Open-source fans believe Microsoft is bringing its political power to bear because it sees a market threat to its desktop-software monopoly. But in some cases, Microsoft’s appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Last year, according to people familiar with the situation, Microsoft objected “vigorously” when the super-secret National Security Agency developed a secure version of Linux and then posted it on the NSA Web site for anyone to download. But NSA didn’t back down and the software is still available.
In the developing world, where free software like Linux may have its greatest appeal, Linux advocates say they have “noticed that Microsoft has made a substantial portion of their quote ‘gifts’ to developing nations that have indicated a strong preference for open-source software,” says Mark Webbink, general counsel of Red Hat Inc., a Raleigh, N.C., company that sells versions of Linux.
In India, where at least one state government endorsed Linux recently, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates last month announced a $400 million gift of donated software and business-development aid.
In South Africa, a Microsoft offer to provide software for 32,000 schools came just days after that country’s National Advisory Council on Innovation called for the government to adopt open-source software to build local programming skills and avoid sending hard currency to the U.S. to pay for Windows. Nhlanhla Mabaso, a government chief information officer, says that while the free software from Microsoft is tempting, “Personally, I believe this is not good for South Africa.”
The battle is on for the hearts and minds of computing’s next users. This is where Linux and open-source software stand their best chance. This is also what Emergic is focused on.