Open source stalwart Richard Stallman has declared himself unfooled by Bill Gate’s retirement. The founder might have gone, but the malevolent influence of his company is still with us, he has said in an article for the BBC.
In a biting attack on Microsoft, Bill Gates, and a number of other partners in software crime, including Apple and Adobe, the creator of GNU Linux repeats arguments he has set out many times before, though not to such a wide audience or at such a public moment in Microsoft’s history.
Put succinctly, Microsoft is the worst exponent of a business model that has sought to tie computer users to a restrictive, morally unjust and expensive philosophy of computer use.
In his view, Microsoft enshrines anti-competitive behaviour, has invested in technologies that restrict the behaviour of PC users for no good reason, and has deliberately hampered compatibility with non-Microsoft software.
He even takes a swipe at the acceptance of the Office Open XML document standard earlier this year by the ISO, accusing Microsoft of packing the standards committee that approved it.
Anything else? He’s not a big fan either of the high-profile Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, praised by many for its charitable giving in the developing world.
“These actions are intolerable, of course, but they are not isolated events. They are systematic symptoms of a deeper wrong which most people don't recognise: proprietary software,” he writes.
The fact that Bill Gates has retired is beside the point, declares Stallman. What matters is the fact that the business model of the company he founded still holds sway over many users.
“But Gates didn't invent proprietary software, and thousands of other companies do the same thing. It's wrong, no matter who does it,” says Stallman.
“Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, and the rest, offer you software that gives them power over you. A change in executives or companies is not important. What we need to change is this system,” said an angry Stallman.
Once upon a time, Stallman’s pitch for open source software would have sounded like a rant from software’s Leninist margins, but this time, perhaps, he senses a moment of weakness for the world’s largest software company.
Windows Vista has turned sour, interest in Linux is at an all-time high, and suddenly desktop operating systems don’t look as all-defining of the future as they once did. Microsoft has invested in new technologies such as virtualisation, but it’s by no means certain that Microsoft will automatically be its dominant force.
“Gates may be gone, but the walls and bars of proprietary software he helped create remain, for now. Dismantling them is up to us,” he concludes.
Last week Stallman urged young people in France to take to the streets to protest against a new copyright law that affects the ability of citizens to watch DVDs using free software.