Monday, May 14, 2007

Confederacy Of Dunces

One of my favorite books is A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Sadly, it has also become one of my favorite phrases lately as I go through life. First with customer support and now with the sheer pomposity and idiocy contained in comments regarding open-source.

Jonathan Swift wrote the quote that serves as the epigraph for A Confederacy, "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."

Be forewarned, this one is nothing but rant, rant, rant with a little ranting thrown in.

First, lets start with Microsoft's general counsel and their licensing chief sitting down with Fortune magazine and claiming that open-source software violates at least 235 Microsoft patents. O.K., Microsoft, you've obviously counted them, they're already patents and, therefore, have the details published, how about listing them and where they're violated so they can be fixed? Or, is this more about FUD and confusing the market than it is about clarity and intellectual property? Perhaps no patents are violated. Perhaps the patents themselves are invalid and, therefore, can't be violated. By the way, Microsoft, if you need a licensing chief then you've probably gone way too far down the wrong road.

Transparency, transparency, and more transparency. If you're so certain about the violations, publish them and let's deal with them. Of course, obfuscation has certainly been part of your strategy in the past, perhaps this time as well. Remember, security through obfuscation is not secure and strategy through obfuscation is no strategy. I'll touch on the intellectual property disaster we have in a future post, but let's touch on the next dunce in the confederacy.

Bill Hilf now claims that free software is dead. I'm immediately reminded of that beautiful intellectual debate in "Plan 9 From Outer Space:"

Colonel Tom Edwards: ...Why, a particle of sunlight can't even be seen or measured.
Eros: Can you see or measure an atom? Yet you can *explode* one. A ray of sunlight is made up of *many* atoms!
Jeff Trent: So what if we *do* develop this Solanite bomb? We'd be even a stronger nation than now.
Eros: [with disgust] Stronger. You see? You see? You're stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!

Stupid, stupid, stupid - it's not about free, it's about freedom. It doesn't matter that Red Hat, SuSE, Ingres, MySQL and many others make money off of open-source software. What matters is that I and anyone else can take that software and build off of it, use it, deploy it or do whatever we want without needing anyone's permission.

The software is free, it's open and yet people still figure out how to make money off of it. These companies are transparent. Let's contrast these companies with the closed-source companies who are secretive, battle innovation from the smaller players and are as opaque as can be. With whom would you rather do business?

Lastly, this quote from Bill really gets to me, "We have thousands of pages, thanks to the Department of Justice. There's no lack of clarity on what cheating could be. When I joined Microsoft, I spent a week in antitrust training to know exactly what the boundary conditions were."

Good grief, do you want to do business with a company that needs thousands of pages from the U.S. Department of Justice so they can understand what cheating would be and know their boundary conditions? Only a predatory company with a predatory culture would look at having an anti-cheat playbook as a positive.

Years ago as a teenager I worked for a grocery store. In the store they had a sign, "We don't train our people to be friendly, we hire friendly people."

Microsoft should consider hiring people who play fair rather than trying to train their people to "know exactly what the boundary conditions were."

Business is business. Microsoft can attempt to serve their shareholders in whatever way they believe is best. That's their business and they have to live and die by it as a company. Just give us a break and stop trying to bullshit us and obfuscate the truth, we're not buying it and you shouldn't be selling it.

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