To Microsoft, Open Source means “Windows Encumbered”

One of the most interesting things to happen in the past couple of years, is Microsoft’s embrace of Open Source. This means different things to various people I’ve spoken with at Microsoft. Some seem genuinely sincere. Some seem less so. What hasn’t changed is Microsoft’s behavior to the Open Source community at large.

Microsoft’s version of Open Source Software (MSOSS) means software licensed under an Open Source License which is encumbered with a dependency on SharePoint, Microsoft Office, Microsoft SQL Server or Microsoft Windows (Azure or classic). This underscores something critical that we have all learned over the past few years while on our journey towards freer technology. That is that Open Source licenses are NOT enough to ensure (corporate or consumer) end-user empowerment. We also need Open Standards and Open Data.

Call it software freedom or whatever you want to call it. I think of it as End-user empowerment. This empowerment is, to me, about being a good capitalist. Empowered software users have these rights (among others):

  • To use – as they see fit to the best of their capabilities. If I want to embed it, redistribute it, enhance it, use it on some other device, I should be able to without fear of prosecution
  • To exit – if they don’t like the price of staying on your platform, they can take their data and go home without impractical obstacles.

With these rights come pricing power. The ability to switch vendors when you don’t like the price. Think of that antiquated accounting software your company uses, despite ever increasing prices and lacking conformance, just because they don’t know how to get the data out. The next time Microsoft pitches their openness, or some product, or MSOSS, take them to task. What if you want to move your documents from Sharepoint to some other content system, because they raise the price, you can’t afford it anymore, or your users just can’t stand to use Internet Explorer when they want to edit in WYSIWIG? Can you run your Windows Azure VM on Amazon EC2 without reinstalling everything? Why should you encode your video in a format that will require you to pay a tax every time you want to view, modify or copy it to some other device or share it with a friend especially when better alternatives exist? If you base all your software on .NET, just how well will it run on Linux or OS X or one of Google’s new fangled hand-held devices? What if they stop supporting whatever it is they’re pitching today? What if you don’t want to upgrade to Windows 8 (say if it is as bad as Vista)? What rights are you giving up? How much pricing power will YOU have after 6 months, a year, 10 years? Educate yourself, challenge your vendors and be a good capitalist (or free person).

Update: For certain people who think I don’t give enough in the way of examples, I refer you to this more example-laden blog by someone else.