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PR: OSIA to Microsoft: If The Shoe Fits, Wear It

Jun 24, 2004, 02:30 (9 Talkback[s])

"As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They'll get sort of addicted, and then we'll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade."

-- Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft Corp, 1998.

OSIA, Australia's Open Source industry body, believes that Microsoft's defamation lawsuit against Sergio Amadeu, the President of the Brazilian National Institute for Information Technology, is a reprehensible action, attempting to curb freedom of speech and freedom of criticism.

OSIA believes that this frivolous lawsuit has more to do with the recent move by the Brazilian government to shift 300,000 PCs from Windows to Linux[0] than any real harm to Microsoft.

Mr Amadeu's public comments compared Microsoft's habit of giving software to governments for free (at least initially) with that of drug dealers who give away their product until the victim is addicted, and then demand payment for ongoing supply. His comments simply mirror public statements made by none other than Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates himself and well placed commentators on Microsoft's business practices such as Judge Penfold Jackson, the original Judge in the now famous Microsoft-DOJ anti-trust case, in which Microsoft was indeed found guilty of abuse of its monopoly position.

On Feb 27, 2001, at the end of the first stage of the anti-trust trials, Judge Jackson was "quoted as saying Microsoft was like a 'drug dealer'"[1] in a frank exchange with the media. Prior to this, during an address to university students in 1998, the then CEO of Microsoft Mr Gates said, "Although about 3 million computers get sold every year in China, but people don't pay for the software. Someday they will,though. As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They'll get sort of addicted, and then we'll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade."[2]

OSIA wants to know why legal action is being taken against Mr. Amadeu for making statements which could have been taken straight out of Bill Gates' own mouth. If Mr. Gates can make comments that allude to Microsoft's practices getting users addicted to their software, then Microsoft have no grounds to claim that Mr. Amadeu's comments are defamatory.

We also want to know why Microsoft believes it has the right to curb freedom of speech and responsible criticism, criticism which itself reflects a generally accepted maxim by the IT industry: that proprietary software vendors often 'seed' markets with zero-cost software, locking-in users with proprietary data and document formats and APIs, then milking those users for years to come with enforced licence purchases, upgrades and software 'assurance' programmes. This is why Microsoft is able to make profits of around 80% on products such as Windows and Office.[3] Drug dealers would indeed be envious.

"The European Competition Commission report on the Microsoft case has been published in full and quotes Microsoft internal emails attributing its customers' loyalty to the high cost of switching from Windows."[4]

This last point is key. Documents released by the European Union anti-trust case against Microsoft[5] reveal that their business model relies on monopolistic lock-in strategies. To protect your organisation against vendors who would lock you in to proprietary software, OSIA recommends that users switch to free and open software and standards. Because the technologies are open source, no single vendor can lock users in to their product, leaning them towards addiction.

Microsoft, if the shoe fits, wear it. And according to your own founder, the shoe fits perfectly because it's part of your core business plan. If you really have concerns about how the world's citizenry perceives you, then alter your current business conduct, don't attack free speech as a decoy.

[0] http://trends.newsforge.com/trends/04/06/20/1420245.shtml

[1] http://amo.net/NT/02-28-01MSFT.html

[2] http://news.com.com/2100-1023-212942.html

[3] http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=38517

[4] http://news.zdnet.co.uk/business/0,39020645,39152686,00.htm

[5] http://europa.eu.int/comm/competition/antitrust/cases/decisions/37792/en.pdf

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