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Letter From Anonymous on Windows Going ‘Open Source’

The other day I was sent an anonymised E-mail from someone who entertained the possibility of an “open” Windows/Microsoft — a notion that I reject for realistic reasons. Here is the full discussion.


Defining the Cause

Friday October 25, 2013

Hi Roy,

A like to share with you a thought and hear what you think.

By some twist of faith, how many Linux users are pushing for Linux over Microsoft? That would be a lot, right? But, as long as Linux users are pushing for Linux, you know they forget that Linux was “proprietary” too. So doesn’t it make a whole lot more sense, to do the SAME to Windows and make it “open source” too, just like GNU did for Linux?

This is not an accurate account of history. Linux Torvalds chose the GPL for his kernel, which was only briefly licensed as proprietary (it was obscure at the time). This is similar to MySQL. Windows cannot be compared in an apple-to-apple fashion by warping suppositions.

Here are some reasons for it, although not in much order or cohesion. I’m just rushing this to get it out. Please don’t be offended, just consider the possibilities of where this leads for the cause, okay?

If Windows become “open source”, shouldn’t that be a good thing? Don’t we want to see more corporations becoming “open source” free providers?

We want to maximise freedom, for freedom’s sake. If Windows was able to use deceiving labels to perpetuate control over users, that would not be a good thing.

Is the battle of Linux overshadowing GNU? Which isn’t about a kernel, as so much for being “open source code” to be a lot more important, right?

Maybe that SCARES Linux developers? Why would anyone want to use Linux if Windows was made “honest” by releasing ALL of the “open source” code?

It’s not just a problem of honesty and the “battle of Linux” can be viewed as a battle for GNU/Linux, however “battle” may be defined. Advocacy perhaps, given the context.

Haven’t Linux enthusiasts pointed out that Gnu/Linux is trusted more for being “open source”? But the same could be true if Windows did the same!

It’s not just about trust. There is more to it than that.

Are we fighting for “open source” code or against proprietary code? Or is that we just loath and hate anything about Microsoft? Hopefully, we will realize, the main real reason why Microsoft become hated, for using “proprietary code”.

Microsoft is not hated for this. Based on my experience talking to people, ethics are the problem, business ethics in particular. The framing of advocacy as a “fight”, or the choise of pro- or con- (for or against) is quite arbitrary; if you are for something, one can always portray you as being against something, or vice versa. Bias guides language.

Proprietary code is locking in vendors, people and society.

And it is not just about lock-in.

Of course, Linux is designed a bit differently than say Windows. Windows has made it easy for novice, no need to learn “terminal”. But, it always had a clumsy dependency to backup plenty of DLLS versions for instance. Which is just ridiculous! It takes a Chinese hackers to offer the only unofficial tool to actually trim and reduce the WinSxS bloatware.

Windows had and still has competition which makes it easier for novice users to embrace computing. There are suppositions above that I cannot accept, so I cannot reply to them.

You know, “open source code” would be the BEST thing for Windows and Microsoft. That’s not as scary as it seems, because the real reason Linux despises Windows and Microsoft, is for the lack of interoperability, vendor lock-ins, and shoddy development, that has comes to be known as mostly vaporware branding in the world!

Microsoft has already tried openwashing. It also created some proxies that try to make Microsoft look “open”. I don’t think these have been effective as people very much distrust those proxies and many detest Microsoft even more for trying to infiltrate the philosophical rivals. sometimes derailing it from the inside.

But, all of this could be eliminated, if Microsoft adapted “honesty” as their policy by supporting and releasing “open source” code under GPL3 or GPL4 (coming soon).

Honesty, tenets, etc. have been tried by Microsoft marketing already (microsoft.com still has some Web pages to that effect). The same goes for “transparency” (for example reports on surveillance requests compliance). If everything Microsoft ever released was re-licensed GPLv3+ (unlikely as they incorporate bits of code from other parties), that would not mean honesty. Malicious features like DRM (for Hollywood) and perhaps back doors would still be in there.

I am beginning to think, it was NOT Linux that matters at all for whom without having “open source” code, Linux would had remain proprietary. The only reason Microsoft is proprietary, is related to it’s CEO, “Bill Gates”, who pushed the business into a market monopolizer for profiteering, right?

Gates is no longer the CEO and Linux would not have become popular if it remained proprietary (BSD was already ahead). There were other forces in industry pushing for proprietary, even predating Gates.

Didn’t he advocated and pushed that software freedom by taken away for the sake of profits? This works against an open free society, it is evil, it is immoral and that’s the pain, misery and suffering we are having to cope and deal with here from the very beginning.

The same practice is embraced by the medicine ‘industry’ (oligopoly), where generics are being kept away for the sake of profit (more people die, but large corporations make more money). India seems to be the only country that is eager to fight against this, at least sometimes.

What is to prevent the same thing from happening with Linux now? Won’t some rich corporation take it over, once it matures into a rich profitable market? We (creators and developers) do all the work and they (proprietary owners) take over, right?

The GPL does not quite allow this. Linux can be forked if this happens and all the developers then work on the fork.

So what is important here, is the push for “open source code” more than anything else. But tell that to Linux users who bash Windows a lot, instead of realizing there will always be another proprietary around the corner to replace Microsoft. Maybe that would be Apple OSX. Maybe, it might even come from China or Taiwan!

Windows is being replaced by Android to a large degree. Android is a free/libre system for the most part. Taiwanese companies and Chinese companies (RPC) use Android a lot. The notion of ownership is different when licensing is copyleft-leaning.

How much longer will it be before Ubuntu or Linux gets bought by proprietary rich corporation like Microsoft? But, if we got Microsoft to use GPL3, maybe a GPL4 is required, to become “open source” this would INSURE GNU life of living!

These are unlikely — if not impossible — scenarios. There are other risks — urgent issues like software patents. Using these, for example, Microsoft is believed to be already making billions of dollars from Android sales.

The open source community is no less human like the rest of us. There will be temptation to swing back to proprietary. So it is just better to get all public businesses to ditch proprietary code all together, once and for all.

Swinging back to proprietary or “semi” proprietary (like “half” pregnant) is a real issue these days.

The same can be said for freedom, as a democracy cannot be both ignorant and free at the same time! When you fail to demonstrate adequate concern for the freedom of others, you embolden and empower those who want to take yours away.

The same applies to “open source” code. If we don’t insure it for everyone, there will be others who will want to push “proprietary” code.

Now, imagine how the world would had been improved differently had Microsoft not been proprietarized. All the best ideas and software code could had been shared freely with everyone and a more open free society.

Microsoft was proprietary from the start, not proprietarized, except when Bill Gates fished other people’s code from the dumpster, as he himself admitted.

Which is greater to have, your freedom or wealth? What good is wealth if you have no freedom? In comparison, if you have freedom, you can do anything.

Which is greater to have, your health or wealth? If you have wealth, you need it to afford healthcare, but you still may not obtain health. However, if you have your health, you can always earn wealth.

Now you diverge.

Which is greater to adapt in society, proprietary code or open source code? If you use proprietary code, nobody else can build upon it. If you use open source code, and it’s kept free for all, then everyone can contribute and build upon it.

The same can be said for society, as an open free society who strives with self-determination will thrive as a people. As compared to a tyrannical totalitarian society that is reduced down to a few possibilities.

That’s why Linux isn’t or shouldn’t be the focus. GNU must be the spotlight by insuring Windows is made “honest” to release the source code. It may even help fund GNU to discover all the infringing code used in Windows. What is it, 70 million lines of code there?

GNU/Linux is not the sole area to focus on. Ethics and justice are important, Free software is the means to reach the higher goals.

The only people who have something to hide, are those using proprietary code! What is Windows hiding? We should have the legal right to know, if there are backdoors built in. We should have the right to correct the source code, for mistakes, design flaws, to let everyone improve it.

Someday sooner, we will realize by releasing our freedoms, so that profits can be given away to a few will be viewed as both illegal and immoral. It puts the rich and wealthy first, and makes the society hindered, handicapped, crippled and censored.

Secrecy in code — as in anything in life — harbours misbehaviour. Richard Stallman foresaw the applicability to computer programs.

Feedback? Feel free to interject. I especially enjoy a rebuttal.

When is the new TechRights site going to be up and running?

Did you like any of the ideas for the documentary video?

Waiting to hear!

The scope of Techrights expands because GNU/Linux has outgrown the “advocacy” stage and our enemies are no longer just tech companies. A documentary video needs to be short in order to be viewed by many, or split into chunks because people have become too lazy (of overburdened by information overload) to sit through a full-length film.

If you want to write a guest post for Techrights (highlighting some of the above points), please go ahead.


For those who are not aware, I have been redesigning Techrights with Drupal.

GNU/Linux on the Server Side Helps ‘Desktop Linux’

The Network Effect in action

Network spheres

The myths about “desktop Linux” are mostly associated and tied to “easy of use”. Many people, mostly ones with next to zero experience when it comes to GNU/Linux, have blindly decided that the slow growth of GNOME and KDE is due to an inherent problem other than marketing. But perceptions are changing when people discover that they are surrounded by GNU/Linux, even if their own client machine does not run a Free/libre operating system.

Whenever I perform scientific experiments, I entirely separate my work machine from the computational machines, which are dedicated to a particular task and are optimised for uptime, resilience, and good memory management. These machines exclusively run GNU/Linux, for technical reasons of course. In addition, soon enough one of the Windows clusters will be converted into dual-boot, permitting even more computational power to be amassed from remote nodes, provided one is not a Windows drone. In this modern age when just about any large cluster or computational server runs GNU/Linux, what can a Windows or Mac OS X user do to justify a choice of non-homogeneous platforms, wherein there is basically disharmony and inconsistency between the back end (server) and the desktop/workstation? There is a time penalty associated with moving a program from a proprietary desktop environment to GNU/Linux at the back room. It is not surprising that more and more people in my field are moving to UNIX or Linux on their desktop.

To what extent might the rise of Android impact people’s feelings towards GNU/Linux on the desktop? It does seem like iPhone has already managed to persuade some users to replace a Windows desktop with an OS X desktop. I see examples of this all the time, although as proof it’s merely anecdotal, not statistical.

Migrations From MATLAB to GNU Octave

Octave packages

THIS MORNING I spent some time helping others make the same migration which happily enough I made over a month ago (so far, so good!). It’s a migration from proprietary software (and BSA backer) to free-as-in-freedom software, which also happens to be a GNU project. It helps that the project is cross-platform because unlike myself and many others, there are still a lot more Windows users out there. Moving them to Free software on Windows is an essential step which removes barriers when they swap the whole platform. GNU works better on GNU/Linux than on Windows, for obvious reasons. Although it’s a matter of opinion, under KDE QtOctave looks better than MATLAB, as well.

Installing GNU Octave in GNU/Linux is very simple because it is packaged in the repositories of *buntu and Fedora. These are the two distributions where I have checked to verify this although I encountered bumps along the way in Fedora [1, 2, 3]. It is not entirely Fedora’s fault and it’s a known issue that affects many people who are Octave users.

The packages one need to fetch via yum/apt-get (or graphical front ends like Synaptic and KPackageKit) are “Octave” and “QtOctave”. They are not large packages and they should be able to fetch dependencies that are being determined and resolved by the packager/packaging process. Once these are installed, an icon will typically show up somewhere along/inside the menus. If not, run qtoctave from the command line and ensure it gets access to the octave executable (it usually works perfectly ‘out of the box’ based on my experience on multiple boxes). Yes, this should work by default without user intervention, but in case it does not, ensure octave is properly installed and put in the path.

I am unfortunate enough to have faced Windows for about half an hour just now (not my computer) because in some cases, for collaboration purposes, computers that run Windows also need to have Octave installed on them, along with QtOctave for improved ease of use. The way to get that installed is a lot more complex and time consuming because Windows does not have packages managers (this is one of the areas where GNU/Linux is ahead of its competition). In any case, here is how one should install everything and get it set up

Navigate to the downloads page of Octave. At the time of writing (and this may change in the future) there is a native build for Windows, which seems to work without any issues in Windows XP and probably predecessors too. Scroll down to part which says: “The Octave Forge project hosts a native Windows binary distribution of Octave built with the MinGW compiler.”

This leads to Octave-Forge. Near the top of the page there is a “Windows installer (Octave and Octave-Forge)” listed. Now, download the file which is an executable (.exe) and run that. Follow the simple process of installation until completion and at the end ensure that Octave is installed and then listed among the programs in the Windows “Start” (now just Windows logo) menu. The main program is just called “Octave”. When it’s executed it offers a command line prompt which is the Octave interpreter. If everything works fine at this stage, then Octave runs properly and it is time to install the graphical wrapper, QtOctave.

Qt is a cross-platform graphical toolkit and a front end for Octave was written with it not so long ago. The main build is for GNU/Linux with tendency towards KDE, but there is also a Windows port and the one which works best can currently be found in outsch.org. There is a ZIP archive in there, so download it with caution (it is not an official source). Finally, uncompress the file and install it in a suitable location of choice on your hard-drive partition (e.g. C:). When all the files are extracted from the ZIP archive find the qtoctave executable (qtoctave.exe) under the directory containing the DLL files and the other binaries. If necessary, create a convenient shortcut to this file. Unlike UNIX-type environments, paths in Windows are not quite as universal, so QtOctave may not have anything defined regarding the location of the octave executable. Depending on where it’s installed, it may need to be entered manually, otherwise QtOctave will not be able to access the very core and engine of Octave. If that’s the case, go to the “Config” menu (top menu), then “general configuration” (menu item), then “Octave”, “Octave path”. Put in the text field the full path to the Octave executable where you had it installed earlier. This ensures QtOctave knows where to find it. Restart QtOctave (for settings changes to take effect) and once the program can detect the executable ensure it can provide a command prompt for .m files to be run or for commands to be entered manually. If needed, run a basic function like plot just to ensure that graphical units of Octave are also fully supported and installed without any conflicts. QtOctave comes with several units including an editor and it integrates quite well, including drag-and-drop support.

The point of this whole exercise is to liberate users whose personal programs that they write are stuck in the “MATLAB trap”, so to speak (like the old “Java trap”).

If you are interested in converting fellow staff and their students to Octave, remember that it suits an educational environment much better as it encourages sharing and collaborating, not asking for permissions, paying heavy fees/fines, and begging developers to fix bugs rather than have access to the source code, which in turn enables participation. Additionally, most of the basic functions are truly compatible with MATLAB’s and the lack of JIT optimisation, for example, should not matter much in an educational setting. Not many people create MATLAB GUIs either, so there is hardly a need for such advanced functionality. At a later date I hope to make some screencasts about Octave.

How GNU/Linux is Doing Against Windows, Primarily Windows Server and Desktop

“Forty percent of servers run Windows, 60 percent run Linux…”

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO (September 2008)

Contrary to figures that account only for shipped volume and revenue (IDC), the installed base of GNU/Linux servers is very high. This is not to be confused with “market share”, whose definition gets changed so as to serve the vanity of companies which directly or indirectly fund such market surveys. There is a lot of selective research and cherry-picking of methodologies.

GNU/Linux is very commonplace on servers. Virtualisation requires those servers to communicate between and within one another, either through open standards or ‘interoperability’, which is typically a two-way bridge. Microsoft is fiddling with companies like XenSource (now Citrix) and VMware (now run by former Softies) to interfere.

In order to understand how Linux is doing against Windows on the server, a market survey would be required which is global. It is harder and more expensive to conduct a survey based on actual deployments (global in particular), as opposed to assembling and aggregating numbers of shipments from market leaders.

One indicator of the success of Linux on the server is internal intelligence conducted and/or used by Microsoft. The company calls this — albeit just internally — “Linux heat map” (I have a copy here, a court exhibit from Comes vs Microsoft). Publicly, realisation of the Linux threat to Microsoft can be arrived at by interpreting the company’s rhetoric and actions, such as threats of litigation, secret deals with Fortune 500 companies that pay Microsoft for their use of GNU/Linux (this is scarcely reported in the press and the companies refuse to identify themselves), and also disinformation initiatives such as “Get the Facts” and “Linux Personas” (defunct just days after debut).

Internal documents which were revealed in the Comes vs Microsoft case not only reveal figures about market share in several areas. They also show the company’s executives running frantic about what they called “Linux infestation”. They said they were not on a path to win against Linux, so they tried to manipulate Dell into dropping or neglecting Linux (on servers) and they also decided to commission studies which show Linux to be more expensive. Failing the first time, Microsoft argued, they can simply try again. This methodology fits well with tactics that are presented in internal Microsoft talks about “Effective Evangelism”. One of the tactics is to manufacture evidence that you need and then reference it. Analysts can be compensated in many ways that escape the public eye, as detailed in the company’s presentations (all endorsed by Bill Gates by the way).

In one of the documents disclosed in Comes vs Microsoft, Microsoft was seen explicitly asking IDC to remove signs of its sponsorship of a study. This study accidentally showed Linux (server) to be superior. Microsoft had similar studies conducted with market research groups like Yankee and Gartner.

It is worth emphasising that what challenges Microsoft is not just the market share of Linux. It’s more complicated than that. As netbooks (sub-notebooks) have demonstrated, tough competition from Linux not necessarily leads to erosion of Windows’ market share; instead, it rapidly leads to erosion of margins. Sources suggest that Windows has become virtually free (gratis) for some form factors, whereas in the case of servers, Microsoft has promotional means for advancing Windows not only through advertising campaigns. I have heard personally from Web hosts who were offered Windows for free so that they migrate away from Linux. In one case, the source was offered subsidies of hardware as well.

All in all, this comes to show that it’s a multi-faceted issue which can be addressed and treated by considering questions like:

1. How has Linux affected Microsoft’s/Windows market share?

2. How is market share defined?

3. How has Linux affected Windows margins?

4. What is the difference between perceptual Linux quality/market share compared to reality? There is room for distortion here and it is actively being exploited, as shown by authentic court evidence.

5. How failure-proof is Linux? How many companies are involved in developing and supporting it? Symbian and Palm OS, for example, have a single breaking point.

Difference Between GNU/Linux and Windows

With Linux, you own your computer and share code.

With Windows, you share your computer but can’t own code.

A Case for Unbundling

A computer needs to be as simple to use as an appliance. Whenever you switch it on, it enters a mode of full operation.

When you install software on it, everything should be set up completely, without a hitch.

Failing to achieve a simple installation, it’s clear that something is amiss.

PCs should be sold separately from software. If the software is trivial to install, then it can be offered as an option alongside hardware. It only takes minutes to install from a CD-ROM.

A good set of software can also include customised images and plenty of software of interest, such as an office suite.

Why can’t PCs be sold without an operating system? Because, as Microsoft wishfully argues, customers would struggle to install the operating system.

So make it easier.

Windows will continue to be a hard-to-install mess as long as it provides this argument that Joe Sixpack can’t have it installed.

In other words, as long as Windows is bad, it’s more likely to be bundled, without the offering of choice.

Apple and its separate universe of ‘xenophobic’ hardware and software is another matter altogether.

Should houses also be built with furniture bolted in? Or restaurant serve just one meal because choice is bad and cooking is too complicated?

Being a norm does not make anything right or acceptable.

Brainwash for Windows Vista

Here is an old video of Microsoft’s CEO.

And here is a new ad.

No, I don’t recommend Macs at all. GNU/Linux is much better and it respects the users’ rights and freedoms.

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