What do Free and Open Source Software Leaders Think of Microsoft?: Page 4

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"I simply don't tend to compare Linux to other OSes," he says. "I care about making Linux better than itself, and, trying to see what others are doing is not really all that relevant. Obviously, things like working well with other [operating systems] is important, but that's an area I can't really even help with, since I don't run other systems at home."

Torvalds admits that, given a choice, he will buy a Logitech mouse over a Microsoft one because he prefers to avoid supporting Microsoft. However, he calls that an "irrational" preference. Otherwise, he says, "I can't recall the last time I made any decision that had anything whatsoever to do with Microsoft."

Torvalds observes that Microsoft is already making overtures to the FOSS community, but he notes that its participation is limited because "they do seem to have a hang-up about the GPL [GNU General Public License], and are only working with "projects that they don't see as being in direct competition," such as "Web server infrastructure rather than any of the really core projects. Whether they'll ever expand into other areas, and whether they can get over their irrational fear of the GPL, I dunno."

As for any danger posed by Microsoft, Torvalds hedges his response by first observing that, "I don't think there is one Microsoft. I suspect there are a lot of MS engineers that actually like open source software and probably use it at home even apart from any work-related compatibility testing. Also, I suspect different parts of the company have very different ideas about open source, and I don't think they agree."

He continues, "That said, clearly some parts of Microsoft are pretty anti-open source software, and, yes, if they can undermine it, they'll happily do so."

However, Torvalds dismisses the idea that any effort to undermine can have much success. "How do you really fight something that is more of an idea and a way of doing things than a direct competitor in the market?" he asks rhetorically.

Torvald adds that he no longer refers to Microsoft in public the way that he once did. "I used to make jokes about Microsoft when giving talks," he says, "And I basically stopped, because I don't think the fear-and-loathing that is so common (or perhaps not common -- it's probably just very vocal) is all that healthy. I believe that if you make decisions based on fears of what other people and companies do, you aren't going to do the best job. I'd rather see people be pro-Linux than anti-Microsoft, because the latter crowd -- by being motivated by negative feelings -- is just not worthwhile in the long run."

If anything, Torvald's strongest attitude to Microsoft seems to be that it is a company that has lost its direction. "While I'm obviously not a Microsoft fan," he says, "I think they used to seriously kick butt ten-plus years ago because they really gave people what they wanted, for a low cost. There was a good reason why Microsoft could walk all over the traditional UNIX vendors. That said, they seem to have forgotten those roots, and a lot of what I see now seems to be them not even trying to serve their customers, but to control them (i.e., all the crazy rental/licensing schemes, all their silly DRM work, etc.)."


The first obvious point about these answers is that, although they were given by both free software and open source advocates, the differences are so minor that they could be due as much to personality as to position. All the respondents find Microsoft almost entirely irrelevant to their personal computing, and all suggest that Microsoft needs to transform itself, but do not dismiss the possibility of the company making real contributions to FOSS if it manages to change. All, too, seem to view the triumph of FOSS as more or less inevitable. The similarities are a reminder that, despite the real differences between the free software and open source priorities, the two camps remain allies.

The other point that stands out is how dispassionate the answers are compared to the sentiments often expressed by others involved with FOSS. All those interviewed see Microsoft as an antagonist, but they do so with none of the paranoia that disfigures some FOSS circles. The reason may be their belief that FOSS will win in the end -- or, perhaps, simply the impossibility of anyone maintaining a boiling rage every day and every minute of their working life.

Whatever the reason, this relative dispassion potentially puts them at odds with some of those within the community, especially those who see Microsoft as the center of an anti-FOSS conspiracy. Jim Zemlin, whose answers are milder than the others', has been attacked in the media for his views before now.

However, by refusing to see their arch-rival as a one-dimensional figure of evil, the leaders quoted here free themselves to see a more complex view of their situation. Not only do they see Microsoft as struggling with the nearly impossible task of redefining itself after so many years, but they also emphasize that Microsoft is simply the greatest of the proprietary threats to FOSS -- and not the only one -- and that focusing too closely on Microsoft brings its own dangers.

Some readers may disagree with this or that view expressed here. I do myself. But, generally-speaking, I find the mixture of idealistic optimism and clear-headed observation a reassurance that the community is in responsible hands.

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

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