11 May 2008

How Microsoft Uses Open Against Open

To my shame, Peter Murray-Rust put up a reply to my post below in just a few hours, where it had taken me days to answer his original posting. So with this reply to his reply, I'm trying to do better.

Peter includes this disclaimer:

Before diving in I should get a potential conflict of interest out of the way. We are about to receive funding from Microsoft (for the OREChem project (see post on Chemistry Repositories). This does not buy an artificial silence on commenting on Microsoft’s practice, any more than if I accept a grant from JISC or EPSRC I will refrain from speaking my mind. Nor do I have to love their products. I currently hate Vista. However I need an MS OS on my machine because it makes it easier to use tools such as LiveMeeting (a system for sharing desktops). I’ve used LiveMeeting once and I liked it. OK, Joe did the driving because he knows his way round better than me, but I can learn it. Not everything MS does is bad and not everything it does is good.

Now, I have not the slightest doubt about Peter's future independence, but I do think it's an interesting comment.

It shows that even such a key defender of openness as Peter finds he "needs an MS OS on my machine because it makes it easier to use tools such as LiveMeeting (a system for sharing desktops)". I presume that Microsoft's money comes without strings, but inevitably its availability will make buying its own software easier. Where a cash-strapped project would cast an interested eye over free alternatives, and be willing to pay the price of grappling with new software, those with enough funding - from Microsoft or elsewhere - may well just opt for the familiar.

This is doubtless happening all over the place in science, which means that many simply forget that there are alternatives to Microsoft's products. Instead - quite understandably - they concentrate on the science. But what this implies is that however open that science may be, however much it pushes forward open access and open data, say, its roots are likely remain in the arid soil of closed source, and that Microsoft's money has the effect of co-opting supporters of these other kinds of openness in its own battle against the foundational openness of free software.


ZZ said...

I agree with your points, not only in this present article, but more importantly with regards to ODF versus OOXML. I have collected some facts and links about this on my blog:

It is sad that Peter is not willing to advocate ODF, because it isn't used by enough Chemists in his opinion. Interestingly, he himself pointed out the flaw in this very same logic about the use of CML few days earlier on his blog:

AJW: It would be good to see CML be a standard. I’ve been following it for a
decade and when it gets accepted by a larger majority then we might adopt it.

PMR: Chicken and egg… :-) You won’t adopt it until other people adopt it and
they won’t adopt it till you do.

He is a great advocate of open access, so it would be excellent if he would also join us to advocate ODF. Well, one can always hope... :-)


Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for the link with its very full summary of just what's wrong with OOXML. I've written about this extensively, but it's good to see others getting the message out.