foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

Anatomy of the Irrational Microsoft User Response

, posted: 5-Mar-2008 12:51

Advocating free and open source software often will go hand in hand with pointing out issues or problems with particular Microsoft strategies. Considering that FOSS is the only 'thing' left that competes with Microsoft on the same breadth of products and market places, it is no surprise that Microsoft sees the need to defend itself. These strategies obviously are aimed against FOSS and as a consequence often against users' freedoms. So far, so good. It's only business, after all. They do what they have to do.

There is no point talking about the advantages of FOSS to those who already understand them. So, just try advocating free and open source software – and thus end up criticising Microsoft – in front of an audience that contains a large percentage of Microsoft users. Guess what happens? You will very soon be the recipient of a very peculiar and strangely fanatic type of response from a group of people, who I can only describe as self-declared defenders of the Microsoft holy-grail.

Why bother?

At first glance, getting such responses is not really all that surprising, since people like to belong to and identify with groups. They like to feel good about that, thus they react testily towards anything that diminishes the perceived value or standing of that group. That's a rather primordial instinct at work here, and so it's quite understandable.

The odd thing is that the people who speak out in response are also the very same people who most loudly talk about “those Linux users” being “irrational”, “fanatic” and “extreme”. Apparently they are adhering to a higher standard and don't shy away from passing judgement on those that disagree with their point of view. So, I feel it it's just fair to examine them a little bit in return. A lot has been said and written about the “typical, extremist Linux fan”. But apparently, the loudest and most accusing voices from the Microsoft world exhibit the very characteristics they decry.

Why even bother with people like this, who clearly fit into the “fan-boy” category? Because their answers always seem to follow the same pattern. This pattern is quite telling, actually, and should provide FOSS advocates with a better understanding and additional points of arguments.

Analysis of a typical response

The exchange always seems to go like this:

FOSS advocate: Microsoft is doing [some business strategy], which is bad, because [some negative effect on the FOSS community, the user community or society].

Microsoft fan: Have you tried [insert some random Microsoft product name]? It's excellent! But you don't see that because for you it's only Linux/FOSS. You obviously hate Microsoft (or Bill Gates, or Steve Ballmer). (Sometimes thrown in: Microsoft worked hard for its market share, why should they not take advantage of it? You FOSS people are communists and don't like the free-market.)

I will provide a few actual examples of exchanges just like this in a moment, but let's first examine the anatomy of the response. These responses don't always exhibit all of the following characteristic, but typically contain at least a subset.

1. Context free response

We quickly notice that the response neither mentions nor discusses the questionable Microsoft business strategy nor its suggested negative effects. Nothing. In reality, the response is context free. It exists within its own little world. Why is that? Because usually these effects are something rather obviously bad (limiting customer choice, furthering lock-in, weakening or even destroying competition through questionable means). It is very difficult to argue that less freedom and competition is a good thing, and thus the attempt to defend that is not even made.

As a FOSS advocate responding to this, it is important to see through this and to continually try to get the discussion back to the original point.

2. Extolling the virtues of an unrelated product

In the response we see that some Microsoft product is being presented at being wonderful and great. This often goes hand in hand with the implied message that you, as the FOSS advocate, didn't properly do your research and truly evaluate the benefits of Microsoft's solutions.

Well... WTF? Did the FOSS advocate in our example talk about any particular product? Did the FOSS advocate say that the mentioned Microsoft product sucks? No, there was none of that! Is it the FOSS advocate's responsibility to know all the Microsoft products, when originally a product-agnostic point was made against a Microsoft business strategy that is hostile to freedom and user communities? Of course not. Again, the response shows itself as context free. The product was brought up merely as a distraction, since the Microsoft advocate wasn't able to properly diffuse or address the points brought up by the FOSS advocate.

Contrary to what some may think, not all Microsoft products are bad. Some are very good! If there are issues with Microsoft products, and I criticise them then by all means: Please tell me where I am wrong, tell me about the advantage of their products. But what we see here is that the original point made was about some Microsoft business or technical strategy, not about some product.

This is really fascinating to observe 'in the wild': I have seen remarkable lists of Microsoft products foisted at me in those responses, products I had never even heard of, and therefore definitely didn't talk about (examples below). All in response to something completely different, like: Microsoft wants to lock-in users. Sigh...

3. Hating Microsoft

This is a sinister attack. The statement is made that you as the FOSS advocate, pointing out issues with Microsoft's strategies, are obviously hating Microsoft (or one/all of its founders).


Hate is a very intense feeling, which usually pushes reason aside. Thus, accusing someone of 'hating' essentially is the same as calling this person 'unreasonable'. That is an ad hominem attack, designed to undermine the credibility or standing of the person based on personal characteristics that have nothing to do with the argument itself. It's the lowest form of attack, and clearly deserves contempt. While deplorable, we should see this therefore as yet another admission that the response really has nothing to offer to address the actual points made by the FOSS advocate. The next time someone levels that 'argument' at me, I consider this as a sign of defeat for that person.

Why is this such a serious accusation, though? Often, the FOSS advocate will work in IT, and thus accusations of irrationality are directly attacking professional competency and integrity, which can have actual economic effects of course.

As a technologist, I don't hate technology. I may have preferences, but there is absolutely no place for hate here. And I don't hate large corporations, because I know they just do what they have to do: Increase shareholder value. That's their only responsibility in life. We don't have to fault them for this. Microsoft is very, very good at that. As members of the FOSS community we are often at the receiving end of what they are doing, and we may not like it. But we are better off if we can keep a cool head here, and don't get carried away with our emotions.

I don't hate Microsoft. Everyone who suggests otherwise has lost the argument already and has nothing left, but to pathetically flail away with personal attacks.

4. The free market attack

For some reason this attack is more commonly found in commentary by 'those who should know', such as Microsoft managers (Steve Ballmer), or journalists. It is slightly less often seen just in blog responses, but still pops up from time to time.

It is implied that FOSS advocates do not support a free market, or are anti free-market, anti-capitalism, or even communists. This of course is odd, since the 'F' in FOSS stands for 'Free' (as in 'Freedom'), and any FOSS product or company is very much subject to free market forces. Actually much more so than a semi-monopoly that can use its strength to distort the market forces in its favour. But as we can see, the attack attempts to turn this often overlooked point around completely.

So, we note: The argument that the FOSS community is anti free-market is a red herring. It is instead implied that Microsoft somehow deserves the power to distort free markets and scuttle competition. FOSS advocates should watch out for this argument, and respond accordingly when it comes up. A good strategy might be to point out how regulators have broken up monopolies in the past, and that this has generally been good for the consumers.

In the same context, we must be aware that an accusation of being anti free-market or even a communist again is an ad hominem attack. It's an easy trap to fall into in a heated discussion, but in this case it is made over and over, almost on a systematic basic.

Real world examples

As promised, here now some real-world examples. I present two cases, one with two exquisite species of the kind of response we are talking about.

Example 1: Microsoft DreamSpark, part I

This happened very recently on my blog here. Microsoft starts to give away free developer tools to students, talking about how technology and such is important for society, etc. I comment on this, saying that in reality Microsoft is doing this only, because they want to secure mind-share with the student (soon to be professional) developer community.

Here is an excerpt from an actual response I got (this was a back-and-forth exchange, and thus is a compilation of two postings from the same author):

[some unrelated comment about how great Silverlight is as a development platform and further commentary to depict the poster as a successful professional, some unrelated comment about FOSS projects done via Microsoft technology and the sad state of affairs of the IT sector in New Zealand] i get that you hate microsoft or bill gates or steve balmer or whoever you believe the puppet master is in our over arching evil plan but i do wonder if you have ever looked at our dev platform? if you have what do you think of it?

We can see here the following typical characteristics in action: Point 1 (context free), point 2 (unrelated Microsoft product) and point 3 (hating Microsoft). Wow! Three out of four. Not bad. Interestingly, this was actually posted by a Microsoft employee. I would have thought that Microsoft would warn their employees against posting things that reflect badly on the company, but I guess they don't?

Example 2: Microsoft DreamSpark, part II

Here is another response in the same thread:

... Its really sad to see that people dont have an {open}mind and just see always (ALWAYS) the worst. ... Have you tried to see how good Visual Studio 2008 is and tried using with other third party addins and frameworks like TestDriven.NET, NUnit, ReSharper, RhinoMocks etc., and also how people are using LINQ technologies to create their own providers?? Your primary job is to put down Microsoft or anyone in that case and praise and hail only Linux... Do you read Scott Gu's blog on the latest happenings in .NET framework and one finest example how Microsoft embraces Developers is to see ASP.NET MVC Framework...

We see a variation here of point 3: Instead of outright accusing me of hating Microsoft, I am accused of not having an open mind. That is of course similarly damning, also constitutes an ad hominem attack and should be seen accordingly. This theme then is continued when it is asserted that my “primary job” is to put down Microsoft. That is an equally crazy claim, just along the same lines. And of course, this response has plenty of point 2 (unrelated Microsoft product).

Example 3: Linux distro lock-in FUD

I posted an article in response to some readers talking about the dangers of GNU/Linux distro lock-in. I called those 'dangers' as I saw them: FUD. Some of them then were offended by that, posting things like this:

... You do research on Linux, Linux, Linux...dude,I have posted many many links telling you that Microsoft has so many options and you not being their Business Partner can't get it. If you are not keen to look through the links and see what they are, please dont comment on readers. (Go through every post where I have commented and given links to find out, in your blog)

One of you worst comments was just uttering that programs in XP will not work in Vista and you never knew the reason and again I had given you links...hmm...not nice....

I know you love Linux, but that doesnt mean you SHOULD (AND) HATE other technologies out there. I had even asked you to look into Microsoft Office mobile offerings and OO response....

Yeah, so here we see again plenty of point 2 (unrelated Microsoft product) and point 3 (hate Microsoft). More tellingly, this post was a very clear example of point 1 (context free). It had absolutely no bearing at all to my original posting.

In conclusion

Everyone advocating FOSS should be prepared to get the kinds of responses that I have tried to outline here in this posting. As we have seen, there is the tendency to strike below the belt line. We have to resist the temptation to do the same, since you obviously loose credibility if you do so. We also have to keep in mind that the 'freedom' aspect of FOSS does not carry the same value for everyone, as I discussed here.

But do recognize the 'arguments' when you see them. Watch out for the four points, and do not be tempted to engage on that level. Instead, stick to the points you originally made, and continuously bring the discussion back to those. They will often prove powerful enough, and quickly expose the other side's lack of true arguments.

Other related posts:
UK government supports open source
25 open source projects for software development
Dabbling in OpenSolaris

Comment by Eric, on 5-Mar-2008 14:57

The same could be said of fan-boy linux users. You could take this argument and switch Microsoft and Linux and you'll find the exact same thing happening.

I use both Microsoft and Linux. I like them both. I'd prefer to use only Linux, because I like free and i like tinkering. Microsoft is great for people who don't know how to use computers or don't want to tinker or get their hands dirty (ok - once set up). But in the end, freedom means getting to pick what you use - not only FOSS, but Microsoft or Apple.

With hundreds of linux distros, multiple windows OSes, and OS X the world has got more choices than it knows what to do with. Fantastic!

My advice to stop the fan-boy crap - stop giving them an audience. Oops, maybe I just did.

Comment by freitasm, on 5-Mar-2008 16:55

Good post, with well thought reasoning. May I reply with a second hand experience though?

Not all FOSS advocates are reasonable and think things all the way through like you seem to be and do.

Just recently I was contacted by a student who felt pressured by peers simply because he decided to follow through with MCSE exams. His e-mail was of someone being pressured into something else, against his will and ended up with a question: how to do what is better for myself without being labeled by people who defend open source and think they know what I feel?

The best answer I could give was "don't bother". You do what's better for yourself because no one else knows your situation.

And that's pretty much how it goes. Professionals will use the most adequate tools for the task at hand because no one else knows the situation. Of course there are those "professionals" who don't know anything else, but those should not be in this business then. Unfortunatelly these are atill there - as in any other segment.

Regardless of beliefs, the job has to be done and sometimes one tool is better than the other. Sometimes one philosophy is better than the other. Open Source cannot be applied everywhere, and advocates should understand that.

The same comes when someone criticizes Apple products and a load of vitriolic comments is unloaded - it seems Apple is dogma, pretty much like "anything from Microsoft is bad" is dogmatic too.

However everyone is entitled to their opinion (as you made it clear) and everyone is entitled to disagree.

Just don't try to make one's opinion the only opinion. This is straight out of opression books.

Comment by barf, on 5-Mar-2008 18:01

keep the commentaries coming foobar!

I'm no fan boy. I am an engineer and I judge systems on technical merit and usability. I stand up for Windows' usability merits. But, I will stand up for Linux's technical superiority, reliability, better network engineering tools, better PC hardware diagnostic tools and better development tools. I still use and reccomend Windows in certain business situations despite my personal favour towards Linux.

LOL @ those emails, but to be fair, both sides of this fence have evangelistic fanboys.

Author's note by foobar, on 5-Mar-2008 20:42

@eric, @barf: Definitely, there are fan-boys on both sides. Having to deal with them is a bad thing any way you look at it. I wish I could stop the "fan-boy crap", but sadly this is not going to happen. Whenever I comment about FOSS the way I normally do, I tend to get these kinds of responses. This means that anyone who tries FOSS advocacy (which I think is a good thing), will sooner or later have to deal with people like that. Some of them may voice their opinion loud enough to influence non fan-boy Windows users. Thus, it is good to know how to respond to this. So I shared what I learned about it so far.

I'm sure that Windows/Microsoft advocates have similar writeups about how to deal with Linux fan-boys.

@freitasm: Yeah, as I said, not all FOSS advocates are reasonable. The Linux community in particular has had certain tendencies of arrogance at times, and of a certain smugness. I don't condone this in any way. I think it does Linux, and by extension the FOSS community in general, a disservice. That student you are talking of shouldn't have been pressured. Instead, he should have been engaged in a proper dialog or discussion. I think that the state of affairs is improving somewhat in the Linux community, largely through the influx of the users of more mass-market oriented distros, such as Ubuntu, which has a very nice and good community.

With all of that, though, we must not forget one thing, though: Microsoft (and Apple) are commercial entities. They have their own PR departments, spin-doctors and evangelists. FOSS by and large does not have this. A certain level of ... enthusiasm ... can almost be understood from the FOSS community (even though it can definitely manifest itself in a negative manner). But it is always surprising that there are normal users who voluntarily beat the drum of the large corporates, without getting paid for it. FOSS lives and dies with its community support, and therefore require a loyal following. The large corporations do not, yet, there are people who feel the need to defend them. I guess that's just this primordial instinct again.

Comment by benn, on 5-Mar-2008 23:38

Free software can be seen as a project of free people, associtaiting freely and willingly to create a product for the benefit of all, without demanding anything in exchange. That's communism. And it's more communist than the USSR, China or whatever so called socialist country ever was, is or will be. Marx would be proud to use GNU/Linux or BSD.

benn, the commie

Author's note by foobar, on 6-Mar-2008 07:36

@benn: Not all FOSS projects are community projects, though. There is a lot of commercial FOSS. And even Richard Stallman himself has no problem with anyone earning money with open source. I get paid to develop open source software, for example. All the RedHat employees get paid, for example.

'Free' in FOSS never stood for 'no money'. The GPL demands that code is made available freely, but it never said that there shouldn't be ways to earn money with it.

The fact that FOSS software tends to be available for free is a reflection of a proper free market: It was recognised that for this kind of product the purchase price should be zero. Despite of this, there is not only demand, but also supply. Obviously, the money is somewhere else (services, maintenance, consulting, or the building of larger, complex systems).

Comment by SL22, on 6-Mar-2008 17:33

Like the tips on retaining a valid argument. Fan-boys representing their chosen cause have really started to get up my nose lately. Nearly every thread I've been in lately concerning linux, microsoft, or sony has become the battleground for fanboys at some point. Not to say that I'm innocent, but enough is enough. On concerning hacking a 360 in order to put a linux distro on it got espiecially ugly.

Comment by Kuba, on 7-Mar-2008 04:20

Nice post. Sums up pretty well common types of attack from fanboys and malicious "evangelists".

I'd also like to point You to this website that I've found some time ago -

It deals with conspiracy theories (which might not quite be something to pay attention to), but there's actually very good material concerning methods of recognizing and debunking false propaganda in


Since FOSS advocates are often called conspiracy theorist, this material often applies quite well (not to mention that FUD is actually a form of propaganda)

Comment by Lars Hansen, on 7-Mar-2008 17:14

As other have stated this might have well have happened from the other side.

I think you described it best with your "context free response" principle. Many discussion regarding the relative merits of FOSS vs. MS office takes place in a vacuum without looking at the context.

Comment by Rye, on 7-Mar-2008 17:41

I would like to clarify the free market argument a little bit.

First, the a free market is one in which the only government involvement (if any) is the enforcement of contracts. All other activity in the free market is mutually voluntary; that is, no one engages in trade as a result of force or coercion (the threat of force).

FOSS, therefore, is a completely free market phenomenon. It's a bit anomalous in terms of how people generally consider the free market, because the manufacturing cost is essentially zero - all "costs" go into the design (coding) of the product. Copying it and distributing it costs virtually nothing. Nevertheless, because all trade is mutually voluntary, it is by definition a completely free market phenomenon.

The argument presented here relating the "Free" in FOSS to the free market is rather nonsensical. Also, this article seems to suggest that Microsoft can somehow engage in non-free market activities by using its near-monopoly position in the market. This is not true. The only time a free market becomes non-free is when government uses force or coercion on players in an otherwise free market.

Not to say that this kind of thing doesn't take place on behalf of Microsoft in the marketplace - things such as government licensing and regulation create a huge barrier for entry into the market for newcomers that would otherwise make life very competitive for Microsoft.

It's not correct to say that Microsoft distorts the free market through mutually voluntary trade.

In conclusion, while this article reaches the proper conclusions (FOSS is indeed a free market phenomenon and Microsoft probably does benefit from government intervention in the marketplace), it reaches them incorrectly.

Comment by SMP, on 7-Mar-2008 19:24

I have come across this type of fanboyism from software and hardware vendors as well. I was looking to buy an expensive engineering design package which was needlessly tied into Microsoft Office, and an expensive printer that had a lot of Windows only features. I have also come across banks and insurance companies that needlessly tie their online services to MS Windows and IE and use insecure protocols like activeX to access those services.

In all cases, the response I got from them was a kind of perverse pride in Microsoft lock-in. This corporate fanboyism seems to come out of the idea that associating yourself with a commercially very successful company like Microsoft, and treating your customer with the same kind of arrogance as Microsoft does will make your company a success.

Needless to say, I didn't buy these companies' products. The response I give to that kind of behaviour is to tell them that as a customer, I am looking to buy products from a vendor that puts my interests rather than the promotion of Microsoft products. I also tell them that Microsoft has a monopoly and so they can afford to show that kind of arrogance to customers, but they don't, and can't afford to treat the customers in the same arrogant manner, and make it a point to tell them that I am buying from rival vendor XXX who does look after my interests rather than Microsoft's.

Comment by alan, on 7-Mar-2008 19:33

You forgot people who try to claim they are in some way unbiased and "platform agnostics". This is another roundabout way of trying to claim a superior level of rationality and professionalism.

Another variation is the "geeks in their parents' basement" comments or other snide remarks that insinuate that Microsoft is for "real professionals" and FOSS is for hobbyists and students.

Comment by Martin, on 7-Mar-2008 22:02

I think there is something really important nobody remembered to say. We need to make clear that there is a big difference between FOSS advocates and Ubuntu fan-boys (you can put there redhat, or mandriva, or opensuse or any other distribution).This are the ones who use the same arguments you described in this post, and no only "against" "Microsoft advocates", but also against real FOSS advocates or even people who use/like just another distro.This kind of fan-boys also like to call himself a FOSS advocate, but he fails to understand what the first F really means.

Comment by Sarah, on 7-Mar-2008 22:53

Good post and rather interesting. I've never really go the whole "OS/Platform as a holy crusade" type thing. If a situation needs a spanner... use a spanner not a screw driver.

Not every machine needs to be Windows (or Linux) based in a business or even the home.

Still, on the plus side, it's always a laugh watching the fan-boys from either camp flame each other. Slightly worrying that a Microsoft Employee would be posting on your blog and saying that though... rather unprofessional IMHO.

Comment by Bob Robertson, on 8-Mar-2008 09:08

I'd like to echo Rye's comment. "Free" means voluntary, flexible, unregulated.

"Free trade" certainly doesn't mean "no price".

In an environment of voluntary interaction, unless an individual believes they benefit from the transaction, the transaction does not take place. Wealth is created with every transaction, because each believes they are better off than they would be without the transaction.

Regulations only inhibit, retard or prohibit voluntary interactions, decreasing the net wealth.

Can individuals interact in deliberately "communistic" ways? Sure. Can Microsoft spend vast wealth using marketing and sales techniques to try to persuade people to buy their product? Sure! What neither can do is use coercion to make anyone else interact as they wish them to.

Persuasion is not a distortion of the "free" market. It is very much one way to utilize the "free" market beneficially.

Comment by W. Anderson, on 8-Mar-2008 10:50

Your storyline is timely as I have often contemplated the arguments given forth by Microsoft supporters against UNIX/Linux?Mac OS X.

My observations go like this.

Whenever Steven Vaughn-Nichols - a well known and respected technologist writes a comprehensive article/report on e.g. Vista versus Linux (which he did recently) - the Microsoft apologists "never" rebut his technical claims on verified technical merit, as is his basis, but instead proceed to argue from an "emotional" point of view.

First, is the Microsoft has "90+% market share" argument, and that Windows is shipped on every new computer (except Apple of course.)

I guess the extrapolation is ... therefore is superior by volume numbers.

During one of my GNU/Linux/FOSS presentations, when an audience member made that argument, I replied:

Therefore one should automatically consider a Chevrolet Cavalier superior in quality to a Honda accord since Chevy makes more Cavaliers than honda makes accords. This silenced that perspective, as I guess my questioner knows the quality and value of each car.

If Vaughn-Nichols, or other technologist on presenting similar report mentions the poor levels of security of Windows versus *NIX, the second argument is that if Linux - in particular - was as popular, then it would have probably higher percentage of viruses, trojans, etc.

If the answer to this point is made that Apache holds approximately 68+% of the Web Server market with significantly less vulnerabilities reported/accessed in comparison with Microsoft IIS server, which holds about 18% of the market with substantially more holes - the flyback is such:

Those figures are lies, made up my Linux fanatics, (even when presented to them from Netcraft, or other web statistic company). Likewise mentioning Sendmail versus MS Exchange for ISP/infrastructure web hosting brings same response.

While I have seen Linux and anti-Microsoft fanatics, in the majority of cases, these people at least have some technology or business practice grounds to stand on - in most cases. Not so with the vast majority of Microsoft supporters, who use irrational, no-sensical and emotional arguments most always to defend Microsoft, even resorting in many documented cases to gross exaggerations.

Comment by Karl O. Pinc, on 9-Mar-2008 22:12

@benn: Nope. Software that is copylefted, and that's the majority of FOSS, does demand something in exchange. In exchange for redistribution rights it demands freedom. Those that do business in copylefted software must do so under these terms, terms that demand transparency and so level the playing field when it comes to marketing and other vendor claims. Transparency is a critical free market element, and what makes the FOSS market more of a free market than the proprietary software market.

Transparency is what makes FOSS evangelism more believable. Because false claims are easily debunked anyone who wants a good reputation had better argue from a solid foundation. Naturally, there are always plenty of people with poor arguments. But the ability to point to running code, development history, both developer and end-user exchanges on mailing list archives, and other such hard facts tends to raise the bar when it comes to making claims. Corporate evangelism on the other hand can often spin claims of functionality, "roadmaps", and so forth because it's much harder, if not impossible, to verify the facts.

Comment by Karl O. Pinc, on 9-Mar-2008 22:15

@foobar: Your blog software is lame. Geekzone tells me: "We are sorry but your comment can not be accepted at the moment because previous comments from this e-mail address are waiting for confirmation...". The real problem is that cookies are turned off.

Author's note by foobar, on 10-Mar-2008 05:25

@Karl: I like your point about the transparency. The transparency of free software does raise the bar, and because of that, FOSS advocacy is much more believable. I fully agree.

However, I'm not sure if transparency is indeed a critical free market element, since you could argue that all you need for a free market is supply and demand. If consumers choose not to demand transparency, then all is fine and the market itself is still free, even if the corporations and products are not transparent at all. I'm not saying that's a good thing, but the market would still be free according to most definitions, no?

But it is interesting to note that commercial open source companies report a steady increase in the demand for transparency. FOSS can fulfill this demand, proprietary software cannot. FOSS customers get the complete software to 'try' and evaluate, for as long as they want, and they will never even get a sales call, or a 'follow up' by a sales person. Proprietary software customers get sales people who give PowerPoint presentations, limited trial versions, and in general only a limited amount of time and insight to evaluate and form their opinion. No wonder that more customers are waking up and demand the transparency that is 'supplied' by FOSS.

Author's note by foobar, on 10-Mar-2008 05:26

@Karl: Sorry about the blogging software, but that is completely out of my hands and control...

Comment by William, on 10-Mar-2008 11:03

@benn, the commie.

I wonder if the 'users' of communism (the people, not the 'in charge' lot) would agree that communism meant that they could be "free people, associtaiting freely and willingly to create a product for the benefit of all, without demanding anything in exchange." - and whether they enjoyed those 'freedoms'......

Comment by Karl O. Pinc, on 10-Mar-2008 15:07


I was not entirely clear when presenting my thoughts regarding transparency.

First, copyleft itself does not produce maximal transparency. Most copylefted projects add quite a bit of transparency to the development process by doing all of their development in public on the Internet. This is also true of non-copylefted projects and is the source of quite a bit of transparency in the FOSS marketplace.

Copyleft does ensure that the essential requirement for transparency will be met, forever.

In regards my response to benn, copyleft ensures that if you want to enter my market with my software you will do so on an equal basis.

Second, regards your questions about free markets and transparency. Economic theory says that free markets require the free flow of information. Consumers must be able to make rational decisions when choosing what is best, which means they must have information on which to base these decisions. A requirement of an ideal free market is that each consumer be completely informed. Without complete transparency you have imperfect free markets, which is of course what we have in the real world.

This argument is the basis of "insider trading" laws, at least in the U.S. Regardless, it's part of the definition of a free market in economic theory.

Comment by Karl O. Pinc, on 10-Mar-2008 15:44

@foobar Yes, your observations about the FOSS market, it's transparency, and it's impact on the overall software market is pretty much the point. In an ideal free market there are no transaction costs, monetary or otherwise. In an ideal market it costs nothing to evaluate and purchase anything, other than the purchase price. What you're seeing in the software market today is FOSS driving a movement towards the ideal free market.

It's about time. The software market has been dominated by monopolies and oligopolies for a long time. Their marketing, the purpose of which (from the point of view of the marketer) is to distort the information flow of an ideal free market, and their vendor lock-in, which raises transaction costs (when it comes to switching), and customer complacency, has long produced an environment in which a non-free market is the expected norm. No wonder FOSS comes as a breath of fresh air, it is simply a more efficient way to do business.

The efficiency of the FOSS method of software production is a whole different subject. It again has to do with transparency, free information flow, and a movement toward an ideal free market in the tools and components required to build software. Pretty much the same analysis applies, free markets are more efficient, so I won't go into further detail.

It's interesting to contrast the above with the efficacy and mechanism of the FOSS legal ecosystem. A "reduction in friction" is involved, anybody can choose to join the community that uses FOSS license X. However efficacy appears to be based on the power of the masses, commonality and community. Everyone using license X wants to see it defended, for without it everyone would lose. Starting a FOSS project is then like joining a large corporation with a legal team that works so you don't have to. The FSF and many others have been very helpful in this regard.

Comment by BobSongs, on 24-May-2008 04:04

Over at the Save XP website InfoWorld is asking those who are interested in signing a petition to persuade Microsoft to continue selling XP after the June 30th cut-off.

There many have expressed their frustration with Vista, explaining very carefully their situation, carefully detailing things like: buying a new PC, peripherals not working, Vista destroying SATA hard drives, software incompatibility, and so forth. Why I'm bringing this up relates to the satisfied Vista users.

This particular crowd in general is responding very vehemently to those who express anything negative about Vista with comments like: "Then buy a real computer", "You're making this up, it works fine for me on my PC," "We have to move forward", basically using insults to shut the XP users up.

On occasion a sympathetic post can be found: "Vista works for me, but if Microsoft is not listening then we should do something about it." But these are few and far between. I try to bring the conversation back to the point (as I see here you encourage people to do in such instances). Here's my point.

It's interesting that even within the Microsoft fold anyone showing signs of "weakness" are turned on by their own ilk. Vista users see them as clinging to XP for reasons of disloyalty or because of a miserly attitude (even though many of the woes are clearly expressed as Vista not performing well on a new machine).

It would strike me that truly satisfied Vista users would be more sympathetic. But this response is almost a religious zeal and blindness.

@Eric, first post:

"I use both Microsoft and Linux. I like them both. I'd prefer to use only Linux, because I like free and i like tinkering. Microsoft is great for people who don't know how to use computers or don't want to tinker or get their hands dirty (ok - once set up). But in the end, freedom means getting to pick what you use - not only FOSS, but Microsoft or Apple."

Microsoft isn't great for people who don't want to get their hands dirty at all. Experience with Win 3.0 till Vista clearly tells this author: Windows constantly needs babying. Space prohibits a detailed reminder what it's like to maintain a Windows setup (right before the point where a wipe and re-install is the only way to deal with the teetering system).

From experience running all three OSes in my home: Mac OS truly is the "no tinkering" necessary system. Linux (in the form of Ubuntu) is becoming more like Mac OS in that tinkering is less necessary. Windows still requires the greatest amount of time and attention.

I know it's possible to tinker endlessly with Linux. I'm not denying this. But Grandma can have Ubuntu set up on her machine and she'll run it for a while without ever needing to use 'sudo' or even know what a terminal is.

foobar's profile

New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
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