Richard Stallman — On the Microsoft Verdict

By Richard Stallman

Many GNU/Linux users think of
the system as competition for Microsoft. But the Free Software
Movement aims to solve a problem that is much bigger than
Microsoft: proprietary, non-free software, designed to keep users
helpless and prohibit cooperation. Microsoft is the largest
developer of such software, but many other companies treat the
users’ freedom just as badly; if they have not shackled as many
users as Microsoft, it is not for lack of trying.

Since Microsoft is just a part of the problem, its defeat in the
anti-trust lawsuit is not necessarily a victory for free software.
Whether the outcome of this suit helps free software and promotes
users’ freedom depends on the specific remedies imposed on
Microsoft by the judge.

If the remedies are designed to enable other companies to
compete in offering proprietary, non-free software, that will do
the Free World no particular good. Alternative possible masters is
not freedom. And competition could lead them to do a “better” job,
better in a narrow technical sense; then it could be harder for us
to “compete” with them technically. We will continue to offer the
user one thing those companies do not — freedom — and users who
value freedom will continue to choose free software for that
reason. But users who do not value freedom, and choose a system
based on mere convenience, might be enticed away to “improved”
proprietary systems.

Splitting Microsoft into separate companies could also endanger
free software, because these smaller companies, no longer held in
check by the public readiness to condemn Microsoft, might see fit
to attack free software more harshly than the present unified
Microsoft does.

I’ve proposed
for this case that would help free software compete
with Microsoft: for example, requiring Microsoft to publish
documentation for all interfaces, and to use patents only for
defense, not for aggression. These remedies would block the use of
the weapons that Microsoft plans to use against us (according to
the “Halloween
” leaked from within Microsoft which spelled out how
they plan to impede development of the GNU/Linux system).

When we see what remedies the judge chooses, we will get an idea
of whether the case has been helpful or harmful to the Free
Software Movement.

Copyright 2000 Richard Stallman
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