What do Free and Open Source Software Leaders Think of Microsoft?: Page 2

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For now, Brown thinks that all Microsoft can do is to dabble in free software in the hopes of attracting the major development efforts toward the Windows platform and to try to slow down its adoption. However, he dismisses the possibility of Microsoft destroying FOSS as only "theoretically" possible. Mostly, his concern is that Microsoft "can present a danger to users' freedoms, because they can prevent users from adopting free software by tricks like creating platforms that are very seductive to people, and making them want to stay there because the inconveniences of changing are so great."

A particular concern of Brown's is that, in rejecting Microsoft, some computer users turn to another proprietary company. "It's important that people don't say, 'Oh, Apple is much better than Microsoft," he says. "I really think that's missing the point. If Apple had those two products, Windows and the Office suite, they would be acting exactly the same way, give or take the executive in charge. With the iPhone, they're already showing exactly the same behavior. So that would be the final word, not to think that Microsoft is any different from any other corporation."

Jim Zemlin, Executive Director, The Linux Foundation

Like Peter Brown, Jim Zemlin considers watching Microsoft as part of his job. However, while Brown at the Free Software Foundation watches for threats to users' freedoms, Zemlin says, "Part of my job as executive director at The Linux Foundation is to monitor Microsoft announcements. Our team provides an important service to our members and the market by translating what are sometimes confusing actions by Microsoft. We look at changes in Microsoft technology that make it easier for Linux and open source applications to interoperate with their platform. Microsoft's intent to support ODF [Open Document Format] technology in Office is a good example of what we track. We look to them to publish their technical protocols under terms that are compatible with open source development and licensing practices."

However, so far as Zemlin's personal computing, Microsoft is "not important at all." His description of a typical day is a litany of Web applications and products that use GNU/Linux: "My day begins by listening to music on a Linux-based Sonos music system at home. I may record a television show on my Linux DVR and then head to the office where I work on a Linux desktop. I spend most of my day in a Web browser accessing Google applications, using our Web-based SugarCRM system and corresponding via Web-based email. I make calls on my Motorola Razr, which runs on Linux. I return home and organize our family photos on Flickr, make connections on Facebook or read a book on a Kindle reader -- all of which are powered by Linux. The only time Microsoft is relevant to me is when I receive a Microsoft Office file, which I open in OpenOffice.org and translate into ODF."

Zemlin notes that participation in the community is possible for anyone, but adds that, "It takes a sincere desire to collaborate and make better software. When this is truly a part of the Microsoft vision, I would expect the company to become a member of the community. The open source model is the dominant model for developing software, and will only increase in its pervasiveness in the years ahead.

Zemlin refuses to speculate on Microsoft's intentions towards FOSS, but clearly does not see it as much of a threat. "Microsoft is a very smart company and an excellent competitor," he says. "They make Linux better every day just by being a fierce opponent. But they're operating under an outdated software development model that no longer holds up in today's software economy. Consumers of software are demanding openness and vendor choice; something Microsoft is late to understand. Linux, one of the first examples of what can be achieved with the open source development model, is in a natural position to seize these new market dynamics. Microsoft will continue to struggle."

Richard Stallman, President and Founder, Free Software Foundation

As the major figure in the free software movement, Richard Stallman makes a distinction between Microsoft technology and actions. "I do not try to follow Microsoft technology," he says, "Because in most cases changes in Microsoft technology do not have sudden affects on the free software community. I am more concerned with Microsoft's legal threats to free software, and its attempts to recruit schools, governments, and businesses to direct and pressure the public into using Windows."

At a personal level, Microsoft affects him "not at all -- I use only free software," he says.


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Tags: open source, Linux, Microsoft, Stallman, Torvalds


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