Saturday, August 29, 2009

This is why people don't take RMS and the FSF seriously

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has posted a list of "Windows 7 Sins" that epitomizes Mr. Stallman's blunt instrument approach to winning the hearts and minds of computer users and information consumers... No matter how noble the intent, this type of delivery is counterproductive and, at best, misguided. 

The list features paragraphs and links that provide some fact, plenty of FUD, and a more-than-healthy dose of misleading information around the following alleged Microsoft "sins". You can read the FSF's helpful information using these links, and I'll interject some moderation to temper a few of the "whoppers" that you may encounter along the way:
  1. Education: Remember the days of the Apple ][? The only reason I had one at home was because that's what we used at school. If the skills I gained at an early age were non-transferable to other platforms and technologies, then I should be completely overwhelmed by the OpenBSD, OS X, Windows, and Linux systems that surround me. Indeed, I should be buying up every Apple ][, ][e, and ][c that appears on eBay so that I can have a computer that "I know how to use." The OLPC rant is so poorly thought out that it scarcely requires mentioning. Anyone with a modicum of token critical thinking and analysis skills (which are far more important to education than any type of computing device) can recognize the faults in its logic.   
  2. DRM: Yes, I dislike encumbered files and generally choose not to purchase them. However, I also enjoy watching my Blu-Ray discs, which make very heavy use of DRM technologies. The funniest part of this rant is how it employs convenient omission. The alternatives that are available all work on Windows platforms.  I can generate and play any type of media that I desire, in any format that can be imagined. Consumer education is important, but this is overbearing and misguided. Apple iPods and iPhones, and Microsoft Zunes and Windows Mobile devices would all be less successful if they could only use media from the various stores that are listed. If you do not like the shortcomings that these stores provide, don't use the stores... 
  3. Security: The best part of this one is "With free software, even if you don't have the skills to evaluate the software, you can be certain that someone else can." I'm struggling to muster the faith required to conjure a volunteer benevolent uber-mensch who is fluent in C, well versed in security principles, and has the interests of the populous above those of himself or whomever is providing his source of income. All modern Linux distributions use repositories to get security updates and most people blindly apply binary updates and hope that said benefactor exists in exactly the same way that they rely on Microsoft or Apple to provide updates to their proprietary systems. I would love to see a survey of what percentage of production Linux users have source packages installed. My guess: a single-digit percentage relies on their own skills instead of those of Canonical, Novell, RedHat, etc...   I leave the exercise of attempting to find information about security, bug fixes, patches, and updates associated with GNU Hurd to the reader (Good Luck!).
  4. Monopoly: Yes, they got busted. The argument about PC Manufacturers is a bit of a double-edged sword, however. Successful PC Manufacturers are run by business people, not idealists. Business people have a strong tendency to build, stock, and offer for sale items which they perceive as likely to be sold. Regardless of how enthusiastic your love for alternatives is, pragmatism and economics will prevail. Besides, every major manufacturer offers some systems with Linux. I am not aware of any, however, that are insane enough to try the waters of offering for sale a system based upon the perpetually-in-development but never-likely-to-actually-be-producton-ready GNU Hurd. After all, "there is no stable version."
  5. Standards: Here the rallying cry is primarily against Office, with a side of IE. Although, I was under the impression that the basis of this "campaign" was the upcoming release of the Windows 7 operating system. On the off chance that a friend or colleague sends you an ODF-formatted document, Office 2007 SP2 includes ODF support. For some strange reason the Sun plug-in does a better job of it (to the untrained observer, it would appear as if the folks who developed the source code for OpenOffice are more familiar with the 728-page ODF standard -- which, ironically, is distributed as a ZIP file that contains a PDF).                                                  
  6. Lock In: Again, the logic breaks down rather quicky, and Microsoft can often be replaced by "Company X". For all of Mr. Stallman's obsessions with the various definitions of the word free (apparently free, Free, fRee, frEe, freE, FRee, FrEe, FreE, fREe, fReE, frEE, FREe, FReE, FrEE, fREE, and FREE should all have different connotative and denotative symbology), he doesn't seem to understand the nuance of the free market. Yes, Windows NT4 and Windows 2000 have reached the end of their support lifecycles. But, then again, so have Oracle 8i, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1, AIX 5.3, the Ford Model A, and every other commercial product in the history of market-driven economies. At this point, the argument switches back to Office again... Anybody tried to open a WordPerfect 5.1-or-previous document recently? The once-ubiquitous *.wpd was the de facto "document exchange format" before Microsoft Office started to provide competitive-to-superior functionality. I guess it only qualifies as lock-in when you remain successful in the marketplace. (Interestingly, I could find no mention of *.wpd support in the latest version of Corel WordPerfect Office X4, which prominently features ODF, Microsoft OOXML, and Adobe PDF support.)  
  7. Privacy: This rant combines disparate factors into a doomsday scenario that is ridiculously unlikely. It deftly mixed the Windows Genuine Advantage program (without railing other companies that have even-less-transparent software activation schemes) with some massive FUD about the Trusted Platform Module, and assumes that the reader is ignorant enough to believe that the (NT?) 4(.0?) horsemen of the apocalypse are nigh. Windows Vista and Windows 7 do not employ the version of "Trustworthy Computing" that was envisioned by Palladium. Yes, there is some opportunity for abuse, but the scenario that is described here has less of a chance of occurrence than me winning 18 consecutive lotteries and being struck by lightning (at the same physical location) on each occasion as I collect the winnings. 
In short, throughout its over-105-year history, Oscar Mayer hasn't managed to produce this much bologna. If this energy could be directed into real consumer education, it would be far more productive than this petty -- and frankly, pathetic -- mix of whining and hate- / fear-mongering. This "campaign" comes across as juvenile quibbling and bellyaching, and lacks characteristics that would inspire any meaningful discussion or debate. Said discussion and debate is useful and necessary, but the tactics employed by this campaign are better fit as examples in the next edition of Crimes Against Logic than as tinder for revolutionary fires. Indeed, the only likely response to this "initiative" will be inflammatory blog rhetoric and user-comment cruft on both sides of the "argument"; all of which is distinctly anathema to the prospects of rational debate and progress.