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Microsoft Build: Same old recycled stuff, no upcycling

by Greg Farough Contributions Published on May 21, 2020 12:26 PM

Often, a proprietary software company's silence can speak as loudly as their latest campaign against a computer user's right to freedom. This is the case with Microsoft's developer-centric "Build" event. While Microsoft announced a few more welcome additions to its free software output, it missed the opportunity to demonstrate a real commitment to user freedom by upcycling its recently abandoned Windows 7 operating system under a free software license.

The predictable failure here fits together well with the corporation's complex history of mixed messaging on freedom, which once compared copyleft to "a virus that gobbles up intellectual property like a Pac-Man," and yet now would have you believe that it "loves [free software]." Our Upcycle Windows 7 petition has given Microsoft the perfect opportunity to take the next step in its promotion of free software, to show that its "love" was real. We are disappointed, but not surprised, that they have ignored this call from us and thousands of potential users.

Although the petition signatures and "special gift" were signed, sealed, and delivered safely to their Redmond, WA headquarters, the FSF has not received any response from a Microsoft representative. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the operations of even the largest companies, but as of yet, we haven't heard anything from Microsoft suggesting this was the reason for the lack of response. They certainly seem to have had the resources to put on a 48-hour video marathon about proprietary software.

We can only take this to mean that it's "business as usual" as far as the corporation is concerned, but things don't have to remain that way. And while Microsoft has failed to live up to its own words, we (and all of our petition signers) aren't just shouting into the void. 13,635 free software supporters from around the globe signed the petition, and the initiative saw more than 6,000 newcomers subscribe to the monthly Free Software Supporter newsletter.

Of course, this small setback is just another bump in the road in our fight for a world in which people can use their computers to work, hack, and play in complete freedom. In this vein, we encourage everyone Microsoft has left in the lurch to give a fully free operating system a try. Your friends, colleagues, and loved ones might be surprised by how free software's elegance and ease-of-use continues to improve each day, and you might get your first glimpse of participating in a collaborative digital community: one in which your contributions, whether they're in the form of code, translations, graphic design, or bug reports, can benefit the experience of users everywhere. And unlike a certain operating system from Redmond, we can assure you that GNU/Linux isn't going anywhere anytime soon. After all, it powers the Internet!

There's still time for Microsoft to step up and show its respect for user freedom, and if they do, we're ready to give them all the assistance that they need. We'll continue to welcome the contributions Microsoft has been making to various free software programs. It's not that we don't appreciate those. Rather, it's that they still exist in a context where the company appears to be trying to get the best of both worlds -- proprietary and free -- and they just passed up a huge opportunity to show their commitment by ending the waffling. But if they still choose not to, we and every other free software activist can take consolation in the fact that to deny users freedom is to be on the wrong side of history.

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