The question in the title of this post was raised by myself recently, after I decided to accept a paid Microsoft ad on one of my Linux websites: http://jakilinux.org and (obviously) I was called a traitor.
For years the free and open source software people would say that the number one enemy, the devil on earth, the only factor blocking us from flooding the mass market with gnomes, mice and strange k-prefixed creatures is the company from Redmond.
It got funny nicknames, like The Vole (invented by The Inquirer), it was riduculed over their buggy systems and offensive ‘Get the facts’ campaigns that aimed at discrediting Linux and open source software in general.
However, we’ve been noticing a change in approach for the last couple of years. Microsoft started to work with standarization bodies like ISO and W3C, it stopped sending hostile messages to the FLOSS world and eventually even started developing open source software itself, to a limited degree.
That said, it still has a history of nasty behavior that cannot be so easily forgiven, especially not by the FLOSS activists that used to fight with the devil for more that 20 years now.
The inconvinient question that I’d like to raise is, however, as follows: Is Microsoft still “our” biggest enemy? Or perhaps, blinded by anger and old time frustrations, we’re failing to notice the real danger?
I suppose the latter.
The real danger is not Microsoft. It’s just one of many proprietary-software companies today, just like IBM, Oracle or Google. The real danger is the new software model that is promoted, to the greatest degree, by Apple, and to smaller degree by companies like Amazon with its Kindle product. The software model that is more proprietary than Microsoft and others ever imagined. It controls not only the source of their own system, the protocols and (proprietary) communication standards, but also the whole software platform it delivers together with the hardware that is tightly connected with it. In iPhone App Store it’s not you who decides about the software you want to install on your device. It’s the device manufacturer that makes the decision. And the decisions it makes are not for your own good but for the benefit of the platform host. Some company wants to sell (or give!) you software that you may find useful, like, say, an alternative web browser (Opera) or video technology (Adobe Flash)? Well that’s not so easy anymore. The device manufacturer needs to accept it first. And if it doesn’t, because, say, it’s a competing technology that it does not want to promote, it simply bans it, so that a non-technical user is not capable of installing it herself.
In the service-oriented business it’s not an open vs closed source battle anymore. It’s much more important than that. It’s and open vs closed world. And the biggest “opponent” to those who enjoy freedom of choice is not Microsoft anymore. It’s Apple and their numerous followers.
Update (March 30th): Thank you for all the comments. I’m sorry that most of you missed the point of this article and I acknowledge this may be partly my fault. I’m not saying that Microsoft suddenly became our friend. I’m saying it’s not the biggest threat anymore. There’s a huge difference. We obviously need to watch both Microsoft with its near-monopoly status on the desktop and other companies like Google or Apple which invented new dangerous software distribution models. I believe we’re focusing too much on the former almost not noticing the danger of the latter (i.e. SaaS and locked-in infrastructures). And I believe the latter is generally a much bigger threat to freedom (not just to free software). Hope it’s a bit clearer now.