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South African Minister Locks Horns With Microsoft 325

naheiw writes "The South African minister of public service and administration on Monday addressed the opening of the Idlelo 3 free software conference in Dakar, Senegal, saying that software patents posed a considerable threat to the growth of the African software sector (video). Microsoft responded aggressively, saying that 'there is no such thing as free software. Nobody develops software for charity.'"
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South African Minister Locks Horns With Microsoft

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:25PM (#22862286)
    are they smoking micro-crack again?
  • Where is Stallman? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:26PM (#22862306) Homepage
    The growth of Free Software in Africa could be encouraged were Stallman to visit the area. His visit to India was enormously successful. Would that we have a better and more cheaply available biography of the man and his vision (O'Reilly's Free as in Freedom [] is good, but could be better) that could be distributed to influential figures in the African IT world.
  • Nobody (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ricin ( 236107 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:27PM (#22862326)
    "Nobody develops software for charity"

    Hello, my name is Nobody. You know, the one that's prefect. Same dude.
    • Re:Nobody (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:30PM (#22862360) Homepage
      My jaw dropped too to see that South African Microsoft executive claim that. I've done a few transcriptions for CastingWords of recordings of discussions among Microsoft figures, and it's amazing how out of touch they are with the Free Software world. Granted, if you are working at Microsoft you are probably ideologically against the Free Software crowd, but most geeks are curious about other software projects going on just to get fresh coding perspectives--Jobs took a lot from PARC, for example. Microsoft just exists in its own little bubble.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by erroneus ( 253617 )
        ...just to add to what you've written:

        It's a BIG bubble, a THICK bubble, and it doesn't show signs of bursting just yet. I am, however, attempting to make Bill Gates's head explode with the powers of my mind... which also shows no sign of bursting.
      • More importantly, you can be FOR closed source software and still AGAINST patents. I prefer open source, but hey, I want the best software I can use, regardless if I get to see the source or not. I am against patents and DRM, which both restrict my right to use and create software of my own, each in their own way.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kamokazi ( 1080091 )
      Well, they *kind of* have a point.

      I would be willing to bet the vast majority of FOSS developers are working on stuff they actually use, so it's not entirely for charity.

      I guess it's just worded with enough wiggle room that they can back out of it later and claim that's not what they meant. It really is stupid for them to say something like this, when there are thousands of people who develop great free software for Windows. I wouldn't be suprised if some people developing cross-platform stop releasing Wi
      • Re:Nobody (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Trails ( 629752 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:51PM (#22862678)
        You've *kind of* touched on an important point. ;)

        The Minister slammed software patents. Microsoft is slamming FOSS. While MS's slam, in and of itself, is flawed, it's also somewhat irrelevant. A piece of software that isn't patented isn't necessarily FOSS.

        Consider the one-click buying patent, a favourite whipping boy(rightly so). This could be implemented with .NET, silverlight, VBScript, MSSQL, on windows server 2003, and not patented.

        The MS exec is trying to make a flawed implication(that absence of software patents == FOSS), because they think it helps their argument. That it doesn't help their argument is part and parcel to MS's failure to understand the FOSS movement.

        In other words, MS is doubly wrong, and Linux pwns Steve Ballmer in the ear.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Weedlekin ( 836313 )
          "The Minister slammed software patents. Microsoft is slamming FOSS. While MS's slam, in and of itself, is flawed, it's also somewhat irrelevant."

          In other words, it's a straw man, and given the nature of the majority of responses here, it's succeeded admirably in getting lots of geeks beating at it with their FOSS sticks.
      • by pembo13 ( 770295 )
        Some people do in fact code (open source or closed source) purely for charity.
      • "Well, they *kind of* have a point."

        A point? The title says they have horns!
      • by blhack ( 921171 )

        It really is stupid for them to say something like this, when there are thousands of people who develop great free software for Windows

        And even more people (like me and everyone at my company) who USE that software.

        Lets see:
        Our webserver runs OpenBSD.
        Our proxy runs Squid on top of Gentoo
        Our FTP is VsFTPd on top of Gentoo
        Our mailserver will be (I'm still building/testing) Unison on top of Centos (hey, people that write the centos install script, will you please let me install it manually...your install flames out *every* *single* *time*)
        Our VPN is OpenVPN on Gentoo

        All of our office Applications are OpenOffice stuff (microsoft...don't f*cki

      • by jd ( 1658 ) < minus city> on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @06:18PM (#22863644) Homepage Journal
        It's usually seen as something people hand junk to, although the ideal is that it's where you hand stuff that may be useful to others. Chaitable work is not useless work, it's work that can be reused by others. Charity also has a connotation of sacrifice, that you lose something. Never quite understood that. If a charity collects books for a public library, are you then going to be denied membership? If a charity turns desolate, polluted wasteland into a park, are you going to be denied access?

        The answer, to me, is that F/L/OSS is charity, a charity that produces information the same way the above charity donating to a library produces information, and is a charity that turns a bunch of metals and chemicals into a finely-honed computing tool, the same as the above charity created a park. What we do is indeed charitable, not because we deprive ourselves, but because we enrich others. The cost to ourselves is zero, because we would have scratched our itches anyway. You can't rationally add as a cost of sharing the cost of pleasing ourselves.

        Charity obviously allows for return on investment, it just means that others also get a return on your investment. But it doesn't require that others give any kind of feedback at all. If you make a public park and only you visit, it's still public, it was still an act of charity, but it's an act of charity you get exclusive benefit from.

        Microsoft's statement, then, is a dark one indeed. No charity, of any kind? It says that they gain no pleasure in the results of their labour, that they suffer with every release, that every enhancement and refinement is a source of pain. Quality must be endless torment (which would explain some things). It is a bleak future when everything is misery and there is an apparent determination to spread that misery.

        If they wanted to spread even just contentment, through their freely-donated hot-fixes, patches and service packs, freely-donated Microsoft Research products and freely-donated e-mail service and instant messenger, they'd be guilty of charity. Since they have denounced the charitable and all their works, these things cannot be given for the use of others. But, if they are not usable, even in theory, what are they? Microsoft's comments deride and slander all who would offer service to others, so the only conclusion is that these things are intended to cause suffering and misery, which - to judge by Vista service pack 1 - is indeed what they cause.

    • Re:Nobody (Score:5, Funny)

      by Darby ( 84953 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @08:17PM (#22864702)
      Hello, my name is Nobody. You know, the one that's prefect. Same dude.

      I thought that was Ford
  • by ashridah ( 72567 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:28PM (#22862342)
    Okay, so in the strictest sense of the terms, he's probably right. Software development isn't a charity.

    Free Software (GPL/LGPL) is definitely not a charity, it's a give and take trading system. You put in, and you get out, and it largely self-improves through feedback, patches, bug reports, etc.

    BSD comes closer, but still required attribution in the past, and of course, the developers were (back in the day) originally producing it as part of various university projects (ie, they get status in return), and more recently, are developing it as for-profit work, but are releasing it. Again, not charity.

    That said, whether the argument's been taken out of context, or is accurate in other ways is another matter.
    • Free Software (GPL/LGPL) is definitely not a charity

      By "charity", I assume that the idea is that someone writes software with the hope of social change with no guarantee he will himself financially benefit from it. Certainly that idea has been widespread in the Free Software world, from Stallman's early dreams to even (funny how this has now gone a complete 180) Miguel de Icaza's founding of GNOME to benefit children in his native Mexico.

      • by grcumb ( 781340 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @05:29PM (#22863140) Homepage Journal

        By "charity", I assume that the idea is that someone writes software with the hope of social change with no guarantee he will himself financially benefit from it. Certainly that idea has been widespread in the Free Software world, from Stallman's early dreams to even (funny how this has now gone a complete 180) Miguel de Icaza's founding of GNOME to benefit children in his native Mexico.

        Indeed. Just because people don't see it doesn't mean it's not happening.

        Do a quick Google for 'ICT4D' - Information and Communications Technologies for Development. You'll be surprised how much work is being done by organisations big and small, and by individuals, too.

        I work almost exclusively with FOSS in Vanuatu []. Small linux servers running on ancient hardware was the only way we could conceivably have brought small organisations and NGOs online when I arrived some years ago.

        The server OS we use is SME Server []. I worked for the company that created this software starting back in 2000. I went to work for them specifically because of this software's suitability for use in the developing world. After I left these guys, I worked for 3 years as a volunteer using the same software (and a lot of other FOSS as well) to help people communicate electronically, often for the first time.

        FOSS is critical to development work. I've written extensively about ICT and Development. This essay [] explains in layman's terms why FOSS is often the right tool for the job.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      BSD comes closer, but still required attribution in the past

      It still does require attribution, the first and second clauses of the current BSD license [] state exactly that. The only change in the history of the BSD license has been the removal of what rms referred to as the "obnoxious advertising clause []", making it GPL-compatible.

    • They get tax benefit!

      Everything is give and take, no matter how you look at it. A good system keeps the wheels running, a bad system does not.
  • Equivocation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:30PM (#22862356)

    In Microsoft's case I'm inclined to think they're being equivocal on purpose, implying "free as in beer" when the real topic "free as speech."

    To fight back, I think we should be calling it "freedomware" rather than "free software."

  • Just wait (Score:5, Funny)

    by SnoopJeDi ( 859765 ) <snoopjedi AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:30PM (#22862366)
    Just you wait, those hooligans with their "Open Source" will start jacking up the price, and you'll be sorry then, but I won't help you then!
  • by hassanchop ( 1261914 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:32PM (#22862400)

    Nobody develops software for charity.

    Quick, someone tell these people they don't exist! []

  • I couldn't believe anyone at Microsoft would actually say something like that in public, so i had to read the article to see it myself []. I am no fan of Microsoft's business practices or products, but I would like to believe that that employee was misquoted somehow.
    • by hey! ( 33014 )
      Why is that unbelievable?

      Look, businesses sell their products. Or more precisely, businessmen have salesmen who sell their products. Salesmen are people who are good at sleight of hand, blurring fine distinctions and confusing issues. It's OK, because things are set up because it's their duty to do what it takes, short of fraud, to maximize sales. Everybody knows this.

      Can you imagine what things would be like if companies sent engineers out to sell. Of course engineers can learn to be discreet. You can
  • Disgusting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by arotenbe ( 1203922 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:36PM (#22862454) Journal

    Microsoft responded aggressively, saying that 'there is no such thing as free software. Nobody develops software for charity.'
    I develop software for "charity" all the time. No one is giving me any incentive, yet I do it anyway.

    He added: "For innovation to continue, there needs to be value - and even open-source applications have some form of market model, which incentivises them to continue innovating."
    Excuse me while I barf.

    PS: What is the chance that the person who said that at Microsoft will be looking for a job very shortly? Having your upper management assert that they are moving toward a more open model and then having some bozo say something like this must look terrible even to the Microsoft Marketing Department (tm).
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:37PM (#22862466) Homepage Journal
    Umm, having developed software for charities at various points in my career, I have to say that is not the case...

    Oh, wait, I am a nobody. At least so far as Microsoft is concerned. It's not that I didn't make enough money to "put food on my family", it's just that I didn't make enough to matter and I never will.

    However, the feeling is mutual. If I didn't have clients who need products delivered on MS platforms, I'd happily never touch a piece of MS software again. It's not that I'm ideologically against them, but Microsoft doesn't cater to people like me; we're not a profitable market for them. In fact, we're nobody as far as they're concerned.

    That's OK with me; the Gap doesn't offer a line of clothing for people like me; the local Evangelical church doesn't have special Sunday services for people like me either. I'm perfectly happy for each of these organizations to provide their services and wares for people who for whatever reason think they fulfill a need. We just move in orbits that, for the most part intersect.

    I think the mutual indifference thing breaks down because Microsoft wants to be everything to everybody. They want to have the one important operating system and the one important file format "standard". Since they don't intend to cater to me, the only way for that to happen is for me to have to use products that were not designed with the things I value in mind. The file format thing is a great example. What I want out of office file formats is not at all what Microsoft is prepared to give me.
    • by dattaway ( 3088 )
      Microsoft wrote free software at least once. It wasn't for charity, it was to kill a company. Internet Explorer was given away to kill Netscape. In their words, "cut off their air supply."
  • by richg74 ( 650636 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:38PM (#22862476) Homepage
    there is no such thing as free software

    Like the people in the RIAA, Microsoft just doesn't get it. The fundamental issue is not about whether software development is a charity (although sometimes I think that is a motivation), but about Economics 101 and prices in a competitive market. If they had paid attention in class, they would remember that, in a competitive market, the equilibrium price is found where price = marginal cost. The marginal cost of an additional unit of any digital work is very close to zero. So MS, the RIAA, and many others are engaged in an attempt (futile in the long run, IMO) to construct an economic perpetual motion machine by legal schemes and other rent-seeking behavior.

  • by downix ( 84795 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:40PM (#22862518) Homepage
    Microsoft in their arguement has managed to demonstrate a clear lack of understanding of the core issue.

    Software is not a charity, nobody is discussing it as such.

    Software is, however, a written tool, in the end. Control of that tool is the key to empowerment. South Africa, actually all of Africa was held under oppression for many centuries by corporate interests such as microsoft, who held the keys for livelihood out of the masses hands in order to force the yoke.

    Microsoft cannot understand why people with such a memory would not jump at the option of putting a new yoke on their necks, to work themselves to death in order to enrich a new foreign master.
  • Then how come msn shows over 81 million hits for the term "free software"? Or maybe he meant there is no free software that puts huge piles of money in Microsoft's pockets?

    p.s. It made me giggle a little to search for ubuntu, free software, and sourceforge on using firefox on a linux box.

  • by trb ( 8509 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:43PM (#22862576)
    Set aside for a moment Stallman's "socialist" arguments. Set aside "software wants to be free." Set aside your disdain of certain companies and their software.

    Even since the days before Stallman, the reason people shared software (that is, they gave it away for free), is because it is practically cost-free to reproduce. A community of hackers use the same OS and tools. In my life, it's been DEC TOPS-10, then UNIX, then Linux, but no matter. We all run into the same bugs. Better for one of us to fix and share, than for each of us to find and fix the same bug. Better for each of us to write a tool and share with all, than for each of us to have to write the same tool, most of us doing it poorly. It seems so obvious.

    Why did Bill Gates become fabulously wealthy? Because he produces a great product? I think not. Because he produces (and markets) an ok product that he can reproduce for pennies and sell for hundreds of dollars each. And he has managed to lock people into using his products.

    The point is that economically speaking, there is a strong argument for sharing (and thereby dividing up) the cost of production of tools if you can reproduce the tools for no cost and with no restrictions. Microsoft may not like this, but a developing nation should understand the point.

  • by ElGanzoLoco ( 642888 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:43PM (#22862578) Homepage
    "South African Minister Locks Horns with Microsoft

    Yes but, were they long horns?

  • by debatem1 ( 1087307 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:44PM (#22862594)
    God must love idiots, because He made so many of them...
  • "There is no such thing as free software."

      Slavery, anyone?
  • by lancejjj ( 924211 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:49PM (#22862658) Homepage

    there is no such thing as free software. Nobody develops software for charity.
    That's like saying that software developers are simply unable to experience altruism because free software development makes them "feel good" - And "feel good" is a form of profit.

    If that's Microsoft's position, than clearly this organization [] is just another profiteer.

  • by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:53PM (#22862712) []

    Oh, the irony! Or is it hypocrisy?
    • by 0racle ( 667029 )
      Neither. Do you really think that the software made available through that program was written for charity?
  • Just as no Chef ever creates an interpretation of a recipe for charity.
  • Many people spend their time and effort contributing to the development of Open Source and even "free" software. They pay the price so others don't have to reinvent the wheel. While it isn't $$$ we're talking about, time is valuable.
  • False dichotomy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ketilf ( 114215 )
    This is a false dichotomy []. Software patents are obviously not the only alternative to developing for charity.

  • We all know Microsoft has them, but I was surprised to learn that South African
    ministers possess horns as well.
  • A good chunk of their network stack came from BSD... you that free code they insist doesn't exist.
  • I hear the same argument from developing countries who wish to break all sorts of patents; on drugs, on biomedical research for example. The downside for them is that they often find themselves cut out of the distribution for the latest and greatest of these life saving tools, or, are often at the mercy of haphazard quality controls from second or third rate manufacturers.
  • by argoff ( 142580 ) * on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @05:09PM (#22862900)
    He minus well have said - we need slavery, nobody will grow cotton on the plantations for free. The point being that copyright and patent are nothing like a normal property right and are the anti-christ of freedom and free markets. Every 'value' that they have is coerced at the expense of someone else, is asserting control over things they have no right to control, is an artificial monopoly.
  • by aneviltrend ( 1153431 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @05:11PM (#22862928) Homepage

    Nobody develops software for charity.

    Especially not Bram Moolenaar [].

  • by Ricin ( 236107 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @05:28PM (#22863132)
    Against my nature I RTFA, and I noticed that from MS' side what this seems to be about (if you read between the lines) is the courting of local developers. The comparison with India speaks volumes.

    I'm willing to speculate that if you look at market entrance for the (lower) continent SA is likely the gateway. Is Shuttleworth a large employer there? Is it a veiled threat WRT employment possibilities?

    It's a tried and tested method used by corporations to get their way, use (potential and actual) employment as bargaining chips to get the government pork.
  • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @05:29PM (#22863146)
    "Nobody develops software for charity.'"

    I hear echoes of a letter written by a certain William Gates over 30 years ago: []

    "What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product and distribute for free? "
  • Free Software (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sgt scrub ( 869860 ) <saintium@ y a h o o .com> on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @05:33PM (#22863200)
    Microsoft have used software libraries that were released by the BSD community in their products for years. They "incorporated" tools written by hobbiests into DOS, back in the day, without any note to the contributors. It only proves they move blindly towards the money, never look behind, and never clean the people they step on off the bottom of their shoes.
  • "Incentivize" and "Incentivise" both appear in some dictionaries. I still do not accept these as words. There are very few "-ize"/"-ise" words that are rooted with nouns and generally speaking, all of them are pretty much "made up." (Yes, I know pretty much ALL words are "made up" if you go back far enough, but the English language is just getting WORSE and WORSE losing all structure and order.) But this word "incentivise" just registers badly with me and it's worse than "ain't" mostly because supposedl
  • Microsoft cannot tell the difference between Patent Encumbered Proprietary Software, Patent-Free Proprietary Software, "No such thing as software patents" Copyright Protected Software, Open Source Software, and Free Software.

    There is an awful lot of Baby left in that Bathwater when you go from "Software Patents Threaten Africa's Software Sector" to "Free software, as the only available alternative to Software Patents, is non-existent charity." Hello, all of the eighties and most of the nineties are on the

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle