2361 – Should I Stay Or Should I Go

Do you care about Free Software? Linux? Firefox? Open Office? The GIMP? Well, as software users you should. It’s software made by users for users. And even if you choose to use commercial software, Free Software is what gives you choice. Classic capitalism always gyrates against monopolies or duopolies, in other words against a status where the major players peacefully coexist, keeping prices high, innovation low, and always forcing you, the consumer, to upgrade or buy anew because of planned obsolescence.

It’s true, capitalism is extremely innovative in dynamic markets, but once the few biggest players have bought all the smaller ones, it all goes into stasis and the formerly innovative companies tend to replace innovation with litigation and lobbying. It’s sad but true, we have seen it over and over again.

Free Software may look like it has won against the likes of Microsoft, but big business is still busy fighting against it, albeit no longer overtly. They try dirty tricks though. One of them is, to lobby governments or standards organizations into requiring proprietary software either by law or by making it impossible to implement a standard without paying patent licenses. It’s a dirty war and businesses won’t stop waging it. Why shouldn’t they, it’s in their interest.

Oh, let them, I hear you say, in reality it does not make a difference. This is how our economy soars and that’s good for everyone. Isn’t it?


Let me give you an example. There was a standard way to connect computers and monitors. It was called DVI, and there was a second way to do it, called DisplayPort. Basically they did that and only that, they were open and they solved all technical problems. DVI was the old technology that had a compatibility option with analog technology, and DisplayPort was the new, digital only technology. They only had one problem: they didn’t encrypt the signals.

Encryption of a video signal between computer and monitor is an insanely expensive and completely useless technology, at least from a consumer’s point of view. It makes perfect sense though, if you are the entertainment industry. For them it closes an interface that can be used to copy information sent from the computer to the monitor.

Basically the content industry forced the electronics industry to implement HDMI, a connection standard that is complicated and expensive, because core components can only be built by using patented technology. Using that approach, it was guaranteed that nobody could legally create open-source HDMI adapters. There are some more aspects to the story, but that’s the management summary.

And now they try it again. This time they try to lobby or bully the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C, the web’s de-facto standards body) into including provisions for DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) into the Web’s future language, HTML5.

DRM is by definition a proprietary technology, it is covered by a cobweb of patents, and it is not possible to fully implement DRM in Free Software. Sure, Google Chrome is open source and free as in beer, but Google is a big company and you cannot expect it to any more adhere to the former motto of “not doing evil”. The way they have stopped Reader has shown that Google can’t be trusted any more. In the long run Mozilla Firefox may be the only truly free browser on the market, the only browser not completely controlled by a single company. Yes, they partially also depend on Google’s money, but Google does not control them. Nobody does.

Having DRM as a part of HTML would completely change the picture. Suddenly no free browser could be competitive any more, and this is not because DRM is so hard to implement, it is because it is protected by patents.

In other words, please go and sign this petition to the W3C. Together we are strong, together our voice will be heard. That is not a guarantee for victory, but it is a good start, and at least it worked against ACTA, PIPA and SOPA.

The Song of the Day is “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” from the 1982 Clash album “Combat Rock”. Hear it on YouTube.

4 thoughts on “2361 – Should I Stay Or Should I Go”

  1. Andreas, thanks for sharing and explaining this issue so well. The “free” Internet is under attack on so many fronts these days. We certainly don’t need “open” standards to do their work for them. Visited, signed and strongly support an open and free Web.

    1. Thanks. Yes, “they” try to wear us down – and I know that this “they” is overly simplified. Seemingly peace, democracy and freedom are the only things that you can’t make money of, and therefore businesses in general tend to be on the wrong side. But that’s only natural: information, inter-connection, customer self-esteem, that’s all bad for business, because it makes us less sheep 😀

    1. Sam, the reason why I began using Photoshop was, that it was the only program on the market with 16-bit colors, and almost every tutorial on the Internet is about Photoshop. I then switched to Lightroom, because my version of Photoshop does not support the OM-D, while otherwise it completely suffices for the few cases when I want to do things that are not possible in Lightroom. I like the user interfaces and with current prices for Lightroom I can’t imagine switching to another software solution. Additionally by switching to Lightroom I got rid of my separate image database IMatch. While IMatch is a good DAM tool, its interface is dated. Lightroom works just as well for me and it’s even faster and much easier to use.

      At work I really like using Free Software. For years I’ve compiled my own GNU C compiler, gdb, emacs, TeX, X11, etc, and while these times are long gone, I still prefer open solutions like Eclipse. Often they are the best tools for the job, and where they don’t lead significantly, they are still among the best.

      In image processing, things are pretty different. I like The GIMP for what it is, but it is not anywhere near the leading commercial solutions, and even if it were, I wouldn’t switch, because I wouldn’t want to learn the new UI.

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