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.
Yesterday, Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, met with blogger and members of multiple NGOs to discuss his government's plans to implement Internet filtering which he invented in order to "fight crime online".
The meeting took 3 hours and the representative of Grupa Jakilinux, the organization behind the latest protests, Daniel Koć (http://identi.ca/kocio) was there among with representatives of Internet Society Poland, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and many more.
A few days ago an interesting article was published on PolishLinux.org: "Promise of a post-illegal copy world. Part I: History of Intellectual Property". It's part one of the series of three essays on copyright and intellectual property. The author, "The BlackMan", argues that IP as a concept is false and gives mulpitle arguments to cover that thesis. As radical as it sounds, it's an interesting point of view, probably not more radical than the point of view of organizations like RIAA or MPAA which arue that "fair use" should be limited as it "hurts their wallets".
Cory Docrorow in his Guardian article Copyright, companies, individuals and news: the rules of the road says — in opposition to TheBlackMan — that copyright is actually the best we can get. Just like democracy it is flawed but we don't have anything better. And he gives examples of proper fair use, drawing the line between commercial and non-commercial copying:
While there's a lot of grey area between "commercial" and "non-commercial", there are also some bright lines. Newspapers
should have to pay photographers for stock images; kids working on school reports (and other non-commercial users) should be able to clip images and use them for without negotiating a rights agreement with a copyright holder.
He also comes up with the idea of "accidental copying":
Incidental use isn't infringement. If […] photo includes a blowing piece of trash bearing a copyrighted work (say, a copy of the Independent), [the author] should still be allowed to sell and publish his photo without the Independent's permission. Incidental copying includes (for example), Google copying every page on the web in order to create an index of the words on those pages.
The general idea is that copying should be allowed if it does not "displace any revenue for the rightsholder". The hard part is how to prove it.
I recommend reading both texts, the ideological one of TheBlackMan and the practical one by Doctorow. They both form an interesting opposition to the "official line".
However, a notable group of Polish lawyers, journalists, academics, enterpreneurs, politicians and bloggers think otherwise and signed a letter (written by myself, btw) to President of Poland, Lech Kaczyński, asking him to turn the law down (in Polish legal system, president has the right to do this, but the parliament can then overcome president’s opposition if 2/3 of the delegates vote for it).
Here is the translation of the letter:
Dear Mr President!
We are addressing You to raise issue crucial for every Polish citizen using Internet. By pushing ahead so called ‘Anti-Gambling Law’ government of Donald Tusk is proposing, in the name of fight against gambling, to claim the right for filtering of all content available on-line. The Art.179a of Telecommunication Law, introducing ‘Registry of Banned Websites and Services’ is supposed to allow that.
It is a very dangerous idea which contradicts the interest of citizens. The statement that Internet should be governed by the same law as that referring to any other part of public space might be valid, however realisation of the above postulate has nothing to do with the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The planned changes in law are simply new way of censorship, very well known to You from previous system. Similar regulations allowing governments unrestricted filtering of content available for citizens are currently in place only in few countries of the world. Amongst those You will find for instance Iran and China. Do we really want Poland to join them?
Internet is a public space enabling expression and exchange of opinions. Thus the top to down filtering of Internet can be only compared to closing citizens mouths before they even start to speak up. It is something that even George Orwell did not imagine in his famous novel “1984″ about vision of totalitarian state.
What can be done towards following the law on the Internet then? Exactly the same as in case of breach of law related to rights of fellow citizens! Those who brake the law need to be simply prosecuted. If a website contains materials banned by law (including treacherous child pornography or content promoting Nazism or hate), we have appropriate mechanisms in place to punish those who are responsible for them. It is more difficult then the top to down filtering, as it requires separate analysis of each case. However does it mean, that for this very reason we should sacrifice our freedom of speech?
In May on the website stopcenzurze.wikidot.com we have collected 75.000 confirmed signatures against possibility of Internet censorship in European Union. No one really expected at that point of time that similar problem might occur in our own homeland.
We hope that having in consideration freedom as major value in a democratic state, You will decide to veto this disadvantageous for citizens proposal.
It’s a very important moment for Polish Internet users and for the whole European Union as Poland would be the first country after the passing of the Telekom Package that actually uses the opportunity to censor the Internet. The only other nation in Europe (not EU though) that has similar law is totalitarian Belarus.
On February 1st I'll be visiting Berlin to give a 15-minutes talk about Filmaster (http://filmaster.com), a social network for film buffs with personalized recommendations, that I created with Adam Zieliński.
Here is how the organizers present this meeting:
"In the context of Social Media Week we're hosting a special feature of "web monday", the "polish web monday": Polish start-ups present themselfes and their projects. The 15 minute long presentations open up a new perspective on the social media scene in Poland and prepare the ground for subsequent discussions, exchange and mutual inspiration. "web monday" – brings together developers, founders, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, web pioneers, blogger, podcaster, designer and others interested in web 2.0 in the broadest sense."
Except from me presenting Filmaster, there will be a few of other Polish startups presenting during the event: AdTaily.com (Julia Krysztofiak-Szopa), Humanway.com and Flaker.pl (Wiktor Schmidt) and Gramol.pl (Rafal Bugajski).
I've been an Ubuntu user since 4.10. Yep, that's over 5 years ago. Upgrading gradually from version to version I have never changed the distribution ever since.
Am I happy with the system? Hell no!
Ubuntu is great for a new user. It's easy, it sets you up in minutes, your hardware usually works, whether a laptop or a desktop computer. I found it the easiest distro to set up as I mostly didn't have to do anything. I wrote about Ubuntu a few times on polishlinux.org: – http://polishlinux.org/linux/ubuntu/ubuntu-linux-vs-windows-vista-the-desktop-battle/ – http://polishlinux.org/linux/ubuntu/ubuntu-710-gutsy-gibbon-critical-review/ – http://polishlinux.org/linux/ubuntu/whats-new-in-ubuntu-810/
So what has changed? Nothing has changed. It's still a breeze to set up. It still works fantastic out of the box. I never had to do all that boring stuff I was forced to do after installing a Windows system — getting all the drivers, spending hours installing software, etc. Ubuntu has it all in a package and after some minor tweaking it's ready to go.
The nightmare starts when you try an upgrade.
Ubuntu is a 18-months cycle distro. Every year and a half a new version arrives and you are forced to uprade if you want to keep being up to date with the software. It's always tempting to stay with the current release but it's almost impossible – backports are a pain to use and mess up your system and there is always at least one single app that you need in the latest version that justify the upgrade.
And Ubuntu upgrades simply don't work. They don't. Not a single upgrade of any Ubuntu system ever worked for me. Either suspend or hibernate stops working. Or video card forgets how to switch to the console mode and back to gui. Or sound support crashes. Or wireless settings get messep up and you no longer can connect to your WPA network or any network at all except for manual config editing. Or brightness cannot be adjusted anymore. Or systems starts being stupidly slow and you don't know why.
Whatever your current reason is, it always turns out to come down to the choice between: – searching through hundreds of web forums to find the reasons why your stuff is now broken – reinstalling the system from scratch to find out it actually works, but only on a clean install.
I'm choosing the latter option. It's more convenient. It's highly inconvenient but still better than spending your weekend trying to hack your system. I was doing that in college for fun – recompiling Linux kernels, installing nasty software, getting the latest and greatest stuff that almost never worked as it should but it was so fun to use anyway. Now I don't have the time for that anymore. I want a system that works and I want it now.
So here I am. Reinstalling Ubuntu 9.10 from scratch yet one more time. It was the suspend and the brightness and the video on my Thinkpad X61s this time. It will be something else next time.
Am I going to quit using Ubuntu or Linux whatsoever? Nope. I'm too used to the Linux way of doing things to change now. But I can understand why no one sane really stays with Linux for a long time. It's a pain. And after more than 10 years of using it, it's still a pain with no prospect of getting any better.
Or perhaps I'm just unlucky.