Regular readers of this site should know that I cringe not from controversy. Well, get ready for another one of those radical propositions that make the damsels faint and the gentlemen look up from their mint juleps, drop their monocle, and chortle "My word! The audacity!"
I'm thinking that it's a mistake to have been porting FOSS to the Windows desktop all this time.
I see some of you brought your bag of rotten tomatoes with you. Good - but before you reach for those, see O'Reilly's "The Dubious Benefits of Porting FOSS to Windows". Now, appended to those thoughts, I put before your consideration the following:
Microsoft is like a stoned Pac-Man with the munchies gobbling up Linux lately. The latest recruit is TurboLinux, who is going to help them spread the foulness that is OOXML (pronounced "ooks-mull"). While we're all scampering around in circles asking "What are they doing? Who will they eat next? What is their strategy?", has anybody considered that maybe they've simply decided to keep buying GNU/Linux until they own it? Yes, I know, stupid idea. But stupid ideas are what Microsoft acts on all the time.
Now, I, myself, was introduced to the experience of quality that is FOSS through ports of GNU software onto Windows. And, yes, I switched to a free system. And I am an exception to the rule. As the O'Reilly article muses, it is not necessarily the case that FOSS on Windows is the gateway to converting to an all-FOSS system. After all, you don't have to run Windows to know that free (of charge) software is all over Windows: the Internet hosts tons of freeware, shareware, and pirateware that will run on Windows lickety-split. To a Windows desktop user, GNU software is just one more variety of stuff to freeload.
The uncomfortable fact which we must face, here, is that every FOSS program that we port to Windows adds value to Windows. What do you hear as the number one reason for people to stick to Windows? "I can't run $Favorite_Application on Linux, and my life depends on it!" The apps. The killer apps! At the end of the day, people could care less about the operating system - it's the programs that run on it! People will follow the programs.
I would be happy to see one of two courses of action. Either
(a) Change the licenses to make an exception for running on Windows - namely that it is not permitted. Microsoft shakes its fist-full-of-patents at us, we have our ("don't do Windows") GPL to shake right back. Simply add a clause: You can still re-use, modify, distribute, unless you're talking about putting it on a Windows machine.
(b) Change the licenses so that only the original author may port their own software to Windows - as proprietary only! I like this plan even better. You release a program under a dual license - it's GPL as we now know it to run on every other platform (truly, even Apple's OS X is partly FOSS.), but on Windows the right of porting shall remain the exclusive right of the original author, who shall be free to make a binary-only distribution for Windows and charge as much as they please. Don't like the price? Switch to anything but Windows. Sticking on Windows? Then your generous payment will go to my continued development efforts which will fund open source software development as well as keep the proprietary apps coming for the Windows users.
Oooooh, the scandals that would break out if we pulled that off! The cries of outrage! How dare we! But, hey, honestly, have you ever seen a proposition that solved so many problems with one stroke? Remember, it costs extra time and effort to take a native Linux program and convert it to Microsoft - to do that, you have to pay for Microsoft's proprietary software just to test your product on their platform.
Lots of questions and issues would be raised. Bugs would have to be worked out. Granted. But maybe something like this is the answer that we need to give to Microsoft, and sometime soon.
Just take this away with you: Microsoft has been declaring open war on FOSS from the moment it heard of us. Expect many more thrown chairs and threats. I'm as much in favor of Gandhi-esque pacifism as the next guy - yes, we have been well-behaved and platform agnostic up until now. But isn't it time to ask ourselves - do we want technology freedom for our grandchildren? Then why do we keep on feeding its sworn, raging, bloodthirsty enemy? Why must we continue to give strength to that which threatens to crush us?
Pacifism is one thing. Sharpening the ax for our executioner is another.
OK, I'll go put myself to bed without any supper, now.
UPDATE 7/30/07: Microsoft's attempt to craft some open source licenses has failed to be approved by the OSI due to - and I quote:
"provisions in three out of five of Microsoft's shared-source licenses that restrict source code to running only on the Windows operating system would contravene a fundamental tenet of open-source licenses as laid out by the OSI. By those rules, code must be free for anyone to view, use, modify as they see fit.
It's almost as if the Universe decided to make a point of how wrong I was with this post by hammering it into my noggin. Ouch, Universe, OK, I get it.
The reference link - I really, really hate to do this, but it's Computer World. Got your adblock? Check, got your no-script? Check, have View-> Page Style set to "No Style"? Check. Lead apron, nose plugs, steel-toed boots, radiation shield? OK, here it is.
Update: 3/29/08 - Well, it seems I wasn't so crazy after all. A similar idea has occurred to no less than Larry Rosen, who has come up with a business model described as "Free for open source, everyone else pays". Maybe this idea was still a little crazy, but no more so than Rosen.