If Microsoft didn’t figure prominently in the Linux blogs over the course of any given week, it would be as if the crew of the Enterprise temporarily forgot to pay attention to the Klingons — it just doesn’t happen. What was unusual this week, however, was that much of the discussion in the blogosphere was triggered by an overture of sorts by the Redmond giant to the open source community.
For those who missed it, Microsoft announced Thursday that it would make Windows and other products work better with non-Microsoft software, including opening up reams of code it had previously guarded with its life. Some have even referred to Microsoft’s interoperability move as a proposed truce in its “war” with the whole notion of open source.
Reactions to the move, however, have been mixed at best.
“Looks to me like someone finally saw the writing on the wall,” wrote Scott Ruecker on the LXer blog. “Welcome to the new Microsoft.”
Of course, Ruecker ended his post, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“This one might actually be significant, though with microshaft, one must always search for the poison in the candy,” echoed tuxchick.
Therein lay the theme of much of the discussion of Microsoft’s move throughout the blogosphere.
“You can’t just overlook decades of market abuse just because Microsoft promises a few things,” wrote pak9rabid on Slashdot. “Only an idiot would take their word on issues like this w/out a huge grain of salt given their past documented history.”
Lucy to Charlie Brown
Only time will tell whether Microsoft’s move turns out to be a genuine effort to open up; in the meantime, discussion abounds.
“Each time Microsoft makes overtures to the world about their newfound commitment to open standards and interoperability, I’m reminded of Peanuts’ Lucy’s promise to hold a football in place so Charlie Brown can kick it,” Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider. “Charlie Brown always gets sucked into believing that this one time she will do what she promises, and she never does!
“So it has seemed historically with Microsoft,” yagu added. “I’ve seen little evidence to convince me they want to cooperate with openness and interoperability. Actions speak louder than words.”
Same Old, Same Old
For those who care about the larger notion of freedom that underlies the free software movement, Microsoft’s announcement does nothing to change where it fits into the software ecosystem, Monochrome Mentality blogger Kevin Dean told LinuxInsider.
“Microsoft still considers restricting users to be crucial to its business plan, so to me they are still irrelevant,” Dean explained. “If Microsoft wished to truly support interoperability, they would release their software as Free Software and ensure users had the right to suit it to their needs.
“I, as part of a minority, would be delighted to see Microsoft do just that, and would support their genuine efforts to do so,” Dean added. “Until then, like Apple, Adobe and all other non-free software vendors, they’re failing to capture me as a customer.”
The Trouble With Being Free
Freedom was another hot topic on the Linux blogs over the last week or so, prompted by a post from blogger Vlad Dolezal on An Amazing Mind in which he argues that the fact that Linux is free (financially speaking) is hindering its success in the mainstream marketplace.
“Imagine you were promoting an expensive brand of champagne,” Dolezal wrote. “If you were running around forcing free samples into people’s hands, they would be very wary. But if you set up a stand where you would offer small samples for $10 each (“Special promotional price! Normally costs three times as much!”), people would see your champagne as posh and valuable.”
The same goes for Linux, he argues: “There’s one problem with Linux getting to new users. It’s free.”
Cost = Value?
Can it really be that simple? Should a higher price be set for Linux in order to gain more widespread acceptance in the market? LinuxInsider couldn’t resist asking around.
“If you don’t have any background to know whether something is intrinsically valuable, common sense tells you the more expensive something is, the more valuable it is,” yagu said. “A computer operating system is one of the most complex commodities in the computing industry and most people have no way to know the value of a Linux vs. XP or Vista. But since Vista can cost over (US)$500 and Linux is free, Vista must be more valuable. Translation: Linux is less valuable.”
There just may be something to that notion, agreed Greg Sterling, founder of Sterling Market Intelligence.
“It’s an interesting argument, and I think the perception is probably relatively accurate that people see something as somehow less valuable because it is free,” Sterling told LinuxInsider. “It’s a perception that holds true in a number of contexts, so it may here too.”
Raise the Price?
What needs to happen, yagu asserted, is for Linux to be more expensive.
“People need to feel like they’re getting something valuable, and they get that by paying money for things,” he explained. “I’d like to see Linux on the same shelves as the new Vista boxes, and with comparable prices.”
Linux machines are available today from respected vendors, but they’re not showcased at the same level with Windows, yagu added — and they need to be.
“At some tipping point, people will discover Linux is incredibly reliable, low-maintenance, flexible, powerful, and free,” he concluded. “But they can’t and shouldn’t know about the free thing until after they’ve put out some good money for it. It’s a paradox, but it’s what I believe has to happen.”
With that food for thought, dear readers, we’ll leave you to ponder the question: Should Linux cost more?
Well, that’s all very well if you’re a witless first-world consumer buying for style. If, however, you are a hard-pressed educational institute or talented individual in the developing world, trying to better yourself on horribly limited resources, Linux is your chance to overcome the imperialist economic exclusion of high priced entry costs into the global conversation.
Take up in Amurka is a secondary issue. The point of the Ubuntu distro is that if you are excluded from computing you are excluded from development and the growing global political forum. Free, open, and requiring basic hardware. That is what is important about Linux.