[LWN Logo]

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 1999 06:44:10 -0400
From: "Eric S. Raymond" <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>
To: wire-service@snark.thyrsus.com
Subject: Remember Astroturfing?  Now, Microsoft wraps itself in the flag

Remember the `astroturfing' scandal a year ago, when Microsoft was caught
covertly running a fake grassroots campaign of political agitation against the
Department of Justice's antitrust lawsuit? The boys of Redmond have learned
something from their mistakes; this time out, they're not hiding Microsoft's
hand in the so-called "Freedom to Innovate Network (see

Reading this page puts me irresistibly in mind of Samuel Johnson's cynical
aphorism that that "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel".  Nifty
logo, though!  Microsoft would have you believe that the antitrust suit 
represents a fundamental threat to the freedom to pursue technological
innovation and benefit consumers.

In a general sense they're right, of course.  The unintended consequence of
government regulation tend to swamp the intended ones.  The "public-choice"
school of economic history teaches us that antitrust laws have been captured
and abused by politically-connected fat cats to suppress unwanted competition
far more often than they've achieved their original purpose.  This is natural.
When government has too much power, anyone who can't win over consumers in the
market will naturally be tempted to call the Feds down on their opponents.

Still, hearing Microsoft invoke this argument is pretty rich.  Gates & Co. has
an egregious history of using lies, bullying, and covert FUD against its
opponents.  Their faked-videotape fiasco in the DOJ trial was only the most
recent example in a pattern stretching back through the astroturfing scandal
and their successful dirty-tricks campaigns against CP/M-86 and OS/2.

So hearing Microsoft complain that it's being economically oppressed is a
lot like hearing a Communist or Nazi whine about political repression.
"Oh yes?" one wants to ask, "...and how clean are *your* hands?"

Microsoft's call for "freedom to innovate" would be a lot more credible if
they published full interoperability documentation for things like the Word
file format, the SMB file-sharing service, NTLM, and the Exchange wire
protocol.  These proprietary, closed so-called "standards" are the weapons
with which Microsoft maintains its stifling monopoly on the PC software

By all means let's see more freedom to innovate -- not just for Microsoft, but 
for its competitors as well.  You want out from under that lawsuit, Bill?
Then let those lock-in tactics go.  Get serious about open systems and 
open source.  If you did that, your "Freedom to Innovate Network" might 
become something more than a bad joke.
		<a href="http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr">Eric S. Raymond</a>

"Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look
upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest."
        -- Mohandas Gandhi