I applaud the European Union for trying to persuade Microsoft Corporation to allow more competition in Windows 8. However, they are trying to solve the wrong problem. In The Linux Week in Review 45, I will give my opinion as to what problem we should REALLY be trying to solve.
The European Union Encourages Microsoft to Include a Browser Ballot in Windows 8
For several years now, the European Union has been trying to encourage Microsoft to allow more competition by allowing competing software on Windows. In Windows 8, Microsoft has agreed to insert a ballot that allows the user to choose alternative browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, and Opera (1). The European Union has great intentions, and they are doing great work, but it does not get at the heart of the problem. Even if the EU were to force Microsoft to allow competing browsers, the real issue would still be control of the hardware. We have seen this with the recent revelation that GNU/Linux will not be welcome on ARM Windows 8 devices (2).
Let us say that a large number of GNU/Linux and Android users were to petition the EU antitrust regulators to allow open source operating systems on Windows 8 ARM devices. This would still not force the device manufacturers to give Free Software developers access to the low level design parameters that they would need to write their best source code. This problem reared its ugly head recently with the Vivaldi Linux tablet. People wanted to buy the device, but the device manufacturer would not release the information that KDE needed to build the device properly (3). Now KDE is left having to scramble for alternatives. Unless the FOSS community gets control of both the hardware AND the software, we will always be at the mercy of people who do not have our best interests at heart. It is very easy to point out the problems, but what are the solutions? That is what I am about to reveal.
Vote With Our Dollars: We Need To Fund Alternatives
As long as a conflict of interests exists between a corporation’s profits and what is in the best interest of the consumer, the problem will always exist. Hardware manufacturers have a strong incentive to lock users to a particular platform, whether it is a superior one or an inferior one. The only long term solution is to completely bypass vendors that do not have our best interests at heart. How do we do this?
We have to directly fund hardware manufacturers that make the open platforms that we want. GNU/Linux, FreeBSD, Android etc. already provide the software openness; as soon as we introduce this same concept to hardware on a large scale, it won’t matter what Microsoft and other similar corporations do. Their closed systems will remain stationary on store shelves collecting dust.
So how do we fund open hardware? Here are a few options with their pros and cons:
- Fund open hardware projects via Kickstarter:
- Pros: funding a project via Kickstarter is fast and easy.
- Cons: building a hardware platform is costly, takes time, and needs continuous funding. The one time funds provided by Kickstarter probably won’t be enough. The projects only gets the funds if people pledge 100% or more of what the entrepreneur asked for.
- Fund open hardware projects via Indiegogo:
- Pros: funding a project is fast and easy. The entrepreneur gets the funds even if they don’t raise 100% of what they wanted.
- Cons: like Kickstarter, they won’t be able to raise enough for long term operations.
So in the two options that I presented above, an enthusiastic hardware developer would have a very hard time successfully bringing a hardware product to market that could effectively compete against the locked down hardware currently on the market. There is another alternative.
James McCarthy, A Visionary Introduces a Decentralized Global Stock Exchange
In the traditional stock market, a company is created with a great idea. Eventually, the company may go public in an IPO process, allowing investors to buy shares of the profits. Several months ago, a pioneering visionary named James McCarthy, a former engineer at Sun Microsystems, formed a global stock exchange that is an alternative to traditional stock exchanges. That exchange is called the GLBSE, the Global Bitcoin Stock Exchange (4). It works just like a traditional stock exchange, except that all investments, dividends, fees etc. are in Bitcoins instead of traditional fiat currencies. Unfortunately , almost all of the investments currently available on the GLBSE are Bitcoin mining businesses. However, there is no reason that a more traditional business could not also get venture funding via the GLBSE.
An enterprising open hardware manufacturer could come up with a business plan and a good presentation of the plan, such as a Youtube video. Perhaps they could also design and build a demonstration unit of the hardware product. He or she could then create a security on the GLBSE and open it up to investors. These investors would then be investing in the company, and helping it to build the hardware product on a bigger scale. If the idea were a good one, the entrepreneur could get long term funding by having people buy shares of the stock with Bitcoins. There are several currency exchanges worldwide that will let the investors change their native currencies to Bitcoins and back. The decentralized nature of the system would make it very difficult for anyone to interfere with or take control of the process.
The FOSS community likes to tinker, and we like to control our own software and hardware. The process that I have described above would remove the middleman, and it would allow US to directly fund the ideas that we want to see come to fruition.
As we progress towards the middle of the 21st century, we should be gaining more freedoms, not losing them. However, the old methods, ideas, and restraints die hard. As Windows 8 looms, it is evident that Microsoft wants to take us backwards to a time when a purchaser of products had fewer choices. Their vision is of a future where you walk into a Best Buy, every tablet is running Windows 8, and you have no other options. This would be an unfortunate step backwards into the annals of consumer slavery. However, the human mind is both wily and crafty. The more that you try to enslave it, the more it will concoct ways around your chains. Freedom is the most natural state of man.
I look forward to visiting with you once more in TLWIR 46!
(1) Bright, P. (2012, September 10). Microsoft brings browser ballot to windows 8 as eu antitrust probe continues.
(2) Halfacree, G. (2012, January 16). Microsoft blocks linux from windows 8 arm hardware.
(3) Nouveau, T. (2012, September 19). Kde devs delay vivaldi linux tablet.
(4) No author. (no date). Global bitcoin stock exchange.