Microsoft and software morality

Martin Owens recently asked the question “Why do you like Microsoft?” It’s a pretty brave thing to ask an free/libre/open source Linux community like Ubuntu. While some have taken up the challenge, it made me pause and think for a minute. Do I like Microsoft? Do I hate Microsoft? I suppose the answer is somewhere in between. Here’s some reasons that I could like Microsoft:

  • It was my introduction to computing. In particular Windows 3.1 was my intro to a GUI and Windows 95 was my intro to the Internet (where I first downloaded Debian on 11 floppy disks).
  • It basically just works. There are certainly frustrations (why must I reboot so much, why is setting up a printer so difficult) but by-and-large Microsoft OSes work pretty well.
  • There is so much software available for it and it’s a defacto standard. Whether it be the latest game, tax preparation software, or even state of the art scientific software, one can almost always find a Windows version.
  • Microsoft Office is an excellent, if aggravating, software suite. PowerPoint and Excel in particular can provide good quality output with minimal effort.
  • Windows is fairly easy to give support to for family, etc. because there is not hundreds of different “distributions” of it running around and a new release comes out every 5 years or so, not every 6 months.
  • Despite some “interesting” methods, I find the story of a young “nerd” making it big a bit inspiring. These days it seems not uncommon to have < 30 year olds running multi-millon dollar companies but when I was growing up it was pretty unheard of.
  • In the end, it’s kinda nice to be  a “consumer” sometimes rather than having to scratch itches to get what I want done.

Of course there are many reasons to not like Microsoft:

  • When Microsoft products are frustrating there’s really not a lot you can do about it but hope the next version is better.
  • It’s expensive. Windows alone isn’t usually a problem, but adding on MS Office and the “niceties” can get expensive for people on a student’s budget. This is the primary reason I haven’t purchased a Microsoft product in a few years and I’m relegated to using ancient software I’ve already purchased  the couple times a year I find I need it.
  • For me personally I have some moral issues with organizations Microsoft has donated money to in the past. They’re certainly not alone but they are still on my naughty list.
  • Microsoft products just are not that fun. I think it’s  fun to get to test, twiddle, and tweak my OS. Of course I pay for it but still, lots of fun.
  • FLOSS is a more inviting, educational, and community-driven. Microsoft is pretty boring.

So in the end, Microsoft seems to work fine for ~ 90% of people and that’s OK. To me open-source software is a much cooler and hopefully useful way to develop software but I understand why it’s not for everybody.  I’m not sure that it will ever be the dominate or even most efficient development model, but I certainly wouldn’t  mind if it was :-)

I think I view open-source mostly as a fun hobby that sometimes produces great software and can even be turned into a profitable enterprise occasionally. I just don’t see a moral or philosophical imperative to software. Proprietary software does not restrict or take away any freedoms or rights I might have, it’s just not as open and inclusive as it could be. I believe it is a grand mistake to try to cast proprietary software (and companies that produce it) as somehow inherently evil. Open-source software wins when it is the better, more useful, and more valuable product, not when we guilt people into thinking they’re somehow criminal or immoral for not using it. Attaching some sort of morality or idealism to the proprietary/FLOSS software struggle just seems silly to me. It is just software after all, it’s not that earth-shattering or deeply important in the grand scheme of things.