Why "pirating" Windows hurts Linux more than it hurts Microsoft..

While I have written about this topic in the past, I never wrote something as extensive as Dave Gutteridge on the topic The impact of pirated software on free software.

In addition to the points made in his article, I would want to add two important details. The first is that Microsoft has already admitted that they consider infringement of their software to be a benefit to them. (See: Microsoft's Jeff Raikes says : If you must pirate, use counterfeit Windows)

The other issue is political lobbying.

Here in Canada Microsoft, Apple and Adobe (via CAAST, Canada's branch of the BSA) are one of two largest lobby groups (The other being CRIA, Canada's branch of the RIAA, and directly lead by misinformation supplied by Microsoft and Apple about "DRM") are the strongest lobbiests for the ratification of the 1996 WIPO treaties and other changes in the law that radically benefit non-FLOSS software against FLOSS software.

This is why I, as a FLOSS supporter, get quite angry when people infringe software copyright. They aren't "sticking it to the man" with Microsoft, Apple or Adobe being the organization harmed, they are really sticking it to the global FLOSS ecosystem that includes everyone from volunteers and more honest companies. They are handing members of the BSA/CAAST and duped organizations like the recording and motion picture industry more statistical power to turn back the clock and revoke our information technology property rights and other rights.

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Operating systems vs Applications

Additional thoughts have come to mind after thinking about this more. The main thought is that I believe we need to separate operating systems from applications in the analysis.

Operating systems are treated by most people like the BIOS, something that just comes as part of the hardware that they need in order to run applications. It is not thought of as a separate commodity, and thus I think it is extremely hard to get people to think it is reasonable to think of paying for it separately, or for them to think of alternatives from what came with the hardware.

Most computers come with the OS bundled. While I have no computer running any Microsoft operating system, several have Microsoft OS stickers on them (and thus licenses). There was a laptop I was thinking of buying last week where I asked the dealer for the price without the Microsoft operating system, and was told that this option didn't exist.

While Microsoft might be able to legitimately claim that they aren't getting money for operating system upgrades, I think it would be hard for them to convince me that they aren't getting adequate royalties for new hardware.

Applications are entirely different. These are sold as separate commodities, and when people install without buying they most often recognize they are doing something wrong. The examples I have seen recently of unauthorized software were not for operating systems, but for applications like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. This is one of the many reasons why I carry around copies of TheOpenCD.org (project funded by Canonical Ltd, same folks who fund Ubuntu) which is legally free FLOSS replacements for the most commonly infringed (illegally free) BSA member software.

I believe that the "but both are free" (one legally free, the other illegally free) analysis happens with applications, but I'm not convinced that it happens with operating systems. While some tiny subset of people (technical folks) think of operating systems as separate from the hardware, I suspect most people make their operating system choices at the same time as they buy hardware. The best and possibly only time to convince most people to try Linux is with their next computer purchase. This is also why it is so important that dealers pre-install Linux as an option, otherwise Linux will remain something that only the more technical people do (or situations like my parents which get all their computer support from family members).

I really wish more of the analysis moved away from operating systems to applications. Operating systems are the least important software component for regular people, even if it is the most important component for the techies. The article by Dave Gutteridge would have been improved by focused more on OpenOffice.org and similar home/desktop applications than Linux.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.