Dissecting Proprietary Doublespeak–ISC Letter Criticism Part 2

Now to continue what I started yesterday–criticising the letter (PDF) from the Initiative for Software Choice‘s (ISC) Hugo Lueders. Why bother criticizing this? Is it of any consequence? I think so, if not because the letter itself may actually influence policy, but rather because this kind of thing is visible to many people and can spread opinions based on poor reasoning or misleading statements. I think it’s useful to debate such things openly and at least offer alternate lines of critical thought.

Really the last thing that I wanted to comment on was a point in the ISC letter, which discussed fiscal stimulus for R&D in relation to FLOSS/proprietary models and it went a little something like

“Government support that rewards the most innovative and appropriate technological solution without discrimination between different models/standards is the most effective way to stimulate innovation.”

At first glance this sounds fair. But in the context of FLOSS versus proprietary development models, I think sound policy requires deeper and more encompassing thought. From the proprietary perspective in which the statement originates, it neglects the issues involved insofar as who is rewarded and from whom does the reward money originate?

It is after all government support that is in question here so I suppose the money is the money of the people. In FLOSS development terms, any support of FLOSS projects, by default, is freely accessible by anyone and thus the possibility of continued, further innovation is guaranteed. In proprietary development terms this possibility is at best questionable. The government rewards would go into software development without guarantee that any further innovation stem from that development, nor that any part of the public (who’s money went into rewarding its development) would necessarily be able to gain access to the source code. How is that fair to the people funding these government innovation rewards? It’s not.

That’s all I was going to say on the issue. Except then I noticed in today’s news, Wendy Seltzer published an insightful analysis of Microsoft’s new Windows Vista license (oh model of proprietarians). She highlights seven points. To summarize:

Vista’s use is limited unless you agree to the vendor’s proprietary rules. The software checks up on you every now and then to make sure you’re still agreeing, and if you don’t continue playing by the vendor’s rules, it starts cutting off its own functionality. The vendor gets to revoke your rights to your media. You’re not allowed to fix bugs or develop work-arounds to certain problems you may encounter (this is an anti-innovation red flag if ever there was one). Even though you’ve paid for the software it has an artificially imposed life limitation for two instances of use.

This is the sort of example of what a proprietary vendor does. Does it sound like a license that promotes further innovation? It sounds to me like all it does is spread restrictions and limit users’ freedom. What’s worse is to think that anyone could argue this deserves consideration for public funds equal to the consideration given to FLOSS development. What shameful distortions you present, ISC.

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