Micro$oft Monitor

Published by NetAction Issue No. 39 March 27, 1999
Repost where appropriate. See copyright information at end of message.


Open Source Origins
One Picture
An Interesting List
About Micro$oft Monitor

Open Source Origins

"In a world where Microsoft increasingly threatens to dominate computing and the Internet, the strongest potential rival to its dominance is no longer its traditional commercial rivals but, surprisingly, a seemingly motley collection of free software tools and operating systems collectively dubbed free software or "open source" software." So writes Nathan Newman in the opening paragraph of NetAction's latest White Paper, "The Origins and Future of Open Source Software."

The complete White Paper is on NetAction's web site at: http://www.netaction.org/opensrc/future/.

The White Paper examines the past history of the government's support for open source computing, the lessons of its success and the results of its pullback in the early 1990s. This historical analysis forms the basis for NetAction's recommendations for a policy program for the future.

"Open source software, largely funded by the federal government, was the wellspring of the creation of the whole computer industry and to this day still lies at the heart of how the Internet came into being," Nathan writes. "Through a combination of key funding agencies, administrative oversight of software standards and government purchasing rules, the federal government had helped stimulate free software and open standards for decades."

Nathan argues that the prominence of open source software was undermined by the privatization of the Internet and the commercialization of areas of software once dominated by open source options. He believes this was due primarily to the fact that in the early 1990s, the federal government pulled back from its commitment to open standards and support for open source software.

"This left the way open for increases in proprietary, incompatible software and for a company like Microsoft to seek to dominate the computing world with its own proprietary standard," he writes.

Nathan also suggests that the reemergence of open source software as an important force is largely a reaction against Microsoft itself. He suggests that Microsoft's competitors -- who themselves have seen their own proprietary alternatives sink under the Microsoft steamroller -- have suddenly seen alliances with open source software as a chance to halt the Windows monopoly. But he cautions that the alliance creates new tensions which must be resolved for open source software to succeed.

The White Paper concludes that what is needed is a revival of a federal government public policy that supports open source computing and strong standards that can again support the promise of open source innovation. The White Paper provides additional support for the recommendations put forward in Mitch Stoltz's White Paper, "The Case for Government Promotion of Open Source Software." The earlier paper is on the web at: http://www.netaction.org/opensrc/oss-report.html.

As we noted in the Stoltz paper, the federal government is already spending billions of dollars on software research, purchases and implementation. If those resources were directed toward supporting open source solutions, it would provide clear technological advantages while undermining the Microsoft monopoly. But this effort can only succeed if the government insists on uniform standards for Linux and the other open source software it purchases.

One Picture

Countless thousands of words have been written about Microsoft's monopoly, including more than a few by NetAction. Occasionally, we have come across a picture that says it all. One was forwarded to us recently by Thomas Fine, a webmaster/web developer/unix system administrator at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Actually, Thomas created a series of animated gifs, which can be found at: http://hea-www.harvard.edu/~fine/Microft/microft.html.

Thomas explained his motivation for creating the gifs as follows:

"At this point most people realize that Microsoft has a long history of shady behavior in their business practices. But there's still a widespread belief (oft-repeated in the national media) that we (the consumers) still benefit in some way from the monopoly, because of the simplicity of a single platform. I don't think this is true -- and I think it is an issue people should be talking more about.

"I created the animated gifs so that others who feel the same way could put them on their web pages, and quickly express their viewpoint. My hope is that it will begin to appear on a large number of web pages, and promote more discussions about the real costs and (lack of) benefits associated with Microsoft's monopoly."

Thomas told us that he is not affiliated with any specific organization.

"The Internet gives me the power to contribute, so I do," he explained.

An Interesting List

James Love, Director of the Consumer Project on Technology, recently announced a new list, .

The random-bits list was started as a small closed list which Jamie used to forward miscellaneous items about Microsoft to reporters and others who were closely following the Microsoft antitrust case.

According to Jamie, traffic on the list varies from no messages during a week to as many 5 messages a day. Archives of the list and subscription information are on the web at: http://www.cptech.org/lists.html.

About The Micro$oft Monitor

The Micro$oft Monitor is a free electronic newsletter, published as part of the Consumer Choice Campaign http://www.netaction.org/msoft/ccc.html. NetAction is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public, policy makers, and the media about technology-based social and political issues, and to teaching activists how to use the Internet for organizing, outreach, and advocacy.

To subscribe to The Micro$oft Monitor, write to: . The body of the message should state: subscribe monitor. To unsubscribe at any time, send a message to: . The body of the message should state: unsubscribe monitor.

NetAction is supported by individual contributions, membership dues and grants. For more information about contributing to NetAction, contact Audrie Krause by phone at (415) 775-8674, by E-mail at , visit the NetAction Web site at: http://www.netaction.org, or write to:

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Copyright 1999 by The Tides Center/NetAction. All rights reserved. Material may be reposted or reproduced for non-commercial use provided NetAction is cited as the source. NetAction is a project of The Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.