FSF launches Windows 7 Sins campaign

Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Aug 26, 2009 GMT
Bruce Byfield

The Free Software Foundation is following up its Bad Vista campaign with a new campaign called The Windows 7 Sins. The campaign is timed to coincide with the upcoming release of Windows 7, but is aimed at not only Microsoft products, but at proprietary software in general.

What distinguishes the campaign from the typical anti-Microsoft complaints is that its focus is not the technical problems with Windows, but the ethical issues involved.

Peter Brown, the FSF executive director, notes that enlisting people against Windows Vista was relatively easy because of the widely known problems with the release. Now, however, the FSF is stressing the ethical arguments against proprietary software in the hopes of appealing to a larger, non-technical audience.

"We're focusing this time much more on the ethical consequences of reinvesting in Microsoft," Brown says. "We should be beyond this now; we should as a society be breaking our obsession with proprietary software. It's clearly against the benefit of society, and free software is clearly a good alternative. It's ready to go, there's no more need to wait until it's ready for the mainstream -- we know that's rubbish -- and we call people out and make a shift in our society."

With this message, the campaign's name is not just a play on the name of the upcoming Windows release, but an emphasis of its main points. According to the campaign web site, the sins of Windows and proprietary software are:

  • Poisoning education by encouraging students to learn how to use Microsoft products instead of more generalized computing skills.
  • Invading privacy by the use of software like the so-called Windows Genuine Advantage to inspect users' hard drives.
  • Engaging in monopolistic practices, such as the pre-installation of Windows on new computers.
  • Locking in users to constant upgrades by stopping the support of earlier releases and increasing the hardware requirements for newer versions.
  • Preventing the use and spread of open standards, such as the Open Document Format and pushing proprietary alternatives instead.
  • Enforcing digital restrictions against copying.
  • Threatening users' security.

Both the accusations and the language in which they make emphasize ethics. Where technical aspects are mentioned at all, they are referred to only in high level language, with a focus on their consequences, and without any details that require expert understanding.

The campaign launch
The campaign kicked off today with street theater on Boston Common. While supporters danced around one of their number wearing a giant mask of a GNU, the symbol of the original free software project, others handed out flyers and engaged passersby in conversation about the issues involved. Meanwhile, giant boxes of Microsoft and Apple software were thrown into an equally large trash can to highlight the rejection of proprietary software that is the key message of the campaign.

At the same time, the campaign is sending a two page letter to every member of the Fortune 500 except Microsoft ("we didn't think Microsoft would listen," the campaign web site explains).

Elaborating on the seven sins, the letter is intended for those within the corporations who will decide whether to upgrade to Windows 7. "For many years, companies like yours have relied on Microsoft and the Windows operating system. With the release of Windows 7 in October, Microsoft is selling the new version on a combination of fear and threats," the letter explains. "Because of Microsoft, many decision makers in America are now wholly dependent on the Windows operating system for their business computing."

The letter goes on to make the case for free software as a genuine alternative, noting that even Microsoft is on record as seeing it as a threat to the company's monopoly of desktop computing. "Take the next step -- evaluate your organizations opportunity to use free software -- and sign-up for regular announcements on making the move away from Windows and to receive information about the work of the Free Software Foundation," the letter concludes.

The campaign is also encouraging supporters to submit the names of people in other companies and organizations who might benefit from the letter. For every $25 a supporter donates, the campaign will send another 50 letters. According to Peter Brown, FSF executive director, on the first day, the campaign was already receiving numerous donations and suggestions for other recipients, mostly decision makers in governments and charitable organizations.

Upcoming plans
Brown notes that making long-range plans for the campaign is complicated by the fact that the official release of Windows 7 has yet to be announced. "The problem with that is that we haven't yet got confirmation of actual Window 7 launch events," Brown says. "When Vista came out, they were kind enough to give us all sorts of advanced warning for us to plan events."

All the same, tentative plans are already being laid. The campaign letter is in the process of being translated in multiple languages, so that it can be used globally.

In addition, Brown is hoping to use the campaign to differentiate between the free software and open source communities. Although the two overlap to a considerable extent, and often cooperate, Brown suggests that it is important to keep the distinction between them clear.

Referring to the question of whether to use Windows 7, Brown says, "The open source people believe that this is just a business matter, a technical matter. They want to compete on technical issues. They don't want to bring up the question of ethics. But we're going to be reaching out to the general community. We want the user to be the issue."

This is not the first time that the FSF has tried to introduce free software to the general public. In fact, this aim has been a concern of the FSF for several years, most notably in the Free Software, Free Society campaign, which attempted to enlist the support of environmental and social activists. However, the Windows 7 Sins campaign seems to be shaping up to be the FSF's greatest effort to date to enlist the support of general computer users. For those of us who already support the campaign's arguments, its degree of success may be as interesting to watch as its tactics and arguments.


  • What next

    Wow, I just realised that throughout school I was only taught software made by microsoft, first windows, then office and excel suits.
    On your CV you don't put "using data spreadsheets and calculation sheets", you say "using excel"...
    As much as I like using windows 7, it is true, Microsoft is breaching so many ethical rights unnoticably by creating a monopoly, the worst fear for me is that Google is starting to do this too...

    Christine from http://www.giftsforbridesmaids.org.uk
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