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Eric S. Raymond: Remember Astroturfing? Now, Microsoft wraps itself in the flag

Contributed by Eric S. Raymond

Remember the `astroturfing’ scandal a year ago, when Microsoft
was caught covertly running a fake grassroots campaign of political
agitation against the Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit?
The boys of Redmond have learned something from their mistakes;
this time out, they’re not hiding Microsoft’s hand in the so-called
“Freedom to Innovate Network (see http://www.microsoft.com/freedomtoinnovate/.

Reading this page puts me irresistibly in mind of Samuel
Johnson’s cynical aphorism that that “Patriotism is the last refuge
of a scoundrel”. Nifty logo, though! Microsoft would have you
believe that the antitrust suit represents a fundamental threat to
the freedom to pursue technological innovation and benefit
consumers.

In a general sense they’re right, of course. The unintended
consequence of government regulation tend to swamp the intended
ones. The “public-choice” school of economic history teaches us
that antitrust laws have been captured and abused by
politically-connected fat cats to suppress unwanted competition far
more often than they’ve achieved their original purpose. This is
natural. When government has too much power, anyone who can’t win
over consumers in the market will naturally be tempted to call the
Feds down on their opponents.

Still, hearing Microsoft invoke this argument is pretty rich.
Gates & Co. has an egregious history of using lies, bullying,
and covert FUD against its opponents. Their faked-videotape fiasco
in the DOJ trial was only the most recent example in a pattern
stretching back through the astroturfing scandal and their
successful dirty-tricks campaigns against CP/M-86 and OS/2.

So hearing Microsoft complain that it’s being economically
oppressed is a lot like hearing a Communist or Nazi whine about
political repression. “Oh yes?” one wants to ask, “…and how clean
are *your* hands?”

Microsoft’s call for “freedom to innovate” would be a lot more
credible if they published full interoperability documentation for
things like the Word file format, the SMB file-sharing service,
NTLM, and the Exchange wire protocol. These proprietary, closed
so-called “standards” are the weapons with which Microsoft
maintains its stifling monopoly on the PC software market.

By all means let’s see more freedom to innovate — not just for
Microsoft, but for its competitors as well. You want out from under
that lawsuit, Bill? Then let those lock-in tactics go. Get serious
about open systems and open source. If you did that, your “Freedom
to Innovate Network” might become something more than a bad
joke.