Protect Your Freedoms in Face of Power Misuse

On this day in the United States we celebrate our independence from what was reported to be a very oppressive government. Of course, since the victors get to tell the story and it all happened even before my time, I have little doubt there was another side. History may seem black and white, but I know the history I have lived through seldom was.

Considering that it’s Independence Day, I think it important to use this opportunity to talk about protecting our freedoms and why they are important. We have a number of recent events that make excellent examples.

AMD vs. Intel

AMD, last week, sued Intel in both the U.S. and Japan for unfair trade practices. While this does not mean that Intel is guilty — there still needs to be a trial — the recent findings of the Japanese government indicating Intel acted illegally would suggest that AMD has a case.

Without discussing the case itself which has, and will, continue to be dissected by others, it is important to understand just what the damage to you would be if AMD’s allegations turn out to be true.

In this instance it is about freedom of choice, and when a company reaches a level of controlling dominance it generally is not only bad for you the consumer, it isn’t particularly good for the company, either. Over the last three decades I’ve been intimate with the IBM anti-trust action and the Microsoft anti-trust action, and I have no doubt I’ll be intimate with this action.

IBM’s case is likely the most relevant. If IBM hadn’t been weakened we probably wouldn’t have personal computers, PC video games, Apple, Microsoft, or an independent AMD or Intel. It wasn’t IBM’s power that was the problem — a monopoly is actually more efficient and many in the IT industry still remember fondly what it was like when you could simply depend on Big Blue. The problem was that IBM misused that power and restricted innovation.

Today the PC market is stagnating. Desktop computers are very similar to what they were in the 80s, the notable exceptions are from companies like Wyse based on VIA technology, companies like OQO based on Transmeta technology, Apple’s Mac Mini based on IBM/Apple technology and AMD/Microsoft’s Personal Internet Communicator.

As a vendor becomes more dominant it generally, and increasingly, focuses on maintaining the status quo and makes it very difficult to introduce new technology. The end result is a stagnant market and, if nothing else, we have certainly seen that over the last several years.

Whether Intel’s actions turn out to be real or imagined, OEMs have been afraid to take risks. The revolutionary IBM all-in-one X series, Compaq iPaq desktop, and Toshiba Equium (which had an upgradeable motherboard) have all passed in favor of far less innovative successors. What this shows is that when any vendor misuses its dominant power, you, the buyer, are denied choice — one of our most important freedoms.

P2P vs. the Media Industry

Last week saw the Supreme Court rule that it remains illegal to commit certain overt acts and to reaffirm your fair use rights. I’m of the belief that someone needs to step on the media industry hard before they destroy our freedoms and their market. In the judgment it is clear that many of the judges don’t agree that music sharing has damaged the industry as badly as claimed and may actually benefit it in some ways. They clearly believe, and I certainly concur, that stealing music is a bad thing. But they don’t agree, and I concur with this as well, that the media industry should own all related technology.

It appears the court is smart enough to realize this isn’t really a fight about stealing music as much as it is a fight for control, and at least for now, they are actively supporting your rights. Not that this does you much good long-term as the media industry is still hell-bent on convincing Congress to give them the control they want. It remains up to us to remind Congress they work for us and not the media distributors.

The artists aren’t really even the ones who are driving this; it is the current distribution companies who are scared half to death that the market is beginning to look at them like they’re horse buggies. If I can and am willing to pay for first-run, high-definition movies to watch in my home or digital music, why can’t I? When movie theaters came in they did displace a large number of traditional theaters? Though I think we would find that in that case there are actually more live plays now than there were at the turn of the century, thanks to population growth.

People are increasingly playing games and exploring the Internet rather than watching TV. Why would the industry want to prevent or limit this emerging channel if they truly had the artists’ best interests at heart? It is because the existing channel is where they make their money and the Internet is showing a huge potential for making them obsolete.

Where the RIAA, in particular, lost me was when they started going after 12-year-old kids in what was clearly a strategy designed to terrorize parents and schools into compliance. I personally think we have way too much fear surrounding children right now and certainly don’t feel any industry, for any reason, should be allowed to target children. That is just so incredibly wrong. I am disgusted for us as a race that we allow this behavior. We clearly should be free to protect our children as the world’s most dear and important asset.

Open Source

What annoys me the most about open source is the incredibly disingenuous nature of many of its supporters. Open source is supposedly about freedom — but for a very scary and vocal part of the initiative there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. Some nuts have crossed the line from insuring freedom of choice to insuring their own choice dominates and they use a variety of horribly intimidating and threatening methods ranging from denial of service attacks to threats of physical violence to get their way.

A recent example comes from a note I received from an ex-Linux advocate who, after pointing out on Groklaw that he thought there might be some merit to SCO’s position, received a detailed note telling him to change his position or his daughter would be kidnapped. Yes, kidnapped.

While I’d previously seen careers and lives threatened, this was the first time I’d seen a case where someone actually threatened a child. After publishing this note in a column I received a note from a reader who compared the open-source initiative to the French Revolution wherein an action that was supposed to increase freedom resulted in a situation where freedoms were actually eliminated. The French Revolution is hardly the only example in history.

This latest writer argued that this is a human failing in that we seem to constantly replace something that we think is bad with something that turns out to be a lot worse to insure our “brave new world” is assured. In the end it is often all about power and how absolute power does corrupt absolutely.

All of this comes down to the misuse of power. Each example is worse than the one that precedes it, and all of them are both bad and avoidable. There are a few thoughts I’d like you to take away from this: Lockouts prevent innovation which is critical to the long-term health of an industry; if you have to use intimidation and threats to get the behavior you want you are generally on the wrong side; children should be off limits to threats regardless of cause; and freedom of speech is our most important freedom and therefore needs to be the most aggressively protected.

Today of all days, regardless of where you live, treasure you freedoms and your children because they are too easily lost, and once lost, the cost to regain them is incredibly dear.

Rob Enderle, a TechNewsWorld columnist, is the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


  • This was otherwise a well written well considered article except for your attack on Open Source.

    Certainly there are a few loose nuts in the open source tool box, but this is true of any large aggregate of people. There are "Christians" who bomb subway stations, and "Islamics" who behead Americans wandering in their deserts. Neither of which justifies a blanket condemnation of all ascribe to creed. Open source is no different.

    Your false generalization attack upon F/OSS has become tiresome. If you have real issues with Open Source as such, rather than that there are people you don’t like who claim affiliation with Open Source, please state them plainly.

    — TWZ (aka ColonelZen at Yahoo, ipw, and elsewhere)

    • In other words, no you don’t have anything against F/OSS other than to attack based upon personalities. There certainly has never been anyone using hostile tactics and intimidation, say threats, or perhaps stalking and actually haranguing someone’s mother and bragging about it on the web by those antagonistic to F/OSS, has there?

      — TWZ

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