Subject: Re: the .NET battle ends
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Sat, 22 Sep 2001 15:21:42 +0900

>>>>> "Ben" == Ben Tilly <> writes:

    >> Of course they're not going to climb in bed with rms.  Since
    >> that's apparently the way you define "cede the principle" I
    >> conclude you're as absolutist as Gates is.

    Ben> I think you are caricaturing me as much as you were just
    Ben> caricaturing Gates.

I didn't intend caricaturing Gates.  True, he has accepted certain
specific practices, under certain circumstances, of open source.  What
I believe him to be absolutist about is belief in the efficacy of
intellectual property as an instrument in the efficient creation of
economic value in his industry.  I also believe him to be absolutist
about the primacy of economically definable values.

As you should recall, I have on a number of occasions played devil's
advocate on the software patents issue.  I now believe that on balance
the economics favors restriction of patents in general, certainly
pending reform, and the abolition of software/business method patents.
Of course, for me what nails SPs to the wall are the non-economic
issues: intellectual freedom and opportunity for small and medium
sized FSBs.

But if I exclusively thought in terms of the kind of resources that
Gates has to command I might change my mind about the economics.  So I
can see where he's coming from on intellectual property.  And I know
he and I disagree about the primacy of economic values, certainly when
they are aggregated into "GNP".  But I can comprehend his position
there, as well.

So to my mind, any time he makes a concession about open source
strategies it is a significant event.  It makes it harder to support
his world view, and impose it on others.  It opens him to analogical
arguments that non-technical people (q.v.) can understand: "Technology
Y is like technology X.  So if open source/independently defined
standards are appropriate for X, aren't they just as appropriate for
Y?"  Etc., etc.  And claiming that it wasn't a concession detracts
from our credibility with those non-technical people---but that's
_your_ point.

As for caricaturing you, a little, I guess.  But consider your

    Ben> And so I don't consider moves made on his part in accord with
    Ben> existing strategies and principles to be major concessions on
    Ben> his part.

Not even if they were contingent on getting caught trying to pull a
fast one, evidently.

    Ben> If he made moves indicating that Microsoft will actually make
    Ben> an attempt to avoid future anti-trust violations, I would
    Ben> consider that a concession.  Is it too much to ask that he
    Ben> make an honest attempt to operate inside of the (existing)
    Ben> laws?  Apparently so...

I don't think it's too much for the Justice Department, the courts,
and the public to ask, not at all.  But in fact that is not the way
the game is played by the "big boys."  You're applying a strict enough
standard to Microsoft that you would have to convict the rest of the
Fortune 500.  All of the big companies use the "what we can get away
with" test to judge "honest compliance."[1]

I think it _is_ absolutist to judge "real concession" on the basis of
asking Gates to behave in ways that none of his peers would.  I doubt
it is possible to make common cause with Microsoft, but it is still
important to understand its motivations if we are to find ways to deal
with it effectively.  And in order to gain credibility in the
political arena.


    >> >> What else is new?

    Ben> For Microsoft?  Not much.

    >> No, for non-technical people.  After all, aren't they the same
    >> ones who think that Microsoft products actually make their
    >> lives easier and help them accomplish the work _they_ need to
    >> do?

    Ben> Talk to an analyst about how Excel compares

I know you've done that; although I think you're paranoid, I don't
think you're afraid to test our prejudices against reality, and
discard them when they don't match.

But you missed my point.  The non-technical people are right about the
fact that Excel makes gnumeric look like a hobbyist's programming
project.  They may very well be right about the balance of benefit and
risk in their lives posed by Passport, Hailstorm, etc, too.

For this issue, I'm afraid we are going to have to engage in special
interest politics, and ignore the non-technical people except for
explaining how our proposals won't hurt a bit.  Preferably making
common cause with technical people who already have well-paid
lobbyists in place....

[1]  In the legal environment post-Sherman Act, it's arguable that
it's the only sensible strategy for big companies.  In practice, the
distinction between "holding a monopoly" (legal) and "monopolization"
(not) is made on a case-by-case basis, although there are a few "per
se" practices defined.

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