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June 29th, 2016

Why I’m Unlikely to Ever Return Microsoft’s Love

While the mainstream tech press is ready to embrace “the new Microsoft” as a friend to open source, many who fought in the trenches against the corporate giant will never be able to forgive and forget.

Op-ed

Every time I write an article criticizing the depth of Microsoft’s proclaimed love of Linux, as well as questioning the motive behind it, I receive return criticism, often from places I would’ve, in the past, least expected, such as from within the GNU/Linux community. In places like Slashdot, some open source subreddits, and even occasionally on FOSS Force, there are commenters who accuse me of letting the past blind me to the great work that Microsoft is now doing for Linux and open source.

Microsoft German camputLet’s forget for a minute that I have plenty of reasons for seeing Redmond as a continuing threat to free tech. Let’s forget the patent issues the company still uses as a threat, as well as the fact that all of its contributions to open source are to support Azure and Windows, the latter of which remains proprietary and definitely not free software. Let’s also forget that this love of Linux was announced when Microsoft began betting on the cloud, where embracing Linux became necessary for survival. Can you imagine a Windows only cloud service? Neither can I.

Even forgetting all this, I still wouldn’t like Microsoft. Why? Because of our history. Like many others, I spent too many years in the trenches as a David fighting a powerful Goliath that used every weapon in its arsenal — FUD, patents, blackmail (legal and otherwise), anti-competitive tactics (also legal and otherwise) and more — with the intent of destroying open source in general and FOSS in particular. From where I sit, Microsoft is now embracing FOSS for the same reason that the world attempts to engage in meaningful dialog with the North Koreans. We couldn’t be defeated. The next move is to befriend us in order to manipulate us to serve the Redmond agenda.

There are too many rivers between us. Even if Microsoft’s leadership were to drop all the actions it continues to use against open source and legitimately attempt to become a better open source citizen than Red Hat, or even the FSF, I wouldn’t be in the crowd embracing and welcoming them to the fold. The most they can ever hope to get from me is a grudging truce.

I also suspect that I am not alone. There are many who were using Linux and FOSS long before I left the world of MS DOS and Windows to embrace free software — people with scars deeper than mine — who will most likely never embrace Microsoft and its ilk, no matter how nice they play, and who are unlikely to ever see the current movement to forgive and forget as good for free tech.

Because of what I see on Reddit and Slashdot, I also suspect this will not be true of the generation that is just now discovering the advantages of Linux and FOSS. Without having experienced firsthand the battles that were fought before they came along, they will ironically see Microsoft as merely being not much different from the other bad players.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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39 comments to Why I’m Unlikely to Ever Return Microsoft’s Love

  • Mike S.

    I agree with everything you wrote.

    I don’t think you need to consider history to be wary of Microsoft. Proprietary software is a core part of their revenue model. The same is true of Apple, Valve, Google, Oracle, Sony, and others – they release open code when it benefits them, but lock down code when that’s more profitable.

    As long as that’s true, their business model is at odds with consumer freedom, consumer rights, consumer re-use of products, lowering consumer expenses.

    I love everything Microsoft is releasing as open source, just as I love everything Apple, Sony, Oracle, Google, or any other company releases as open source. But I don’t take it as signs that any of those companies are fundamentally friendly to free software or consumers.

  • W. Anderson

    Christine,

    Write an Op-Ed piece asking your critics why Microsoft has refused and been unwilling to withdraw their spurious patent infringement claims against Linux and certain GPL Free/Open Source Software (FOSS), even threatening litigation against the FOSS projects while never, ever providing any credible proof or evidence of infringement. (sic)

    The Software Freedom Law Center and other expert Intellectual Property – Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks – respected and neutral world renowned organizations were and are willing to assess any patent Infringement claims by Microsoft to US federal courts, corporations, International organizations as well as US government Patent and Trademark division.

    Unfortunately too many FOSS activists and Microsoft rabid supporters have little or no ‘factual’ knowledge what-so-ever on draconian actions of Microsoft against FOSS and technology competitors un the past. The Java saga is a perfect example of just one incident with flagrant disregard by Microsoft for FOSS/copyright license or the Federal courts , confirming the company is completely untrustworthy, deceitful and not deserving of any reprieve from non-acceptance.

    I am intimately acquainted with much of the details in many Microsoft nefarious, and proven illegal actions in the technology world over last 2 decades and longer. Sadly many of your nay-sayers may even be on Microsoft payroll or part of their propaganda machine, either directly or indirectly.

  • Christine,

    I’m with you. No matter how hard I try, I just can not trust Microsoft or Oracle. I don’t think I ever will.

  • Paul

    When Microsoft obsoleted W’98 and the hardware it ran on, I was forced to buy a copy of XP to continue to function on-line. At that time, I swore never to buy another Microsoft product and started to get to know Linux. I did join the testing of W10 just to get to know the enemy but I found nothing there that would induce me to switch back. I did see history repeating itself as XP, Vista and 7 were progressively obsoleted by the Redmond suits. You can trust them…trust them to pursue the corporate self interest at all cost even if it means trampling any perceived competition by legal or other means.

  • Mike

    Microsoft has never been, is not, nor will ever be a freedom respecting FOSS company.

    Proprietary software is the enemy of freedom.

  • Bill Haak

    Microsoft’s relevance is slipping daily. Thank god they were so inept at mobile. Nowadays, something like 85-90% of smart devices are running Apple’s BSD-based OS’s or Linux-powered OS’s. They still own the enterprise, for now. But how long can that last when the executives who run enterprise use Linux to get work done on their own time?

    I hate this corporation like I hate ISIS. Both are remarkably similar in their day-to-day dealings, and I hope I live long enough to see both declared dead.

  • Mike S.

    @Bill Haak,

    I think linking Microsoft to a bunch of pedophile suicide bomber mass murdering savages is a bit much, even for a free software fanatic.

    I hate Microsoft, but I’m positive my family and I can safely tour Redmond without being shot, blown up, beheaded, raped, or even so much as abused and insulted. Even if we had custom made GCC shirts, Firefox hats, and some FSF stickers.

  • IE vs. Netscape… Nuff said.

  • Gary Frankenbery

    As a (now retired) high school computer science teacher, I’ve disliked Microsoft ever since they marched into financially impoverished public school districts in the early 2000’s to perform software audits so they could squeeze out more money from financially strapped school systems. For a small history lesson, read
    http://www.salon.com/2001/07/10/microsoft_school/
    for more details.

    It was then that I started to learn and use Linux. This is a decision I’ve never regretted.

    So Microsoft has recently been making stupid decisions, and has even paid out (a small sum) to a business person who was forced into a Windows 10 update that wouldn’t work.

    Distrusting Microsoft has been, and continues to be a way of life for me.

  • tracyanne

    Microsoft would have to stop attacking Free Open Source Software, Release all their existing proprietary Software under a GNU GPL License, and never release another application under anything but a GNU GPL license before I even considered trusting them.

  • Intelec

    The thing it is not only the operating systems of Microsoft, it is all their ecosystem:
    Bing, Skype, Linkedin, MSN, Hotmail, etc

    I even think that use of .NET recently opensourced, it is a bad thing. The wolf not became good only because use a lamb skin!

    But I have my own doubts also for Apple, Google and others that use OpenSource in a way to attract users, but at the end their solutions violate your privacy for make money and become at the end propietary!

  • Nonya

    I don’t hate Micro$haft. I feel dislike, mistrust, disgust and even anger over their downright evil business practices, especially the tricking or forcing of win10 installs on those who don’t want Win10, and those whose computers were not compatible with win10 (driver issues, incompatible software and ended up with major problems etc…). I don’t feel that I could ever trust or like Micro$haft. I feel that their current “love” for open source is just another episode of the old M$ ploy of embrace, extend, extinguish!

    I recently went completely to Linux Mint on all of my computers, and am not looking back. However, I strongly believe that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past! Trusting M$ after their criminal history of of lies, FUD, deceit, trickery. and outright illegal acts would not be a smart thing to do to say the least!

  • I could not possibly agree with you more, or more strongly. Those who choose to ignore the past and embrace the “new Microsoft” are wrong, and they will eventually learn that at their own expense.

  • A.J. Venter

    Yep… the history of Microsoft and me has made me eternally wary of them. Between 2001 and 2006 I was the lead developer of a distro called OpenLab. Once hailed by reviewers as “doing for slackware what Ubuntu did for Debian” it was an education focussed distro which, in partnership with education NGOs and the most advanced (and easy) LTS setup in the world (and the very first ever installable live CD distro) made huge strides forward in bringing technology to schools in Africa. I mention this, not to brag, but to give context for what is to follow.
    We were very successful. We had contracts across the continent and at one point 95% of all schools in Namibia ran our system (and the other 5% was literally a single school). The one exception was a school that had gone with the now defunct Microsoft Pathfinder model.
    But we also had a highly successful Nigerian subsidiary which was well on it’s way to a similar level of penetration. In short – we were Microsoft’s worst nightmare because we were threatening to raise an entire generation who were computer literate but had learned this literacy on Linux across the continent.
    Many years later I became friends with the ex-VP of Microsoft South Africa [after he had left the company] and he told me he once got a call from Balmer himself to ask “How the hell did we lose an entire country… and where the hell is it ?”

    And this was the context where Microsoft began to play dirty, dirty in ways you couldn’t imagine. They wanted our very profitable Nigerian subsidiary gone – and so they, I kid you not, bought our bank. They actually bought the bank in a hostile take-over, and then bankrupted it. 14 years later the bankruptcy proceedings are still underway, trying to settle most of the people’s balances and pay them out.
    Thousands of small businesses were destroyed, millions lost their life savings – all so Microsoft could kill one upstart competitor.
    To their chagrin – we didn’t quit, despite the massive losses in Nigeria we started over, rebuilt the company and drove that hugely successful project in Namibia… and then, all of a sudden, with no warning – the ministry of education gives a press release ebuliantly declaring that all state schools are now MS pathfinder schools…
    Considering that we had built highly successful labs that took minimal maintenance and had a built-in model to allow the schools to self-fund internet access using those labs, there was no sensible reason for the change and suddenly abandoning the project we had been driving with such success in collaboration.

    So I leave it to you to guess what could possibly have, so suddenly, made the minister change his mind.

    Ultimately, I had to leave behind my beloved field of innovative distro design for the betterment of my fellow Africans, they finally destroyed us, and I had to seek a new career. I may be a lot wealthier now, but I have never again had a job that fulfilling. No, Microsoft will never have my trust or my friendship. What they did to me and my friends in our small world-changing startup when it dared to threaten them… I cannot forgive that and I’m too smart to forget it.

  • Andropause

    Yes, I am an oldie who lived MS-free from the late 90’s until 2008, when the job forced me to use Windows. And I do remember very well the ridicule MS piled on Linux in the 90’s and the dirty fight of the early 2000’s.

    It reached a peak in 2003-2004 when Munich started its migration, and then SCO started its MS-sponsored attacks.
    Remember Ken Brown’s Samizdat, the rants of Laura DiDio, Maureen O’Gara ? Remember Darl McBride bringing an armed bodyguard to MIT pretending that he needs protection from the criminal students who are contributing to open source ?

    Just because the new boss of MS believes that the money has made him smart, and he can divide the community by offering them freebies (e.g. the .NET Trojan horse) does not mean that anything has fundamentally changed.

    We have a saying: The wolf will shed its fur, but not its habit.

  • Shawn H Corey

    This isn’t the first time Micro$oft has declared itself for open source. I expect the same thing from it now as last time: declare for open source until it attracts enough customers, then close it.

  • Canadian Linux Fan

    This is the first time I read a text against Microsoft like yours. —- And I cannot agree more —- In short, you cited all reasons why I am also staying away from Microsoft as much as I can. I have no choice at work, but at home, all my computing activity is away from Microsoft, be it on the tablets, cell, the desktop or other online activity. I do have some Windows installed on my computers (VM or otherwise) but this is only and only so that I can run some programs that are required once a year or so. And I am proud to say that my son also uses Linux more and more on his desktop computer that we built recently.

  • djf

    The bash shell in windows 10 is giving me – weak knees – but I have yet get the free upgrade of my dual boot windows7 (which I never use).

    I am curious to see how the bash shell works in windows – but when I really stop to think – it already works fine in linux!

    So no free upgrade for me – I hope 😉

  • Don Brown

    I have a working theory and this might be the best place to test it. M$ has indicated that Windows 10 is the last version of Windows. The M$ Fanboys say “YAY! Windows 10 with forever upgrades!” I say, No… I believe M$ is positioning itself to release their next OS as their own customized (and proprietary) OS based on the BSD kernel – just like Apple did. They can’t beat Linux on security or scalability, so they embrace BSD and fight fire with fire. Convincing the droves of Windows third-party software companies will be easy. They’ll just say “WinBSD(or whatever it is called) is the next upgrade and you can either get on board or people will dump your Software.”

    What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions!

  • fred

    @Don Brown

    TI have been saying years that M$ should toss Windows and re-implement their userspace on top of a stable and mature posix based system like Apple did.

    Anywho, does not matter anyway, the only reason for running a Windows system these days is gaming.

  • Mike S.

    @fred,

    It’s not clear to me that the Windows kernel is bad. Most of the bad things about Windows are above the kernel – the registry, Windows Update, Windows Explorer, Microsoft’s legal department….

    Of course it’s a proprietary kernel, so if through their own greed or NSA security letters they’re forced to include spyware or DRM, there’s nothing users can do. But technically speaking I haven’t seen Windows as crash-happy from software problems since Windows ME.

  • W. Anderson

    To Don Brown,

    Your theory is very feasible and workable from technical point of view, but based on my limited expertise with Kernels, but with over 20 years professional experience with both Linux and *BSD UNIX-like.

    I recommend that Mike S. learn a great deal more about the intimate differences between the Windows kernel – which cannot be easily separated from OS libraries and that of BSD. The Windows kernel still retains a large quantity of 16-bit library files according the kernel hackers. In fact the BSD kernel is infinitely more powerful, flexible and probably less prone to security flaws as Windows kernel. There would no need to retain any Windows components, except for translation layer to run windows applications.

  • pakistani

    We Pakistanis loved MSFT as it could be pirated easily , we don’t have money to buy software, but now we hate MSFT and prefer opensource, this has nothing to do with software freedom or any such BS ,We hate MSFT because it is headed by an Indian our archenemy.

  • wumpus

    I reminded of Microsoft’s earlier love of “mature open source” (i.e. BSD and other “more free” licensed software). Of course this “mature open source” was only available when those wise folks from Microsoft helped themselves to the BSD code and resold them to you for the same prices as code they wrote themselves (for “selves” typically meaning members of the company they bought. Although it generally turned out better for the programmers in question than other common means proprietary companies obtain code).

    This isn’t about you or us. This is Microsoft smelling money and trying to convince the general population that the wonderful world of open source software can be had from Microsoft. At cheap prices, at least until you are really locked in.

  • @pakistani

    Y’all use computers.
    Are you allowed to use them?

  • indian

    @pakistani

    You people are terribad cricketers.

  • Okay, let’s quit picking on our friend who says he or she is from Pakistan. Note, that this person says they use Windows because they can pirate it and use it for free although they’d prefer open source — which of course can be used for free without the need to pirate.

  • Joolz

    I agree with the hugely positive sentiment levied towards FOSS throughout the comments.

    My question – since I too am migrating toward FOSS – is what you use for mobile comminications. Do you use Android and if so do you use alternative software from alternative repositories, such as F-Droid?

  • John Hunt

    I think Microsoft is playing the same game they played before with Nokia Co. Which left the once biggest mobile phone company in the dust and no one remember it any more.
    I think Microsoft’s next move will be acquiring some big names in the open source word till they put some leg in this crowded business and then make there move and destroy the competitions

  • James Smith

    We are making a mistake. Microsoft remains the foul beast it has always been. We should make an effort to strike it hard now that it is not dominant. The world would be a less bad place without Microsoft.

  • Sum Yung Gai

    At home, I have been “Microsoft Free Since 2003”, when I got rid of my last Windows 98 box.

    At work, the jobs have required me to use Microsoft systems, unfortunately, but the company, too, has the right to that choice. It’s a silly choice, but it’s a choice.

    I know Microsoft from the inside…because I used to work there. I know and remember the dirty tricks, and this “Microsoft Luvs Linux” is nonsense. Don’t you believe it.

    It is not, and never will be, in Microsoft’s, Apple’s, Oracle’s, or any other proprietary software player’s business interests to truly get behind Free Software the way, say, Red Hat did. They can’t, and that’s why they won’t.

    I remember, too.

    –SYG

  • tracyanne

    @Joolz, I’m currently using Android, I don’t use the Google Store, I use F-Droid. I’m currently in the market for an Ubuntu phone. I’ll probably get one in the next month or two.

    Yes Christine the signature won’t be fake soon.

  • rob

    Uefi & systemd seem to have grown legs since MS embraced open source. Don’t like either.

  • Ferren MacIntyre

    I wish I had saved the postcard. It was from Bill Gates, in response to a complaint about the behavior of BASIC on the Trash-80, aka Radio Shack’s TSR-80.

    What Bill said was, ‘That was the easiest way to do it, and I didn’t make enough money on the project to worry about it.’ Assuming that this is the company motto, I haven’t bought anything from Microsoft since.

  • Purple Library Guy

    @ A.J. Venter:
    Holy cow. I thought I’d heard everything and there’s no way anything Microsoft did could shock me, but apparently I was wrong. Vile!

  • ‘That was the easiest way to do it, and I didn’t make enough money on the project to worry about it.’

    Well, that is definitely honesty, and an attitude not specific only to Microsoft or to Bill Gates.

    There are FLOSS developers who have the same attitude, especially if they do not make much or ANY money from it.

    But we feel better using open source projects, even though we pay their developers even less than we pay for Microsoft products. Somehow, FLOSS creates that magic dust that makes us feel good about using software and about not paying the poor developer for it.

  • Rick Sanchez

    When I think of Microsoft’s warm embrace, I think of that old saying:

    “Fool me once, shame on me.
    Fool me 2,794 times, Im a f***ing moron.”

  • Mike

    > “Somehow, FLOSS creates that magic dust that makes us feel good about using software and about not paying the poor developer for it.”

    BS.

    FOSS merely strips away the deceit that a finite amount of work is worth an infinite revenue stream (the entire problem with the modern copyright/patent systems and the basis of vile DRM).

    There are plenty of ways to make some money from FOSS, just not the ridiculous amount proprietary software makers achieve through a variety of dirty tricks and bullying their customers.

  • Mike S.

    Heh, I’m starter to think the other Mike is just a smarter version of me.

    With respect to open source project funding, I wonder if we should be suggesting something like the Flattr model. Flattr is like Patreon, but the funding can be in much smaller increments. We have a very hard time getting a few thousand people to give $5 per month to Debian, or Linux Mint, or the GNOME Foundation, or 0A.D., but we might have a comparatively easy time getting hundreds of thousands of people to give $0.20 per month to them.

    I’m extremely fortunate right now, and I am in a position that allows me to donate $5 per month to a few free software projects. But five or ten years ago I was not. If something like Flattr had existed then, I would have participated.