- Capitalism and Alternatives -

A note on open standards

Posted by: Farinata ( L'inferno ) on March 01, 19100 at 15:19:14:

In Reply to: More corrections. posted by Farinata on February 29, 19100 at 19:05:02:

: If nothing else, this should demonstrate to you that people don't just innovate because they're paid to; they do so because they like programming and they like the kudos that good programming brings.

I'll go into a little more detail here...

Frenchy, you are using TCP/IP (a freely available protocol) and the Hayes AT command set (a freely available standard) to connect to your Internet Service Provider, typically using PAP or CHAP to authenticate (both freely available open standards).

You surf the Web using HTML; a markup language developed and shared freely; you download things using FTP, originated in much the same way.
If you want to chat to people, the odds are that you will be using IRC; which was developed and shared freely; originating from Helsinki in the late '80s and early '90s.

You are using a Debating Room written in Perl; a freely available language. You have a Hotmail account, IIRC; as you can see here, Microsoft run the Hotmail service on FreeBSD (a freely available and open operating system) - because Microsoft NT isn't up to the job or secure enough.

Hotmail also runs Apache; a freely available and open webserver that has 58.08% of the webserver market; as you can see here.

(Microsoft, in comparison, have 21.93% of that market; and their share is decreasing)

Without freely shared and distributed protocols, packages and operating systems, you would not have email, the Web, FTP, IRC, MS-DOS (which was originally a dumbed-down version of Unix) and the lifeblood of the 'net; IP (Internet Protocol).

Every time you use the Web, you are enjoying the benevolence of the people who made their systems and ideas free to you.

The openness of protocols has an additional advantage; in removing proprietory 'intellectual property' and price concerns, you ensure that your protocol is judged entirely on its quality. TCP/IP works well because it's essentially a robust and resilient protocol; the fact that it was good and free meant that people could use it without paying large sums or risking lawsuits; it thus became universal, because it was the best thing around for the job; not because it was the most heavily-marketed.

Compare what happened to DECnet; a proprietory protocol that DEC developed and maintained strict copyright powers over; almost no-one uses it today; and it's a bad protocol because it's never been subjected to public refereeing.

What made the 'net great was people who developed these protocols and shared them freely with the world.

Since its creation, Microsoft has stood for the opposite; they take a freely available protocol or language, add a few modifications of their own to it and patent 'their' intellectual property; then use their monopoly on desktop PC operating systems to lever it into a position of market dominance in the PC market (as they did with Web browsers; Internet Explorer is now the most common Web browser in the world.)

They call it 'embrace and extend', as can be seen in a couple of famous Microsoft-internal documents that got leaked to the outside world; famously known as The Hallowe'en Documents.

It is essentially parasitism in the name of profit; taking an idea that has been produced pro bono publico and trying to gain an exclusive ownership (and stranglehold) over it. Where they cannot do this, they try and destroy their opponents (e.g. Java, UNIX, Linux, Netscape.)

It was partially in order to oppose this corporate colonization that Richard Stallman invented the GNU General Public Licence; it was a way of preserving the freedom to modify protocols and programs whilst preserving the ownership of the idea with the person who did the original hard work.

(Much of GNU/Linux has been produced according to this licence; which is one reason Microsoft cannot reasonably attack it using 'embrace and extend'.)

Microsoft's behaviour has been defended by some people in the name of fair business conduct and perfectly OK according to the rules of the market - but such people have never been seen to say that naval piracy is perfectly OK - which is what it is analogous to.

It's also worth noting that Microsoft, for all its rhetoric about preserving the 'freedom to innovate', has never actually innovated anything in its entire history; its preferred method of operation is to buy other companies that might be a threat.

Microsoft are parasites, pure and simple; and their efforts to claim intellectual property rights over the Internet are hindering innovation; which depends upon the free exchange of information.


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