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The Nation: Gates at Appomattox: Why the US Surrendered (Eben Moglen)

Sep 10, 2001, 18:15 (32 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Eben Moglen)
"There are now two kinds of computers in the world: Windows computers, which their users cannot technically understand or modify, and free software computers (usually inaccurately called "Linux" computers), running the enormous body of software made by the best programmers on earth and given to everyone to freely use, modify and redistribute. Windows XP has been designed to help the movie and music businesses by degrading the quality of the MP3 music-file format that currently fuels the world's music sharing systems like Napster. (See "Liberation Musicology" The Nation, March 12, 2001.) These systems allow users to exchange music with anyone else in the world, who need pay nothing--thus giving the five companies that control the world's popular music the heebie-jeebies. Windows XP also contains facilities that might soon allow the movie and television companies to control all video distributed through the web, or at least to hobble any serious competition they might meet there.

In the world of "convergence," where what we have seen as separate media (radio, television, movies, recorded music, books, magazines, newspapers, video games) are all "bitstreams" delivered to digital devices, the oligarchs of culture and the monopolist of software are discovering that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

What's next in the history of US v. Microsoft? Much sterile legal maneuvering leading to a settlement that will leave Gates's empire unchained and undiminished. But only temporarily. The best software in the world continues to be free. Free as in free speech: free to use, free to copy, free to modify. As users learn what free software can do, manufacturers won't need Gates any more. If you're a capitalist and you have the very best goods, and they're free, you don't have to proselytize---you just have to wait. Thanks to the venality of politics in America, Microsoft is riding high right now, but it is headed for the boneyard after all."

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