I was fascinated with the responses I got around the Web on my observation that open source interest, according to the OEMs I've spoken to recently, is dropping. These responses seemed to be attempting to FUD my post, which in itself is ironic.
In a company, there are often views that may be incredibly stupid and destructive, but they are protected because a few powerful people hold them. In religious groups, you can ostensibly be against violence and then use violence to further your goals. We call that hypocrisy, and we are up to our armpits in it.
With all of the comparisons between free software and free speech, I often wonder if people realize that many who support one don't seem to support the other.
Freedom as in Free Speech
I'm actually a big believer in freedom and competition. Whether it is Microsoft or any other company, I believe you should always have a choice of vendors. However, I also realize that a monopoly is the most efficient business model and the market will almost always gravitate towards it. Then the monopoly misuses its power and loses its hard-won position, and we start over again.
That creates a natural tension, because you can't have both a monopoly and competition, and the goal should be to ensure that the consumer, either business or individual, is not disadvantaged (which they almost always are) as the market transitions back and forth between modes.
Critical to protecting customers is the freedom for both sides to be heard. If one side gains too much power over the conversation, the consumer can be misled and damaged; then not only will the market be sub-optimized, it can become an oppressive place to do business.
One of the things I object to with vendors is the tendency to buy and craft news coverage and then believe it as if it were independent, both misleading their customers and themselves.
One of the things I object to with open source is the tendency to use intimidation to discourage dissenting voices. While the "free" in "free software" is compared to the "free " in "free speech," the reality is that the two often seem mutually exclusive.
This last is more frightening to me, because it often feels like the kind of thing that happens when major religions brand people as heretical and criminal.
If you look at my previous piece, and then some of the responses here at LinuxToday.com, you'll see the focus too often wasn't on my observation -- which was just that, an observation -- it was on silencing my voice.
I was also fascinated by the number of folks who seem to use SlashDot but don't seem to trust it and argue that "serious journalists" don't link to it.
Microsft as Satan
Today we see many political and religious organizations bringing up scary things -- or folks who are different -- as reasons to set aside freedoms as part of a response. In observing this, I think we can determine that the goal of people who do this is not the obvious one; it is power and control.
To me, too much of open source is about controlling speech and the elimination of dissenting views, often arguing that only approved people can argue critical points. The acronym FUD is used to discredit anything OSS supporters disagree with, without requiring a discussion of the facts that back up their disagreement.
Let's leave this section with this thought. Microsoft has been the target, the devil, if you will, that open source has often been positioned to eliminate. Microsoft is seen as a company that steals ideas from others to its own financial benefit. My view is that it played the game very well for much of the last decade and those that didn't are pissed. I don't think it is playing the game as well now, and that is largely why other companies are more consistently seen as leaders today.
Since the war was declared against Microsoft, Google and Apple have risen up as major powers in their respective segments. Both companies make heavy use of open source resources, both have executives who have been made very wealthy, and few of the people who have provided the open source technology to either firm have benefited financially.
All open source did is move the deck chairs. Both of these new powers are arguably more closed and autocratic than Microsoft was/is.
Wrapping up and Moving on
It is my experience that people find comfort in telling themselves they are right, regardless of whether they are. A great example is the Iraq war; people in power were so sure they were right that they silenced dissenting voices who argued the war was being poorly managed and was likely to be counter-productive. The end result wasn't a successful effort; it simply ensured the failures identified by those dissenting voices.
In the end, I think any group that seems to want to control who can speak on a subject, what they can say, and how often they say it is suspect regardless of what they publicly appear to stand for. Anyone can be on the wrong path; allowing people the right to say the emperor has no clothes would seem wise given our recent history as a race.
Let me leave you with this. If customers really want open source, as many argue, why then, when given a choice, do they line up to buy products like the iPhone and seem to avoid Linux-based products? The exception is Tivo, which is now at risk, not from Microsoft, but from the FSF and GPL 3.0.