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Copyright Per Inge Oestmoen 2002

Beyond doubt, it was very fortunate that the Linux movement started with and spent its "childhood" on the server market. This because the server world is the backbone of network computing and of the Internet. Since Linux and Open Source has established itself as a widespread standard within the network sectors, the proprietary software companies cannot realistically stop it by extensive lobbying towards politicians and lawmakers or by buying themselves into hardware makers in order to force them into producing motherboards incompatible with Linux and OS programs. Luckily, it is already too late for that.

However, the ultimate future of Linux and Open Source depends on its ability to win the desktop. Unless everyday users can discover that Linux is an attractive choice, Windows will continue to rule.


The opportunity for Linux/Open Source to win the desktop has never been greater than it is now. Why? Because of the software straitjacket into which Microsoft and most probably other software companies want to force their users.

With the XP series' Product Activation the user has been made dependent on the software company's service in order to install his or her working tool on his or her own personal computer. It is really odd that this aspect has seldom been brought to the fore, even if forced registration or/and activation means that the user cannot install and use the program(s) independent of the software company. This means that the software company has effectively taken control of the machine. When the activation/registration service is unavailable, the program version one has is no longer supported, or the company for some reason refuses to authorize the installation, one has paid for a bunch of useless code, and the machine will be unusable. A variety of this is of course software that has been programmed to expire after a predetermined period, which poses no technical difficulty.

If a software company controls the software on the computer, it de facto is in control of the whole machine and its use. It should be fairly obvious that from a user viewpoint it is completely intolerable to use software that cannot be installed and used today, tomorrow and in X number of years, on the present or future computer of our choice, without need for "permission" from a software company.


We need to make people aware of the ramifications of rigid license "agreements," forced registration and activation schemes, and this is the strongest argument for Linux and Open Source solutions: They give people back the right to be masters of their own computers.

A similar reasoning can be used in connection with the software business' plans to change software from individual, personal and locally controlled working tools into subscription services. With software as a rented service it is impossible to do as much as write a letter to Grandma without having paid the subscription. With the coming of hard drives and storage media with ever greater storage capacity it is totally unneccessary as well as very unwise to base our computing on software as a subscription service.

Data security in its broadest sense, encompassing but of course not limited to each unit's or individual's full control over the software and hardware, can only be consistently maintained by local solutions where each firm and each user controls the computers, and if the large software businesses intend to secure their future revenue by going over to software rental as their business model, we ought to just say "no". This is another very strong reason why Linux and Open Source is a much preferable solution. This is not to say that online solutions cannot have their place as a complement to local processing and storage of files, but there is no substitute for local and individual management of one's working tools and data.


We know that the large software companies have grave misgivings over Open Source. Some representatives of the proprietary software business have gone so far as to call Open Source a threat to the intellectual property business, and they have even stated that they may not have done enough to make the lawmakers "understand the threat." Such sinister language testifies to the proprietary software businesses' very correctly perceiving Open Source a threat. Then exactly to what is Open Source a threat?

Open Source is a threat to the controlling business model of the large companies who make proprietary software, a model which imposes strong restrictions on the users' use of the programs. This is what we need to make people aware of. It is of course not a threat to the intellectual property as such. Open Source is itself protected by copyright, which also ensures a writer his or her right to protect the code from being appropriated by a big company.

The thing is that the large proprietary software makers do not want people to choose Open Source solutions. In particular they do not want Open Source to win the desktop. That is why they are very eager to spread the impression that Linux and Open Source is not suitable for desktop computing. They cannot outlaw it because Linux is already so firmly entrenched in the server market, so they have to use another clever strategy. What they can do, is to make every effort to convince the public that only proprietary software as produced by Microsoft and others can be functional and useful. That is why some corporate lawyers and hired analysts have written elaborately about the alleged shortcomings of Open Source as a viable desktop solution.

It is imperative to realize that this is their way of fighting for their own future. The restrictive software licenses and other schemes that are designed to deprive the user of the software of the possibility of being master over one's own computer are not to the computer owners' advantage, they are the mechanisms employed by these businesses in order to establish and maintain control over their users.

Here the proprietary software companies will predictably defend themselves by asserting that they need to impose restrictive licenses, copy "protection" schemes and other limitations on the users in order to defend their business and their intellectual property. Our answer must be to question a business model that is based on control, restriction and the threat of punishment. The role of Open Source has long ago proven its viability, and the Open Source model is evidently realistic. This is what the proprietary businesses have grudgingly had to admit. Hence their misrepresentations of Open Source, amounting to well-planned anti-campaigns. They know full well that the day a large portion of the world's computer users understand that the large business model for development, production and distribution of computer software is not needed, their centralized, restrictive and controlling model will find favor with fewer customers and the income of these businesses will be drastically reduced.

These companies habitually justify themselves by referring to the software business' importance to society because of all the people they employ and the sizable tax incomes generated. We should never let ourselves be swayed by these arguments. The centralized and controlling model for software development is not required, and in the long run it is detrimental to society because of its strong need to control the market, the user and their computers in order to secure their revenue. This of course lies at the root of all their intolerably restrictive licenses and regulations, their lobbying and less than honorable liaisons with politicians and lawmakers. It is also the reason why many of them would like to hire out software as a subscription service without the option of having local software installations.


We need to accept that many software companies have to go. Society must say a firm "no" to the restrictions these companies intend to impose upon us and our computing. We cannot accept their ways merely because they employ large numbers of people. Since the primary value of software lies in its worth as working tools for producing further value, we have to focus on this aspect instead of letting us be manipulated by the software industry's attempts to justify their control over our future computing. No industry, no matter how many employees it may presently have, can reasonably claim a right to be protected against a changing world.

When the business model of the large companies has finally lived out its days, there will always be opportunities for smaller firms and creative individuals who can offer their solutions to the market. It is another of the misunderstandings deliberately put forward by the big proprietary software manufacturers that Open Source is about the demand that everything be free. It is not so. We have every reason to believe that the computing future in a forever-changing world will always provide opportunities for different free and commercial creative solutions that will benefit the users as well as create income for the producers. This variety of solutions should be actively encouraged by governments and private individuals alike.

In conclusion, we absolutely need to leave the large business model for development and distribution of software. According to this picture, it is crucial to understand that Open Source must go to the desktop and stay there for this to happen.

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EFN is a Norwegian civil liberties organization working to protect and promote freedom of expression, privacy, the use of open media formats on the net, public access to online resources and information, and open standards for IT infrastructures. Inspired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the USA, EFN was founded January 19, 1995.

Last updated by   Thomas Gramstad     May 22   2003.

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