Is Microsoft the Great Satan?
This article was given a major rewrite in 2009.
The old version is also
Many people think of Microsoft as the monster menace of the
software industry. There is even a specific campaign to boycott
Microsoft. This feeling has intensified since Microsoft expressed
active hostility towards free software.
In the free software movement, our perspective is different. We
see that Microsoft is doing something that mistreats software users:
proprietary and thus denying users their rightful freedom. But
Microsoft is not alone in this; many other companies do the same thing
to the users. If other companies manage to dominate fewer users than
Microsoft, that is not for lack of trying.
This is not meant to excuse Microsoft. Rather, it is meant as a
reminder that Microsoft is the natural development of a software
industry based on keeping
users divided and subjugating them. When criticizing Microsoft,
we should not focus so narrowly on Microsoft that we let other
proprietary software developers off the hook.
When we reject Microsoft's proprietary software, that is not a
boycott. The word “boycott” means rejection, as a
protest, of products that are otherwise acceptable. Rejecting a
product because it hurts you is not a boycott, just ordinary
rationality. To maintain your freedom, you need to
reject all proprietary software, regardless of who developed
it or who distributes it.
There is no need to reject Microsoft non-software products, or
services that you can use without proprietary software. (When you use
a web service, whether Microsoft's or not, watch out for
programs that it may try to slip into your browser.) When
Microsoft releases free programs, which it occasionally does, they are
acceptable in theory; but most of them depend fundamentally on
Microsoft proprietary software, which we do need to reject, and that
makes them useless for anyone that chooses to live in freedom.
In the “Halloween documents”, leaked in October 1998,
Microsoft executives stated an intention to use various methods to
obstruct the development of free software: specifically, designing
secret protocols and file formats, and patenting algorithms and
These obstructionist policies were not new: Microsoft, and many
other software companies, had been doing them for years. Secrecy
and patents have obstructed us greatly, and they may be more damaging
in the future. For the most part, the companies' main motivation in
doing these things is to attack each other; now, it seems, we are
specifically targeted. Microsoft is using its patents directly to
attack the free software community, and our community is fighting
But Microsoft's patents are not the only patents that threaten us
(and software developers and users generally)—consider the harm
that the MP3 patent has done. Thus, defending against specific
attacks is necessary but not sufficient. The only full solution is
to eliminate software
Other Microsoft practices specifically harmful to the adoption of
free software are the ones designed to build up social inertia that
obstructs migration to GNU/Linux. For instance, when Microsoft
“donates” copies of Windows to schools, it converts these
schools into tools for implanting a dependence on Windows. There are
indications that Microsoft systematically plans these
a campaign against the adoption of GNU/Linux.
Each Windows “upgrade” augments Microsoft's power over
the users; Microsoft plans it that way. And each one is a step
forward in malicious features, which
include Digital Restrictions
Management and back doors. So the FSF runs campaigns to warn
users against “upgrading”
to Windows Vista
and Windows 7. We aim to reduce
the amount of inertia they will create.
We don't hate Microsoft, and we don't consider it the Great Satan.
But we do recognize it as the company that has separated more users
from their freedom than any other, and a powerful avowed enemy of
computer users' freedom. We act accordingly.