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Contradictory Microsoft

At Pondicherry University, we (Computer Science Students) were invited to attend a lecture by someone from Microsoft. My anticipation was that someone is going to promote (or) show-case the products of Microsoft. If this is going to happen, I made sure I have to rip off the evilness of proprietary culture by raising questions from their End Users License Agreement itself.

We were seated at an auditorium and waiting for the guest to arrive. In the meantime myself and Shaswata (free software activist from West Bengal) were discussing about which questions to fire from their licensing.

Finally a male guest arrived and the professors introduced him to us as one of the youngest man to be at the director level of Microsoft India and gave the chance for him to address us.

He shared his experience. To be frank, I felt like reading some self-help tips book, like how to be successful in your life, what is your carrier goal, etc., because he did speak about that. And my thought is, "Why the hell, use MICROSOFT label for this?". Ironically, while pointing out some examples, he used the name of Jack Ma, Steve Jobs and no where he mentioned Bill Gates nor Satya.

Seems he is from the Consultancy section and no surprise, he spoke about managerial skills. He spoke for about 20 to 25 minutes and gave a chance for us to question him. After some couple of people, I raised my questions.

Note: Points follow after 'My take' is presented here, but I did not talk there, because more the argument, more people are going to hate and blame me for spoiling the event, after all our university professors want to impress him to bring Microsoft for campus recruitment.

My Question: After Mr. Sathya Nadella took charge as the CEO, we are seeing a lot of FOSS integration into Microsoft, What's preventing Microsoft from Open Sourcing their entire products?

His Answer: Because we make money out of selling it closed.

My take: First of all, the assumption that open sourcing (or) releasing the source code under GPL cannot be used for making money is false. This shows their lack of understanding of the model itself. Selling Free Software is Ok, Business models for FOSS. Most people have only heard of the terms Open Source software and assume they know everything about it and more incorrectly they equate Free Software to Freeware.

My Question: Do you think, selling the proprietary software (i.e binary only) is ethical because software code is not material? Let's assume for example, my friend wanted a software binary from me and there is nothing that prevents me from sharing it with him, but the label that we get is "Pirates". Should I share the binary file with my friend or should I risk losing their relationship abiding to the definition of Piracy?

His Answer: See, there is no question of ethical or unethical. If someone does something that gradually becomes their livelihood, then people would continue doing it.

My take: Right, I don't disagree about the fact that someone does something can gradually become their livelihood. Still my question is whether that 'something' they do is ethical or unethical. For example, the practice of stealing something from someone is what we call a theft. Theft is universally considered to be an unethical practice. Still someone can have a livelihood by stealing off. So he didn't answer my question, but just tried to beat around the bush. And for the second part regarding piracy, he ignored it. I did not get a answer from that context.

Proprietary software has been considered to be an unethical practice by a lot of people at FOSS community. Microsoft today is facing a self-contradictory situation where they support and oppose the practice of FOSS at the same time. Pity!

My Question: When you spoke to us initially, you said that, everyone should be driven by Curiosity. Now as a Computer Science students, if we had curiosity to look at the source code of windows operating and learn from it and at the same time improve the algorithms, the End Users License Agreement of Windows doesn't allow us to do. Your license puts restrictions on, "Reverse engineering, decompilation or working around technical restrictions". While these restrictions are in effect, how are your products useful for computer science engineers which very well kills these curiosities?

His Answer: See you cannot label that as curiosity. For example, take this wooden work (he pointed at the podium where he stood nearby), you may not be interested in how it was made, but you may be interested with how you can have creative ways of putting this to use. That's how you should see it.

My take: I had to laugh myself. He defines what curiosity other people should have. How can someone decide for someone else what they should be curious about? A user can anytime become a developer, provided he had access to the knowledge and tools. Limiting what a user should think or do is nothing but controlling the thoughts of the users itself. I clearly mentioned him that I am posting this question from academics point of view and he gives an explanation from a naive end-users point of view.

My Immediate Statement: I think, in this context an operating system like Linux and the community behind it is more open and democratic.

His Reply: Well, there is no doubt about it. Linux is!

My Statement: Thanks for acknowledging that.

Finally arrived at what I was looking for. In a crowd of around some 60+ people getting this statement from someone at director level of Microsoft, Mission Accomplished!

When FOSS pitches a new mode of production, distribution and consumption inclusive of all, the traditional monopoly giants doesn't want to change and thinks from the same old system. No surprise, why google surpassed microsoft through their Open Source Android Project. This is not to assume Google is not evil. The "Do No Evil" is evil as well. This post is just dedicated to MS.

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