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.

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5 Comments

fold this thread Larry Cafiero  Monday, 19 March 2007 o godz. 9:18 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

[This reply also appears in my blog, Larry the Open Source Guy. I attempted to post earlier, but my reply locked in my browser and I had to rewrite it.]

Thank you, Daniel, for providing a very interesting and enlightening perspective on what the FLOSS movement is up against. While I agree with what you have written, I would like to touch on a couple of points you make.

The possibility of Microsoft playing “the nuclear card” in trying to quash FLOSS, although an option of which we should remain aware, is extremely remote. Just as in a real-life nuclear scenario, both sides would perish if Microsoft tried this. As greedy and controlling (and possibly malicious) the Gateses and Ballmers of the world might be, they are intelligent enough to realize that if they used this option, their own destruction would follow.

So Microsoft may present a facade of maniac behavior with a real or imagined “nuclear threat,” but we know better. These “street racers,” as you call them, will indeed turn the steering wheel at the last moment because their own vast riches and profits will evaporate if they don’t.

They know that. And because we also know that, too, we can free ourselves from the submission that this sort of threat tries to impose on both us — those of us working to bring FLOSS to the masses — and the computing public in general.

Rather than the “nuclear threat,” Microsoft is taking a page from the U.S. foreign policy playbook. How? History shows that between 1945 to the fall of communism in the former USSR, the U.S. used a policy of “containment” against the USSR, stopping the spread of communism through covert operations or brute force in other countries (a policy that, as a U.S. citizen who has lived through most of it, is completely shameful; but I digress). Substitute “Microsoft” for “U.S.” and “FLOSS” for “communism” in the preceding sentence and you have the same situation today when it comes to where we, as a digital society, stand.

So while we should be aware of larger “weaponry” in Microsoft’s arsenal, focusing on the constant stream of FUD flowing from Redmond could be of more immediate importance; this FUD campaign primarily consists of the myth that FLOSS is on the margins and cannot be mainstream. We know better, and it’s incumbent on us to make sure everyone knows the truth. Coupling the fact that the FLOSS movement is making gains at a time when public distrust of Microsoft continues to rise, we have an opportunity to provide another option.

Promote and exercise the “GNU-clear option,” instead of the “nuclear option.”

The GNU-clear option is not a proposal to “reinvent the wheel” — the blueprint and philosophy that guides the FLOSS movement is well established and continues to provide a firm foundation on which to build the movement. Among other things, the GNU-clear option offers the choice that the myths about FLOSS can be busted and it truly can transform both the personal computing experience and society as a whole, despite lies to the contrary pumped out of corporate headquarters around the world and printed/broadcasted by a spoon-fed corporate media.

Let me give you an example: When was the last time you spoke to anyone — anyone who was not a computer person, that is; just a friend, relative or even a good-looking guy (or gal) at the bar or pub — about FLOSS? Today, I hope, but if not, make a point to do so. My conversion to FLOSS came as a result of a simple conversation with a supporter during my campaign as Green Party candidate for Insurance Commissioner in California last year — a conversation that lasted only a few minutes (including the exchanges of e-mails), but it clearly made a huge impression. I can’t code to save my life, but as a journalist I can publish a magazine (which premieres in July) and maintain a Web site to promote FLOSS principles to those non-geeks wishing to learn more.

That is my contribution. And we all have contributions to make — none of which are too small or insignificant — in bringing FLOSS to the mainstream and fighting the corporate paranoia and maniac behavior that gestates in their boardrooms and executive offices.

Ultimately, a corporate strategy based on fear and manipulation of the public will fail, allowing us to prevail.

Thank you for this article, Daniel.

Sincerely,
Larry Cafiero
Editor/Publisher
Open Source Reporter

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fold this thread Stomfi  Tuesday, 20 March 2007 o godz. 3:39 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

The question I ask myself is why did people desert IBM back in the last century. After all they had the best user systems, 92% of the market, networking that worked between their own similar systems, reasonable security, great support, a wonderfully effective marketing machine, high profit margins and the support of the Republican side of US politics.

Their only real competition came from UNIX microcomputers that didn’t run IBM software, was not “user friendly”, did not scale as well, and needed many instead of one easily maintained computer, compared with IBM systems. It was quite different in fact and required the expense of retraining, but was cheaper to implement, would communicate and could share information with IBM and anybody else’s system courtesy of Open Standards like SGML, HDLC, and ASCII, and the UNIX information processing and programming tools. Nobody with any clout was marketing UNIX, but word of mouth (a precursor to the Internet) quickly spread the news amongst technical users.

Admittedly, IBM did try to counter the UNIX competition with their own versions of these Open Standards, and eventually their own version of UNIX, initially on a poor rendition of a desktop workstation.

Circa 1987, 18 years after the invention of UNIX, it became obvious there was a mass migration and IBM eventually suffered loss after loss until they reinvented themselves as a Open Systems company, put UNIX on the server, embraced Linux and never looked back.

Why do people do this? Many say it is because they like to exercise choice and don’t like being told how to do things by the same leader all the time. In the modern political climate, there is hardly any difference between the major parties, but people still vote for change. Will they do this to Big Mickey? Vote him out of the office and replace him with Tux the Friendly Penguin.

We will have to wait till 2010 before it happens in numbers large enough to affect Big Mickey’s popularity, but our need for interoperability, more bang for the buck, people with UNIX expertise, the ethics of sharing, and our basic need for change, is making a lot of us vote already.

And really, Linux is a far better product than was UNIX when it was the alternative choice.

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fold this thread kabababrubarta  Tuesday, 27 March 2007 o godz. 1:23 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Nice design! kabababrubarta

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fold this thread Bob  Saturday, 19 May 2007 o godz. 7:27 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I have noticed a change of in recent months when I talk to “non-technical” computer users.

It used to be when I talked about Linux and free software they would say “What’s that?” They wouldn’t have a clue.

Nowadays I find that non-technical computer users will say “Oh yeah…I’ve heard of that…my geeky friend/relative uses it”. And of course to the non-technical computer user, anyone who can install an operating system or reformat a hard drive is a “geek”.

They’re also saying that they’ve heard Windows Vista is really awful and they don’t want to use it.

So the non-technical users are generally hearing good things about Linux and free software and bad things about Microsoft’s latest operating system.

It seems to me that it’s an excellent time to move the free software movement forward. Free software is first and foremost an idea. Ideas do not die.

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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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