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LinuxUser.co.uk: Microsoft before the earthquake [Eben Moglen on the MS GPL FAQ]

Jun 15, 2001, 15:15 (25 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Eben Moglen)

Always good to hear it straight from one of the architects: Eben Moglen analyzes the GPL FAQ published on Microsoft's site and finds asking Redmond about the GPL is "like asking Joe Stalin about the US Constitution" (neatly skirting Godwin's Law, but only barely.) The point to all the GPL FUD, says Professor Moglen, is a looming crisis for Microsoft in the embedded space.

"...Microsoft's GPL FAQ isn't going to have much influence with one of the communities it's aimed at: software developers. Independent developers are more likely to consult the GNU Project's GPL FAQ: why ask Napoleon Bonaparte to explain the First Amendment? But Microsoft is also aiming this phase of its public relations war on free software at corporate bigshots, because a large strategic crisis is looming.

The economics of the palmtop market are about to change drastically, as global consumer electronics firms release palmtop products that compete with established devices sold at high markups only possible for proprietary technology. Prices are going to drop sharply; thus the idea of using free software for all but the top layer of software in palmtop devices is overwhelmingly attractive. Microsoft will have trouble remaining in the appliance market once manufacturers have learned that the GPL doesn't prevent them from putting a thin proprietary layer on top of a GNU/Linux system and embedding that combination in their hardware. They will get the superb reliability of free software, and a global codebase, at zero marginal cost and low fixed cost. Windows CE and all follow-ons will be dead, and Microsoft will be excluded from the smallest computers that do real work, which is where the future of the industry always lies. Checkmate.

So Microsoft is addressing its FUD about the GPL to the highest leadership of major global corporations, companies who put their nameplates on the electronics of daily life. Microsoft is trying to convince them not to use free software in their appliance products, by claiming it's murky, risky, difficult, arcane. But freedom is simple, as the appliance makers are going to see in the end, with their eyes firmly on the bottom line. An earthquake in the industry is coming: free software matters."

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