Recently the Free Software Foundation created a website called “Windows 7 Sins” in which it details seven “sins” that Microsoft is allegedly committing. I’m going to respond to them because they detail clearly how narrow-minded the FSF has become (or has always been).

Note: Their new site makes heavy use of yellow coloring in images and text blocks. This may make the site difficult on your eyes and/or cause eye strain or headaches.

Before they even get to their first “sin”, they already state their obvious bias by stating that Windows 7 is proprietary software, the “same problem that Vista, XP, and all previous versions have had”. Is this really an issue?

The Free Software Foundation seems to think that computer owners care if their operating system is proprietary or open source. Here’s a news flash: they don’t. And much to the FSF’s frustrations, that won’t change any time soon. Do they think that we’ll just become a world of software engineers? I highly, highly doubt it.

Most who shop around for software also don’t care if what they select is open source, otherwise there would’ve been thousands of calls for me to open source digestIT 2004 (guess what, there hasn’t been a single one, and the software has been downloaded hundreds of thousands to over a million times over the course of approaching 6 years).

Jack Wallen at Tech Republic recently commented on this web site as well, in which he, predictably, stated that he agrees with the Free Software Foundation’s claims, though he did correctly state that the majority of users couldn’t care less (he says “could care less”) whether they can share, modify, or study what they’re using. Someone should send a memo to the FSF saying the same thing.

But let’s look at each of the 7 claims individually, something that most religious FSF proponents won’t.

1. Poisoning education

Okay this argument is similar to the creation versus evolution debacle. Students aren’t presented with any other options than Microsoft, apparently, and the FSF is screaming like the Discovery Institute was screaming prior to and even after the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover decision in 2005.

In this instance, the Free Software Foundation is complaining about how Microsoft seems to hold a monopoly over public education like the theory of evolution holds a monopoly over public school biology classrooms. Tough luck.

The point to make here is that open source has never been a major part of primary or secondary academia. Apple used to hold the torch there, but Microsoft in the early 90s managed to take the torch away by doing 2 things in primary and secondary schools: lowering computing costs and preparing students for more real-world applications.

The reason Microsoft still dominates education is because they’ve been the primary provider of computing to public education for almost 20 years. You’re not going to break that hold without one hell of a fight trying to convince those making the decisions in public schools that the change is worth it.

And to that I say, “Good luck”.

2. Invading privacy

Windows Genuine Advantage was problematic, I will agree. But to say that it “inspects the contents of users’ hard drives” is absurd without evidence backing it up. And the Free Software Foundation so far has presented none.

Windows Genuine Advantage is an anti-piracy tool. Microsoft does have a right under the law to enforce their copyrights, and while I disagree with WGA, it doesn’t scan a person’s hard drive. Instead it is very limited in how it determines whether the copy of Windows or Office you are running is legitimate – which is why it also originally produced a lot of problems.

Microsoft is not invading anyone’s privacy. If anything they are trying to enforce their copyright, not steal information about those using their software. I welcome evidence that Microsoft is, in fact, stealing personal or demographic information without the knowledge or consent of their customers and user base.

3. Monopoly behavior

What the FSF claims used to be true. The monopoly that Microsoft still enjoys is one of brand familiarity. Many are familiar with Microsoft, Office, and Windows, so they stick with it, even when presented with other options (like Macs, for example).

They also say that “even computers available with other operating systems…often had Windows on them first”. Generic statement with no evidence. Jack Wallen is right: the FSF is slipping here.

4. Lock-in

“Microsoft regularly attempts to force updates on its users, by removing support for older versions of Windows and Office, and by inflating hardware requirements.”

Hate to say this, but this isn’t Microsoft driving this. It’s consumers. Consumers are always wanting more features, and the bigger and badder, the better. And show me a company in their right mind who still actively supports software they put out years ago. I’m one of few – I still provide support for MD5 for Win32, which was released in 2002. And Microsoft is trying to sunset support for XP, which was first released in 2001.

Even Sun Microsystems removes support for older products (Java 5 goes EOL at the end of October), as do Linux vendors.

5. Abusing standards

I don’t buy the arguments they present. They say that Microsoft has also bribed officials – evidence please? Who was bribed? There is the suggestion that Microsoft bribed officials in Nigeria (not that it’s a difficult task), and from what I can see it is Linux vendors making the claim.

But on top of this, Microsoft is free to dictate what standards their software will or will not support. One thing we can honestly say is that certain standards Microsoft has little choice but to follow, such as the many standards that are in wide use on the Internet. But when it comes to data storage formats, open source vendors are just as bad as Microsoft.

Look at GnuCash. Sure it can import data in several different formats common in financial software, but as for export… your options are limited.

6. Enforcing DRM

The FSF calls it digital restrictions management instead of its real name, digital rights management. Here they are talking about access to media on the Internet. The FSF also incorrectly states that users have the “right” to record what they see online. Not always the case, and access agreements on web sites dictate what you can and cannot do while there.

But with Windows Media Player, Microsoft added support for DRM to ensure wide availability. If they didn’t support it, but say Apple’s QuickTime player did, Microsoft would lose out big time. It was a strategic move that Microsoft made to help maintain their market share if not take more of it.

7. Threatening user security

Yes Windows has security issues. Guess what? Linux ain’t immune. But part of the security issues with Windows is that Microsoft was catering to usability instead of security. A balance is needed, but Microsoft originally wasn’t willing to make the sacrifices needed for fear of user complaints – like on the order of what they received with UAC in Vista.

And Microsoft’s software became a big target for hackers purely because of market share. If you’re a hacker looking to steal personal information, you don’t cast your malware into a stream where few fish seem to be biting. Oh no, you cast your malware into the largest pond with the most fish, and that pond is Windows.

Concluding…

It is really becoming obvious that the Free Software Foundation is becoming nothing more than a bunch of whining babies. Microsoft got into academia early before Linux was even a thought in Linus Torvalds’ head, and the FSF is upset that they’re not getting their turn. I mean, Apple had their turn, Microsoft has had theirs for about 20 years, and now the FSF feels that it’s their turn but Microsoft isn’t relenting and bowing down like the FSF seems to think should happen.

The Free Software Foundation, hate to say it, is less about open source than most other open source vendors. The FSF is about one thing and one thing only: GNU. Not Linux, not anything else, only the GNU project. They feel it’s superior to Microsoft’s offerings, yet they haven’t been able to gain market share like RMS probably thought would magically happen, and they’re fuming about it.

So instead of actually trying to compete in the same arenas as Microsoft, they’re pulling the same punches that creationist organizations tried to pull with education: get a few people in there to try to form a “resistance” and see what happens. And when the majority shout back, scream persecution, demonize the majority, and hope that helps when you cannot compete on merit.

And hate to say this, but Jack Wallen has kind of become the Kent Hovind of the open source movement.