It appears that two important days in the history of computing were extremely close to each other. If you asked me, 27th Sept is the more influential date today. That is, Richard Stallman’s GNU announcement trumphs MS Antitrust judgement.
Why is RMS’s GNU announcement an important one? It is widely acknowledged as the beginning of Free Software. It is something that is still going strong today. I will actually argue that it is getting stronger and stronger every day. While RMS and the other old guards will see it as simply continuing the tradition of sharing software. Most of FOSS supporters today, including me, being brought up from proprietary software, view it as a change from proprietary mindset to a free and open mindset. While we now bath in the glory of free and open source software, let’s not forget the ground work and the hard toil RMS and other ‘old’ guard put in in the Dark Age where they were seen as old dinosaurs compared to the world of new and exciting world of ‘proprietary’ software.
Why is MS antitrust judgment an important one? That is the first of many major setbacks for Microsoft. I will say it is the most important setback. That changed the computing landscape forever. The big thing that it did was to force Microsoft to change its view of the business practice completely. While it is true that Microsoft is still dominant in the desktop market today, without the judgment we will not see vendors dipping their toe into selling Ubuntu pre-installed. On the mobile phone segment we are likely not to see Symbian OS, or Android or MeeGo. In the server front we will see Windows instead of Linux. All the result of Microsoft uses the same tactics it used to become the dominant OS on desktop to grave effect to muscle into these markets. The judgment turned Microsoft from an unstoppable gigantic machine that knows no bound to one gigantic machine that is aware of its limitation. Sure, the judgment could had done more even in retrospect. By and large, I have to say it worked.
Finally, why does RMS’s announcement triumphs Microsoft’s Judgment? While both Microsoft and Free Software is going strong, the momentum behind Free Software is much stronger. In a few places Microsoft has lose its shine, in others, it looks like a dinosaur. I will say Microsoft looks tired. Therefore in 2010, RMS wins.
However, as IBM demonstrated, a dinosaur can evolve. That ability to evolve is part of Microsoft DNA. There is a lot of bad things we can say about Microsoft, but not evolving is not one. In Microsoft’s evolution, all we see is wrong turns and dead ends currently. However, let’s not forget wrong turns and dead ends is part of the evolution. All it takes is one correct mutation. With all the evolution that Microsoft is trying, the company is not playing the probability game. Rather, it is playing the statistics certainty that one day, the correct mutation will come along.
Who knows, in 2020, I might conclude RMS is the dinosaur.