The Free Software Foundation's Deadly Sins - InformationWeek
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8/28/2009
11:04 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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The Free Software Foundation's Deadly Sins

After giving Vista a pummeling, the Free Software Foundation has turned to Windows 7's "sins" against computer users. And like their previous anti-Windows campaign, it misses the point. You can't improve your own lot by lowering everyone else's.

After giving Vista a pummeling, the Free Software Foundation has turned to Windows 7's "sins" against computer users. And like their previous anti-Windows campaign, it misses the point. You can't improve your own lot by lowering everyone else's.

The seven points in the campaign are essentially clones of every anti-Windows talking point that have circulated for some time now. There's nothing in them that is inherently a problem with Windows alone, though; they're anti-Microsoft broadsides, and as such they are tiresomely predictable.

The DRM issue, for instance, is a total rehash of the one in Vista. It's also completely misleading: the only thing affected by the Protected Media Pathway in Windows is copy-protected Blu-ray Disc playback. I took the time to read up on this before installing Vista, and I was a little stupefied at the amount of misinformation being circulated about it by people who had not only never used it but had no intention of doing so. One friend of mine came and asked me in all honesty if he wouldn't be able to copy his Word documents or MP3s out from his machine after installing Vista. (He ran not only Vista but now 7, and remains most vitally able to do both file-copying functions.) Nothing at any point stopped him from picking up a copy of Ubuntu and running that, if he chose to, and nothing still does other than his own choice.

Campaigns like this simply do not work, except to confirm existing prejudices. The few kernels of legitimate argument they have (e.g., Microsoft's cavalier approach to standards, again nothing we don't know and haven't attacked better elsewhere) are smothered by the overall mendacity of the approach. Frankly, I'm not even sure what the point is other than to demonize Windows/Microsoft -- as if that hasn't been done many times over by now.

Such campaigns also don't help improve the quality of free software generally. For one, why discourage people from using one of the key platforms where free software is developed and deployed in the first place, and is one of the best ways to get it into people's hands? I can speak for myself: The vast majority of the programs running on the system I am typing this on are FOSS, with a few key exceptions -- Word, Outlook, Photoshop. But the rest is one FOSS success story after another: Firefox, VLC, VNC, FileZilla, Pidgin, the PortableApps collection, et a long list of ceteras.

The worst part of screeds like this is they have zero chance of reaching, or changing the behavior, of the people they are aimed at. The only people who pay attention to these things are the already-converted -- or the already-inured. What's the message here -- that freedom is best when it's my kind of freedom and not yours? Looks like the FSF has its own sin of envy to reflect on.

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