L. Neil Smith's
Special to TLE
Well, evil may be a little strong. The word evil should be reserved for things like bombing civilians, turning airports into miniature Moscows, detaining people without warrants and other crimes against humanity, usually committed by the state.
However, Bill Gates is no Hank Rearden, heroically fighting the forces of the state. Gates is a statist and his Microsoft is a bully that needs to be punished. But by you, and not by government.
The dissenting states' lawsuit against Microsoft is without merit and needs to be dropped. Additionally, there should be absolutely no penalty of any type imposed by US District Judge Colleen Kollar- Kotelly. There is a case to be made against the Redmond giant, but it needs to be made in the marketplace and not in the courtrooms.
There's a tendency for libertarians to rush to Microsoft's defense primarily because of the federal government's heavy-handed lawsuit, followed by the money-grubbing tactics of the various states attorneys-general. The picture of competitors like Netscape (itself owned by AOL-Time/Warner) rushing to use the state to club a rival certainly isn't very pretty either. However, libertarians (especially cyber-libertarians) need to look beyond this and examine all the facts.
If the state framed a known terrorist, you might decry its tactics in doing so, but you wouldn't enshrine the terrorist as a hero either.
Microsoft has historically used tactics in the marketplace that while effective are less than ethical. They have demonstrably lied about rival products, attempted to spread FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about them, themselves used the courts to gain advantage, stolen source code from competitors and more.
They are also the beneficiaries of uncounted billions of tax dollars spent by government bureaucrats worldwide on computer software. This in itself is something that should raise eyebrows in the libertarian community. The software that eventually chains you may well be built on a foundation of Microsoft .NET
Rather than being an innovative company as Billionaire Bill proclaims, almost every product they have offered has either been purchased (MSDOS, Front Page) licensed (Internet Explorer from Mosaic), copied or stolen (Stac Electronics disk compression code.) Microsoft's very first product, the BASIC interpreter for the Altair computer, was a straight lift from public domain source code. Windows itself was copied from the Apple Macintosh.
Microsoft has also cost us all mountains of money due to it's shoddy security practices that allow the rampant spread of computer viruses. The 'innovators' of Redmond single-handedly converted computer viruses from a relatively rare distraction into an every-day problem that plagues system administrators worldwide. Where virus creation once required a highly skilled assembly language programmer, now garden- variety email viruses can be created by a 15 year old with a rudimentary knowledge of Visual Basic.
Additionally, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is no friend of liberty. All of those Microsoft billions are supporting causes that most libertarians would turn their noses up at, ranging from UN co- funded health programs that serve to increase state power, programs to expand the reach of government public schools, various victim disarmament organizations that are anti-2nd Amendment and more. Visit the foundation web site at www.gatesfoundation.org and see for yourself. Virtually every 'cause' supported is either a doctrinaire example of political correctness or a frank example of corporate-state partnerships.
As I mentioned, I'm no advocate of the government action against Microsoft. None of the government entities have any business attempting to regulate the rapidly evolving world of computer technology. However, as libertarians and supporters of freedom we have a duty to reward the friends of liberty and take a stand against those who would ultimately diminish it.
Luckily, the technologists of the world have placed a potent weapon in our hands. It's called open source software.
I'm writing this column on a computer running the Linux operating system, using a word processor called OpenOffice. Both pieces of software are free. Free as in cost and free as in speech. The software is guaranteed to be free from any government back doors, keyboard sniffers or the like, and should I wish to do so, I can examine the source code to be sure. My email is invulnerable to the Outlook email virus of the day, and I have very little fear that opening an email attachment will trash my system. My webzine at elkins.org runs on Linux as well, using the free and open source Apache web server. It too is nearly invulnerable to malicious attacks such as the infamous 'Code Red' virus that disabled so many Microsoft web servers not so long ago.
Don't be fooled into thinking that Microsoft is a heroic company because of their spat with the state. They aren't and they are actually in partnership with those who want to enslave you.
Break the chains with open source software.