Eric Raymond’s Latest

Eric is a noted open-source advocate. Here, entitled “Get the FUD.”

Let’s review what Microsoft is doing. Huw gives us five bullet points:

1. Claim that linux isn’t free.
2. Pretend that Shared source is the same as Open Source
3. Make a big deal about the migration costs of moving to Linux
4. Use the Forrester report to claim that Linux is insecure
5. Belittle the quality of the toolset available on Linux

I’ll take on all of these, but in reverse, saving the most interesting for last. Do I even need to point out that most of the factual claims are blatant lies brought to you by the same people who got caught faking video evidence in their Federal antitrust trial?

Belittling the quality of the toolset available on Linux actually reduces to a TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) argument, because what a poor toolset means to a manager is that he’d have to hire more administrators to cover the same number of machines. I’ll have more to say about winning the TCO argument in a bit.

Use the Forrester report to claim that Linux is insecure. Huw didn’t give a link to Red Hat’s counterargument. It’s a good one, and I’ll build some recommendations for action on it later on.

Make a big deal about the migration costs of moving to Linux. Beating this one is easy. All you have to point out is that migration costs money once, but per-seat Microsoft licensing fees are forever. Unless Linux TCO is substantially greater than Windows TCO, the sooner you switch, the more money you save. (Yes, this remains true even given discounting of future expenses, unless you peg the conversion cost absurdly high.)

The really interesting and novel lines are Huw’s report of arguments 1 and 2: Claim that Linux isn’t free and Pretend that Shared Source is the same as Open Source. Though these have been foreshadowed elsewhere, we haven’t seen these used as headline arguments before, and they add up to nearly a reversal of the position Microsoft has taken in the past. Whereas Microsoft has before tried to claim that its products and licensing are different from and better than and more innovative than Linux’s, now they’re reduced to arguing that you should stick with Microsoft because shared source is just the same as open source. Really. Ignore the attack lawyers behind the curtain.

Linux isn’t free. Hello? If there is actually anyone still left on the planet who thinks the term free software was a good idea, I hope they’re paying attention. Because what Microsoft is doing here is exploiting the old familiar gratis/libre ambiguity of the word free in yet another way. They’re setting up for a claim that free software advocates are lying or deluded because Linux has a nonzero TCO. Therefore, goes the implication, you can’t really trust them about that other freedom thing, can you?

Semantic warfare struggles over the meanings of words as proxies for political or market positions is just like other kinds of warfare; you want to fight it on the other guy’s turf, not yours. Every minute we spend arguing with Microsoft flacks about what free means is a win for them and a lose for us.

This is also why we need to attack the shared in their shared source rather than defending the open in our open source. Fortunately this is easy. We can ask why they call it shared source when they’re not giving up the right to sue people who share it for IP violations. Are they giving anything away except the opportunity to be hauled into a courtroom the next time you do something that Microsoft thinks is competitive with it?

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.