linux is not in the public domain. Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches. That's the way that the license works.”

Let's examine the key sentences:

* Open source is not available to commercial companies.

The last I checked, Red Hat Software, VA Linux Systems, IBM, SGI, and Hewlett-Packard were all “commercial companies”.

I wonder what the developers at Microsoft who based the Internet protocol code of Windows on the open-source Berkeley TCP/IP stack think of this assertion?

* The way the license is written, if you use any open-source software, you have to make the rest of your software open source.

60% of the world uses the open-source Apache program to serve their web pages. The next time you hear of Apache use forcing anybody's software open will be the first.

* If the government wants to put something in the public domain, it should. Linux is not in the public domain.

True. Of course, “the government” doesn't own Linux and has very little to do with Linux development, so it's hard to see what Ballmer is recommending here.

* Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.

Lots of people have proprietary software and data on their Linux machines. The next time you hear of Linux “attaching” itself to any of this data and forcing it open will be the first.

* That's the way that the license works.

The GPL infects only derivative works of GPLed software -- you have to include part of the source code of a GPLed program in your program, or choose to link to a GPLed library, before the GPL applies to your code. You can use a Linux kernel and Linux-hosted programs all you like with never a worry about your intellectual property.

Other open-source licenses—such as the BSD license in the TCP/IP stack that Microsoft adapted for Windows—will never infect anybody's code or data, because they're designed not to. But Ballmer wants business people and the public to fear them all, because only if open source is general is discredited will Microsoft maintain its monopoly.

The Big Lie is a term originally coined to describe a characteristic form of Nazi (and later Soviet) propaganda. The essence of the Big Lie propaganda technique is that if you repeat the lie often enough over enough channels, people will soak it up through their pores and come to believe it as something “everybody knows”.

In the last three months, Jim Allchin and Craig Mundie and Steve Ballmer have launched a classic Big Lie campaign against open source. They have described it as “un-American”, “a destroyer”, and “a cancer”. They have deliberately confused the GPL with non-infectious open-source licenses, and they have deliberately confused active combination of code with passive aggregation of data. They have lied, and lied, and lied again.

Why? Because the most truthful thing Ballmer admitted in that interview is that yeah, Linux *is* a threat to Microsoft. It threatens to break Microsoft's 91% monopoly on personal-computer operating systems. It threatens to free consumers from proprietary lock-in, and to deliver better software and more choices at lower cost.

Two years ago, the Halloween Documents observed that in order to defeat the threat of open source, Microsoft must attack “a process, not a company”. That is exactly what Allchin and Mundie and Ballmer are doing now, attacking with a Big Lie software they know they cannot match in reliability, sophistication, security, and overall cost/benefit ratio.

In the open-source community, we have a favorite quote from Mohandas Gandhi: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”

Evidently, we're getting close to winning.

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