Once upon a long time ago, I was the Consulting Project Director for the Malaysian Public Sector Open Source Software Initiative. While doing the project, I had to occasionally present some papers in "Awareness Programs" which were carried out throughout the country for members of the public sector. Some time in 2004, I was making a presentation on "Emerging Global Trends: Issues and Challenges", where I was to do a tour of countries which had enacted some sort of OSS policy or had made a pro open source stance.
So, I looked around in the web and the available documentation that we had to provide data for my presso. I found lots of other OSS initiatives all over the place. What I also found was a fair amount of resistance against the initiatives. This resistance was led by one large multinational corporation and a few "alliances" -- namely the BSA and the Initiative for Software Choice. There were no other single corporation that protested, campaigned, lobbied or made donations against the disparate initiatives.
There was only one: Microsoft.
All the others -- IBM, Sun, Oracle, SAP, CA, Symantec, Adobe, Autodesk, etc. -- either made supporting noises or kept quiet altogether.
I checked all over the world -- America, Australia, South Africa, India, Korea, Japan, Germany, Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Spain, and more -- and it was all the same.
I remember saying to the assembled audience at the start of my presentation that I was not planning to do a Microsoft bashing presentation, but it sure was going to sound like one. I couldn't find any other examples where the other chaps "doth protested". I even tried to do a positive spin on the whole presso but failed miserably.
I suspect I'm mostly preaching to the choir here, so you readers would definitely remember the (in)famous Villanueva incident in Peru -- the full version of the saga which included a certain donation which was personally handed over.
Surely too, you would recall that pretty soon after announcing strong support for open source software, the South African Government were given free Microsoft software for all 32,000 government schools.
Over in our neck of the woods, we remember the visit made by Bill Gates in July 2004, which included the donation of US$10,000,000 to the Ministry of Education, though I'm not sure whether that was in cash or in software and training. The latter if I recall correctly. Oddly enough, I can't find any online archive of that particular visit. Some of you might remember the picture of our Education Minister shaking hands with Mr. Gates and holding a tablet of some sort.
There were many other instances where I found "opposition" to certain OSS initiatives voiced out by Microsoft either directly or via the BSA or the ISC. To be honest, I wasn't too bothered when they protested against open source, since you would expect them too. After all, they stood to lose the most. Overwhelming dominance, and an increasingly annoyed customer base meant that more and more people were willing to look at alternatives.
What really got on my tits though, was when they opposed open standards. With a straight face, at that. In Massachusetts, we remember the time that the State was pushing for the adoption of open standards, and specifically the OASIS Open Document standard (by then on the way to becoming ISO26300), and Microsoft made the following statement:
"We are deeply concerned if this policy eliminates fair and open competition in Massachusetts," said the statement. "Microsoft, along with others in the industry, including the Business Software Alliance and other associations, continues to support neutral procurement rules that allow everyone to compete. We hope the state recognizes that this is potentially bad for the Massachusetts economy, hampering open trade and IT progress in the state.
Take a look at the statement above that they made with regards to the Massachusetts adoption of ODF. Who on God's green earth could take their concern that the policy "eliminates fair and open competition in Massachusetts" seriously? After which, they went on about supporting "neutral procurement rules that allow everyone to compete". It's like they're saying:
"I say, Mr. Government person, this ODF adoption of yours is not a good idea. After all, it's an ISO standard which is unencumbered, has no royalties attached and can be implemented by anyone. That's anti-competitive in the extreme!"
Mr. Government: "Why is that anti-competitive?"
"Because we have this office suite which dominates the market and uses our own proprietary format. Since we refuse (for now) to internally develop an ODF format in the suite, we think that you're being biased. You're not adopting a neutral procurement policy here!"
Mr. Government: "I don't see any mention of procurement in the standard, though?"
"Besides the point! The BSA also agree with us!"
I actually spoke to Peter Quinn at a conference earlier this year. He was making a presentation about the whole Mass. thing and the approaches that they made in evaluating their technology choices, etc. He also said why he left the CIO post. When I spoke to him, he expanded further by saying that after the character assasination carried out against him and the threat of a reduced budget being approved for his department, he felt that it was better if he walked away. "After all," he said, "it's only software. Nobody died. I've lost my job before and it wasn't the end of the world."
He also said that the period before the ODF was approved by the Senate or wherever it was, the amount of lobbying going on was quite something to behold -- all for a document format.
Now, some might wonder why I'm suddenly writing about this, as opposed to my more usual fascination with piracy and imaginary conversations. Well, I'll tell you: it's because of the Microsoft-Novell agreement and specifically their collaboration on Microsoft's Open Office XML (MOOX). Interesting that Novell's statement on file formats for office applications didn't mention MOOX specifically, but their open letter does.
Having said that, there are many other issues raised with regards to the agreement, and a search on any of the search engines would dish out a lot of positive spin and scepticism. More scepticism than spin, though. Take a look a groklaw to see some opinions on it, the latest with the SAMBA team asking Novell to reconsider.
The point is, I personally am not convinced that it's a Good Thing(tm) for the free and open source community, nor will it be any good for ISO 26300. While I am willing to see what Professor Moglen's final word on the deal will be, I remain sceptical that Microsoft will be able to behave itself -- even if the good professor says that the deal is kosher after all. Besides, some people are already reporting that Microsoft had announced their intention to do similar deals with other vendors, in spite of the "exclusivity" with Novell.
Not forgetting the list of antitrust suits Microsoft is involved in. On groklaw, the list is longer than my arm! And I've got apes who are envious at the length of my arms (and other extremities), I'm sure. However, I'd rather not go into that right now, because this is already too long as it is, and my current concern is the way in which Microsoft is trying its best to waylay the use of ODF/ISO 26300, and how it seems to me on the surface that Novell is colluding with them to bury it.
Having said that, a friend from the US recently wrote to me about an episode of Battlestar Galactica, where the Boomer Cylon was reinstated into the Fleet by Admiral Adama and entrusted to lead a mission. The Boomer Cylon asked Adama, "How do you know you can trust me?"
Admiral Adama said, "I don't. That's what trust is."
Something like that anyway. He was writing in the context of the Novell-Microsoft deal and we both agreed that if Microsoft are the Cylons and we're the Fleet, then we are so getting frakked.
So, forgive me if I am not convinved.