Subject: In defense of Bill
From: Tom Lord <lord@regexps.com>
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001 20:09:45 -0700 (PDT)



       I believe that he is absolutist about his desire to have Microsoft be
       as successful as he can make it be.  This is a fairly reasonable goal
       for someone in his position.  Indeed if he did not think this way,
       Microsoft would not have achieved its current position.

Which begs the question:

What does "successful" mean and what time scale are we talking about
here?  What's the evaluation function?  Don't say simply "stock price"
-- stock price as of when?  Ditto for "profit".

I think MS (don't know about Bill) is mostly trying to follow a
gradiant of steepest increases in power, measured economically
(liquidity) and politically.  When presumably deterministic gambits
are found to leave that gradiant for a short time, they take them, but
are very, very conservative in that regard.  Stock price is both a
tool and a nuisance for that goal.  Public ownership is what (in
theory) legitimizes the power MS seeks to accumulate.

I don't think following that gradient is either a coherent or wise
plan -- a Greek tragedy in the making -- but it's easy to articulate
and what board member is ever going to speak up against it, or
stock-holder vote against it?

I will observe that Bill personally sometimes sputters defensively
about the amount of good MS software does, and he gives away a lot of
money.  He gets a little giddy when presenting new tech to the press.
He has funky taste in (physical) architecture.  His wardrobe is funny
as hell.  Seems like a nice guy, at least from this distance.  (Hey
Bill, wanna get together for dinner sometime?)



     However what I dislike about him is his willingness to be dishonest in
     this cause.  By being dishonest I mean that he lies, and encourages
     those around him to lie, whenever he thinks that advances Microsoft's
     position.  This dishonesty can go from deliberate misinterpretations
     of people's positions (eg saying that he was releasing a broken
     version of Windows 95 because it was the the only way to fully
     comply with the court's order) to outright lies under oath (eg faked
     videos in the anti-trust trial).

Yeah, and Nixon ran the Viet Nam war, too.



      If that means telling everyone that
      open source will threaten your company's intellectual property, 

It does.  Sorry.  Open source gives a smooth, gentle transition path
but doesn't change the basic fact that Free Software does challenge
the form and function of intellectual property law in the U.S.  The
infectious GPL and the possibility of a comprehensive GPLed basis set
is part of the threat.  The use of GPL in progress-promoting
businesses is another part of the threat.  The right reply isn't that
open source doesn't challenge I.P. -- but that unchecked
I.P. challenges your civil liberties.

Open source introduces a new and competing model for promoting
progress of the useful art of computer programming.  The open source,
more specifically, the Free Software model, lightens the requirements
of the "exclusive right" defined by congress.  MS puts a different
spin on whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing.  I don't
think that should be held personally against anyone at MS: it's a
quasi-legal issue, and they're playing out a quasi-adversarial role in
the court of public opinion.

For example, if it weren't for those adversaries, we'd never get the
chance to really work out the relation between GPL, the constitution,
federal law, and the courts here on FSB.



    If that means telling people that intellectual property laws increase
    GNP, he will say that as well.

But that's probably true, and certainly relevant.  For example, it's
one reason we can't be complacent about the desktop market; it's one
reason why we can't separate FSBs from the larger realm of free
information businesses (e.g. to compete with the recording industry's
most prominant business models).



    Now with this background I look at the SSSCA.  It is a bill that was
    introduced by companies which Microsoft has extensive dealings with,
    and it has a lot of very odd provisions (eg the anti-trust exemption)
    that look very customized to Microsoft's needs.  When I read it
    carefully I see that it mandates an infrastructure with a strange
    resemblance to .NET, and has provisions that are very hard to fit into
    competing products.

No conspiracy theory is necessary to explain these coincedences.
There aren't very many very large companies: which ones *don't* have
extensive dealings with the others?  Of course .NET and the SSSCA have
technical similarities: how many ways do you suppose there are to
shape a digital equipment/telecom landscape in which old-style
copyright laws still apply?

-t