In the computer world, there is a raging debate commonly referred to as “Microsoft vs. Open Source.”


It is a debate that will define how programs are developed and purchased. Traditionally, software companies act as a record label might. They purchase ideas and talent while developing those resources within the company. Also, traditionally, programmers must work within the confines of the mass market. They cannot find work if they cannot write programs in the computing environment of consumers and software companies cannot develop or sell software without paying royalties to Microsoft for the right to develop under Windows–the mother of all operating systems.


Next to it’s feature packed Office software, Microsoft makes money by selling and licensing the Windows operating system. It costs money and you don’t have the right to modify the source code. Hence, they control the proverbial air that your computer breathes.


The American reflex is to completely agree and abide by the concept. After all, Microsoft works hard on their operating system and they deserve to control it. That’s fine if you also believe that oil, mining and lumber companies have the right to own the roads that they build into resource frontiers. On that point, most people–along with Federal law–would agree that having single corporate entities owning and fiercely controlling national infrastructure–and by extension, national Security–is a bad idea.


Microsoft, however, is not a company of idiots. In 1990, long before the web was a part of everyday life, Gates declared that Microsoft would be the dominant force in the development of the world wide web. Before that, Gates beat the stuffing out of Apple’s graphical user interface in court and left IBM high, dry and in a vicious tailspin. “Billion Dollar” Bill takes no prisoners. Those not killed are absorbed.


Microsoft had vision and determination on the way up. They still have their vision but it’s normally used to shoot down competitors trying to conquer the home software mountain that Microsoft controls. Netscape was successfully lobotomized in the same manner of Apple, IBM and dozens of others. But, now there’s a new company with a vision as bold as the 1980s Microsoft and a skin of Teflon due to the nature of their business.


The company is Red Hat. The nature of the business is supporting the open source Linux system.


In the backwards, fourth-world nation of Sweden where little blue people live constantly under a state of armed resistance against a dictator named Gargamel, a man named Linus Trivold developed a variation of Unix.


In this Unix operating system, Linus thought that everyone should be able to participate in its development if they promise to share their improvements to the operating system with all other users. This agreement came to be understood as a General Public License, or GPL.


The concept was called “open source”. It seems new but it is actually quite old. Western civilization is unique in the respect that it developed science and had to borrow religion. Through the centuries knowledge has advanced by giving access to the knowledge for testing and improvement in the form of academic papers and books(bio-optical ordinal knowledge sources).


What stands the scrutiny and independent testing of peer review gets kept as collective knowledge, false information gets either returned for further development or discarded.


The areas of human history that lack progress are marked by powerful interests that have conflicts with the “greater good”. Roman prefects, Catholic Cardinals, Colonial Governors and now Microsoft.


The GPL for Linux allows anyone to develop software under the operating system. The only catch is that if you make improvements to the Linux operating system, you must publish those changes and make them freely available for the next version.


Nowhere in the GPL does it state that you must share proprietary developments that merely use the Linux system. Nowhere in the GPL does it say that “open source” is equivalent to “nude commune.”


What open source allows is the ability for everyone to operate in a common environment and contribute to its improvement. Developments outside of the operating system like a word processor or video game are yours to protect and profit from under the confines of the laws in your country. Developments inside of the operating system belong to everyone because the operating system is the bedrock of most national computing infrastructure.


It’s analogous to using the interstate highway system except that if you find any error or if you have a good idea for an improvement or change to the system, you are obligated to share it with the rest of the world.


On its face, Linux *seems* to run counter to the concept of capitalism but it is actually quite compatible. With this particular idea, the only collisions of interest occur with specific capitalists like Mr. Bill Gates. Microsoft would have an easier time crushing Linux if everyone in the industry would agree that Linux is bad for profit margins.


To that end, Microsoft has established a massive propaganda campaign against Linux and the entire open source software concept. Not everybody sees Linux as a threat. Some big names like Oracle, IBM, Compaq and Dell see Linux as an opportunity to level Microsoft to a more realistic status of “good home software company” by reducing the consumer power of Windows.


The beauty of a free market and the weakness of cartels sits within the “invisible hand” of self-interest. In a truly free market as technology currently is, not all actors will unite against developments that appear threatening.


Microsoft has adopted a stance where “open source” is unprofitable, damaging to the economy and a threat to intellectual property rights. Just like free roads are unprofitable, damaging to the economy and a threat to freedom and democracy. As of late, these “rational” arguments have failed in the press and Microsoft has resorted to creativity. Open source is now a “cancer” and, according to the man who millions perceive to be pretty damn intelligent, Bill Gates has describe the open source movement as “PacMan-like” in its nature.


PacMan-like… that’s profound.


Their arguments are nonsense. The economy will be more flexible when everyone is on the same free and constantly improving platform that Linux represents. Intellectual property law in respect to software will have an opportunity to become crystal clear with a single, publicly owned and managed operating system. Software development itself will prosper without having to pay royalties or living in fear of treading on what Microsoft perceives to be its property.


Operating systems are not a commodity and should be brought under public management. Linux represents a chance for the world to own something without government assistance in management. Linux represents an excellent baseline for a technological society. Lastly, because of Microsoft, many people are thinking these same thoughts.


The propaganda campaign against Linux will backfire. Prior to Microsoft’s daily public denunciations of Linux, most people in the programming world considered Linux to be academic or unusable in a commercial environment. By keeping silent, Microsoft had achieved victory. Many programmers, myself included, have turned away Linux and it’s web development language, PHP, precisely because of these misconceptions.


Indeed, Linux has a long way to go before it reaches the level of Windows distribution and ease of use. However, Microsoft’s irrational and arrogant public relations debacle may accelerate the usability of Linux at a pace that might have otherwise gone much slower.


The war is on and, sooner or later, you’ll end up with Linux on your desktop or laptop. It has the technological, social and scientific advantages that will eat Microsoft alive.


Chris Uzal is the Systems Manager of a Lantana, FL based company. He lives, eats and breathes programming.

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