The Free Software Foundation has taken its assault on proprietary software to Microsoft, as the group seeks to spread its word that any software that is not free (as in any way you can define free) is a vile affront on the computing world.
As reported in this issue by Suzanne Kattau, the FSF was at the Windows 8 launch distributing versions of the Linux operating system (actually, what it likes to call the GNU Operating System) to anyone who would renounce Microsoft. It is the first strike of what the FSF said would be a long campaign to combat proprietary software. And it required humans inside gnu costumes.
We’re afraid it will take more than putting someone in a funky animal suit to get consumers and business customers to give up not-free software. In many cases, software you purchase is more feature-rich and often tightly integrated with a suite of products, and comes with on-demand service and support (not posting to a community and hoping for a timely response from someone who actually knows the answer).
This is not to knock free software, which has grown in the enterprise in ways not even imagined in the late 1990s, when the only folks interested in open source were hackers and the un(der)employed. These projects have made great strides over the last decade and give organizations great options for their software portfolios.
As for the FSF, all we can say is, “We knew Greenpeace, and you, folks, are no Greenpeace.” We applaud your zeal in pushing for software that allows you to see the code, to modify it, and to return those changes to the community, for the betterment of all. But this is not akin to CFCs destroying the ozone layer, or the slaughter of whales. A guy in a gnu suit is not the Rainbow Warrior.
The proprietary software vs. open source argument is what is driving much innovation today. People buy software and realize it might not have a capability they need or desire, so they create it on their own and start a community around it. Then, when it matures, a software company commercializes it, and the cycle goes round and round.
We agree that advocating for free software is important work. But the FSF should get off its high gnu—er, horse and accept that there are multiple approaches to how people want to work. Let’s embrace our differences, rather than exacerbate them.
Operating systems without pity
Between the high-profile departures of Steven Sinofsky from Microsoft and Scott Forstall from Apple, you could be forgiven for thinking these two old-world operating system companies are having some problems. But it’s really the other way around. Instead of the companies having problems, we’re pretty sure it’s the employees who are having the issues. You see, the release of Windows 8 is a landmark moment for operating systems. If nothing else, it should be seen as the first true warning bell of a future based on handheld devices.
Apple has already stated that it wants to bring iOS and Mac OS closer together. Microsoft is also moving toward merging the style, behavior and feel of its phone, tablet and desktop operating systems. In a world where the very limited and small are defining the goals for the very large and powerful, you cannot expect a future filled with backward compatibility, legacy support or robust features.
Indeed, the merging of these platforms signals the death of the desktop, not the beginning of some new home computer Windows revolution. That already happened in 1995. Now, the name of the operating system game is removing features, not adding them, as anyone who’s tried out Mac OS 10.7 and beyond can tell you.
So these departures from Apple and Microsoft are not symbolic of internal strife or of failed project efforts. Rather, they are a changing of the guard as the very market for operating systems itself changes once again.