Murphy's Musings: Editorial
This is a highly irregular, and equally irreverent, set of editorials reflecting my views on a wide swath of issues. I will likely contribute some ramblings here as the mood strikes me. You may find yourself in agreement with my point of view, or not. Consider this an exercise of US First Amendment rights :-)
It's All About Freedom
If you've glanced at even a small portion of what I've made available on the web, or had the chance to talk with me for more than two minutes, you'll know why I sometimes sign myself with the title "Linux Evangelist. I've been fascinated by, an avid user of, and an outspoken advocate of the Linux, Open Source, and Free Software movements for a very long time.
My first exposure to this wonderful world was in the late 1980's when I
became aware of Richard Stallman's GNU
project, the General Public License (GPL), and the
Then in 1993, I had become aware of Linux, a Unix-like kernel written by a Finnish Computer Science Student for his Intel 386-based PC, and released under the terms of the GPL. Late that year I got the opportunity to actually use the system, as a Virginia Tech student wandered in to my workplace one rainy fall day and turned our world upside down (not overnight, but this is where it all started). In a nutshell, he ported our main production application (AIPS) to Linux. We had never been able to run it on a PC before, and our aim was (still is) to give our users the ability to run this data reduction and analysis package themselves, so this was truly a revolutionary moment.
The next year, I got a new PC, and within a few months had it dual booting to Linux (4 megabytes, a 486/33SX, no FPU, 320 MByte disk, 15-inch monitor; it could run X but barely; worked better after upgrading to a whopping 8 Megs). And we started aggressively deploying X86/Linux systems as a viable alternative to expensive proprietary RISC based Unix workstations in the office, after Moore's law and some clever optimization tuning made our application more than cost-competitive (bang for the buck so to speak) on the former. As I type this, the IT division I run at my workplace is moving to near-100% Linux presence on our Unix side, both on the desktop and on the servers.
That sets the scene for my latest rant. My views on the current US Vs. Microsoft anti-trust lawsuit are no secret. The honorable Thomas Penfield Jackson was right on the mark; Microsoft is effectively a monopoly, they are stifling innovation and behaving in almost every way like the Trusts did in the late 19th and early 20th Century before they were tackled with the original Anti-Trust legislation.
I want you to think about Freedom.
This is a word that has been bandied about a lot recently, especially in the advent of the events of September 11, 2001. Paul McCartney even wrote a song about it, and my apologies to him for borrowing the title for this editorial, but what I have to say is all about Freedom and how small groups of people would like to take our rights and our freedom away for their own personal benefit, agenda, and gain.
I want the right to be able to choose the operating system (OS) I run on my computers, both at home and at work. I do not want to have to pay a Microsoft Tax when I buy a new computer, but anymore that seems impossible to avoid; I will probably end up having to build my next computer from components to avoid such a tax. But, you may say, you can get a Linux based system from companies like Dell! Well, that was true for a while (and my personal laptop was one such system; it came with Linux and no other OS), but this quote from a recent E-Week article shatters that argument:
Kuney introduced a Microsoft memo to Ballmer, from the spring of 2000, that called into question Dell Computer Corp.'s backing of Linux. The memo said it was "untenable that a Windows Premier Partner would be promoting Linux." A subsequent memo, from early 2001, showed that Dell had disbanded its Linux business unit, laid off the head of the unit and dispersed the talent, Kuney said.
(E-Week, March 18, 2002)
For context here, Steve Ballmer is the CEO of Microsoft, and Steven Kuney is an attorney representing the litigating states.
And if you think this is bad, it's only the tip of the iceberg. This Slashdot Discussion centers around a claim made in the New York Times that Microsoft needed to "prevent competitors' programmes from being installed for the consumer's best interest". Er, excuse me? Isn't that the same as Ford telling me what cars I can put in my garage, or what brands of gasoline/petrol I can put in my car?
I'm sorry, but this behaviour by a bullying, monopolistic, arrogant and technically dubious company is egregious, outrageous, and must be stopped. Microsoft seems not to understand the importance of Freedom; we must ensure they learn it.
- Pat Murphy, April 28th, 2002.
 Despite what you may have been led to believe, Microsoft did not invent the internet, web browsers, windowing systems, e-mail, word processors, spreadsheets, databases, or most anything else. They copied (usually badly), adopted (usually by "embrace and extend" predatory practices), but have as far as I know never really innovated. And their core operating systems are based on a long legacy of undisciplined patching, add-ons, and a "give all the customers everything they ever asked for" approach.
Patrick P. Murphy
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA