The Nuclear Option

[ Monday, 19 March 2007, kocio ]


The FLOSS Movement is not yet recognized enough to develop peacefully. There are many obstacles in the way of its expansion: either internal (e.g. lack of standards) or external (e.g. stubborn hardware manufacturers). Those problems could be gradually overcome in a relatively short period of time but a question arises: What will happen if the paranoia wins?

Author: Daniel Koć

When I wonder who the FLOSS foe is the only name that comes to mind is Microsoft. Well, undoubtedly there are big IT companies that do not care about this environment or make a fuss of their own narrowly understood business (Adobe, until recently Sun). Yet all the other big players either promote the movement, contribute to it or at least make use of it (IBM, Novell, Intel, HP, Oracle, Apple – and again Sun, which has suddenly chosen a new direction. Have I forgotten anybody?). So, despite considerable thought, I cannot name a single determined FLOSS opponent other than Microsoft. Of course I exclude patent trolls for they have no preferences and will hurt anybody if it will show them a profit.

Microsoft’s dislike and significant resources (not only financial) leads me to ask a very important question: What are the tricks they will play next and to what extent will they be effective? As far as I know they are still able to use the ‘foot-in-the-door’ technique to make the adoption of ODF in Massachusetts as difficult as possible. Also DRM in Vista may put at risk hardware producers’ motivation to supply product specifications and free GNU licenced drivers. Yet, I believe freedom will win.

It will win neither because Microsoft is weak or stupid, nor because other corporations have gone mad and do not want to earn profits anymore – not at all. Freedom will win because of the zeitgeist. The Internet itself and computers are moving into every single area of our lives; this leads to the atmosphere in which freedom is back in favor. This will end the present model of information transfer in which information is treated as a material good (which, totally absurdly, is against its very nature). Millions of people have had an opportunity to make free use of information and it has changed people’s attitudes.

The adherents of the old model can still fight. This will not stop the global transformation towards freedom, but it may force the freedom fighters to go under ground with their activities. I have no idea what it might be. So far the FLOSS movement has survived putting Sklyarov and DVD Jon under arrest. There was the FUD campaign against the ‘viral’ GNU GPL and court accusations of it being illegal and even the unexpected bite from SCO/Caldera. There is even a remedy for the unacceptable Microsoft – Novell alliance: GPL v3. The attack we can anticipate will be something huge: the computer equivalent of a nuclear explosion. I cannot imagine what it could be, but as long as there are the conditions and motives for carrying out such an action, it is reckless to ignore that “nuclear option”.

Suppose that highly hypothetical cataclysm takes place in the real world. What then? Well, the earth will quake, that is for sure. Yet the consequence will be the collapse of only the the tip of the iceberg. And the masses that tasted electronic freedom would still cease to reckon with licenses, patents, copyrights and this kind of nonsense.

Nowadays, from a technical point of view, protection breaking is not a problem for the net community. The only thing that separates Internet users and their friends from the access to any CD, movie, book or application is obeying the law and morality – nothing more! FLOSS and the related free culture movement represent those who believe, despite crazy restrictions, that freedom can be practiced in present conditions. A symbol of this is so-called copyleft. The main idea of copyleft is: “the rules change, but they don’t disappear”. The author of this concept is not an anarchist, but a reformer. He does not promote breaking the law, he creates it; he does not call for the destruction of business, but proposes a new way of making money.

Opposing Copyleft makes no sense. If you are not lucky you will be squashed by a roller, if you are you will be just left behind and forgotten. The latter solution may be even worse, because in some time no one will remember you – there will not even be a mark on a roller…

A successful frontal attack on FLOSS would only mean the total failure of efforts put in building neutral ground somewhere in between the territory of greedy owners and hordes of thieves not respecting anything. This contradictory situation when one’s claim is that they control all cards on the table while the other plays under it may not last for long. A ‘post-nuclear world’ would come into being, a world whose shape we can only imagine, personally I am not very curious about it.

Yet there is another eventuality, a little more real. In this scenario the weapon of paranoia is never used and serves as a means to force submission. This situation is similar to street racing, when two drivers speed again each other, and the one who does not jolt the steering wheel sideways wins. But eventually someone has to do this or else a fatal collision will occur!

A strategy that totally pays off in this game is ‘maniac tactics’. The main idea is – while remaining of sound mind – bluffing your opponent that your hand on the steering wheel will not budge, whatever the he does. Instilling Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt into him should be enough. For example maintaining that Linux violates Microsoft’s patents but showing no proof. The street game is rather short, but the ridiculous market situation lasts for years, so the annoyed FLOSS representatives stopped reacting to the different forms of FUD. That is why they ‘checked’ the poker hand and demanded the specifics. Show us the Code / Show us the Patents is just a spontaneous action, but an idea has sprouted…

Oh, it will be tough to pretend to be a maniac for eternity…

This article was originally published in Polish under the title Opcja nuklearna. It has been translated to English by Tomasz Puchaczewski and then corrected by Steven Walker. If you would like to assist us with translation/correction of articles, please contact Borys Musielak for more details.

About the Author

Daniel Koć

Since 1999 I play with Linux, since 2001 I'm an editor of polish news service LinuxNews, since 2004 I also work on polish Wikipedia, sometimes I translate from english (e.g. Jamendo - since 2006). I'm (more...)

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