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.

20 thoughts on “Microsoft and software morality

  1. hopefully you were just introduced to the windows gui and not the actual win32 api or mfc which is miserable enough to switch anyone to a different platform.

    • Right. I’m not really a programmer so I’ve not had to do any Windows code work. From what I’ve seen other people have to go through to get code to work on Windows I can’t imagine why people would like it to much.

    • And it seems Microsoft already realized this some time ago, which is why we have .Net as the standard programming framework/environment for Vista and Seven.

  2. See there are two view points that one can hold about anything. How this effects me and a more interesting How this effects everyone.

    This blog post is only interested in how Microsoft effects an individual. Where as my blog post is my opinion of Microsoft based on the consideration of social factors.

    Social injustice isn’t personal injustice, some of you guys just don’t get that.

    • I wrote it more from a personal perspective because your blog post asked “Why do you like Microsoft?”. That seemed to be a request for a personal perspective.

      What I don’t get is why you’re taking about social injustice. I really don’t see what Microsoft has to do with social injustice. Has Microsoft promoted some genocide I’m not aware of? Has it promoted discrimination or stomped on civil rights? I haven’t seen it. They are a remarkably successful software company that uses a development model we disagree with, as far as I can tell that’s it. Why is it social injustice when they do things to keep them in business? As long as they stay within the law I have absolutely no reason to invoke “social injustice”.

      • I think there are valid points here for both of you, however I do agree with Jordan on their support of some causes I don’t agree with.
        The same for any company as well. Google has given a lot of money politically in the State of CA to advance some causes I don’t believe in. However that doesn’t stop me from using them.


      • Oh great, now we end up marking monopolies (which are bad from economical perspective, and some people simply equate this with closed source software and are done with it) as “social injustice”. And of course, the ever-present bashing of anyone who dares to disagree.

  3. Pingback: Microsoft and software morality « LaserJock |

  4. “Proprietary software does not restrict or take away any freedoms or rights I might have”.

    This sentence together with you participation on open source just makes me remember those people which enroll into some volunteer/humanity related project, not because they share any of the values or concern with the people they support, but just because they have too much free time and nothing valuable to apply it on.
    I feel sad about that people.

    • So I have to believe that proprietary software is somehow inherently evil and/or takes my freedoms and rights away in order to believe in Linux, Ubuntu, and open-source software? That seems like a pretty narrow view of motivations behind open-source. I don’t have much free time and I’ve dedicated countless hours to Ubuntu and open-source software because I firmly believe it is a better development model for me and a lot of others. I also believe it has real benefits for many users, especially in poorer countries than the one I live in. I just don’t feel the need to go on a moral crusade against software developers and users that don’t feel the same way. It’s my obligation to convince them that my way is technically better, not beat them over the head with the GPL until they repent of their evil ways and embrace my clearly morally superior software.

    • Wow.

      1) You are implying that participation in volunteer/humanitarian projects is not valuable. Now that makes me feel sad about you.

      2) Even if the individuals have nothing better to do in their spare time, so what? In the end they end up helping others. What’s wrong with that?

  5. Hm, it’s pretty interesting to see that most of “love” points are not suitable for me. I don’t have to use office, I play the only game – Heroes3, it’s not “just works” on my home desktop (some SATA problems, I don’t know), and of course I couldn’t find software that will please me until KDE4window released, including text editors, file comparison tools, twin-panel file manager, RSS reader and of course Klipper tool. Wait, there no points left for me to love M$?… Oh, I’ll handle it.

  6. Not once in this blog did you mention *any* of the many cases of embrace-extend-extinguish. You say: “It’s not that…deeply important…”. Apparently you’ve never been involved in anything mission-critical. If any company can be labeled evil, it is MS.

    • Depends on what you mean by “mission-critical”. For “mission-critical” in my career field Microsoft can be an advantage because you can be productive fast. With Linux and open-source software I generally have to work harder to get the same stuff done. I do it because I prefer open-source and I love Linux, but that doesn’t mean it’s morally superior. As far as embrace-extend-extinguish, it seems like a shrewd business strategy and one that is likely to be pretty successful. That’s why we need to show why an open-source model is better.

    Is the way they do business!! They use mob tactics, they compel, they bribe,they force, they stab partners in the back, etc. etc.

  8. Well I think you could say that MS windows and office work ok but Microsoft have the habbit of abusing its position in the market to promote its own products and “standards” instead of open-standards. The fact that you are not free to change any software you buy in order to make it function as you wish is another issue. Do I hate Microsoft. No. I simply don’t consider it as an option for me. FOSS FOR EVER

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