The usual Microsoft at Norway’s schools

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In these days someone might think that Microsoft makes a switch to become a normal software vendor instead of the aggressive monopolist they have been in the past. However, news from Norway show that Microsoft is as far away from that position as usual.

Microsoft is officially fighting for standards – and they are officially fighting for things like interoperability. For example, the Firefox team was invited to get the ability to improve the browser for the then upcoming Windows Vista. Also, a Silverlight plugin was produced for Firefox. And there are im- and export libraries for ODF available.

However, these are small drops, and the pressing question remains: did Microsoft change its behaviour in regard to other, competing software vendors? Did they move away from the “we will crush you with monopoly forces instead of better technology” approach?

Sometimes I’m tempted to say maybe, but then I’m always remembered that the answer is a clear no. That’s sad, btw. So, what happened?

It turned out that in Norway Microsoft forced schools which bought Microsoft products to also pay for Linux and Mac computers. And Microsoft forced the schools to buy a set of other Microsoft products as well if the schools wanted to get better price conditions. And this contract was not an old one – it was filled in 2005!

Fortunately, Norwegian software company Linpro stepped up and complaint about this – and when it turned out that Microsoft had to face sanctions they changed the terms:

Schools will no longer be subjected to Windows licensing for Linux or Mac computers. Furthermore, Microsoft has accepted to discontinue their commercial bundling which required schools to buy several Microsoft products to obtain discounts.

As a side note: this also means that these terms where in a certain degree illegal, I think.

It is nice that the terms had to be changed – however, what I don’t like is that this only happens when brave people stand up and complaint. Think of the Ogg Vorbis/Janus problem which was also declared illegal by judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. In this case a company which was already facing an antitrust lawsuit tried to implement even more monopoly enforcing terms.
The question is now how many other terms are out there which are also illegal, but which are not changed because there is no company/person brave enough or powerful enough to stand up?

To summarize, until now Microsoft haven’t changed a bit. I know there is this talk about interoperability and stuff, but on the other hand Microsoft places FUD very exactly all the time at all rivals. And: working towards interoperability means having at least a little bit of trust. But how can I trust a company which does not stop at being illegal while fighting against rivals?

This reminds me of a recent blog post by Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu:

I don’t believe that […] Microsoft will hold itself to the specification when it does not suit the company to do so

Even more specific:

I have no objections to working with Microsoft in ways that further the cause of free software, and I don’t rule out any collaboration with them, in the event that they adopt a position of constructive engagement with the free software community. It’s not useful to characterize any company as “intrinsically evil for all time”. But I don’t believe that the intent of the current round of agreements is supportive of free software […]

True words. Microsoft might become a good partner for other software vendors sometimes, but the way till there is still quite a long one.

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