Monday, May 05, 2003

Free minds and... free operating systems?

A German city government decided to abandon Microsoft and embrace Linux:

[Schwaebisch Hall] is the first city in the world to do that, say local officials, who note the switch will save money, improve security and end dependence on one supplier.

Such companies as Deutsche Telekom and 7-Eleven, as well as government agencies in Germany, France, the United States and other countries, are relying increasingly on open-source software for heavy data lifting, mostly on servers that do Internet and database work.

But Schwaebisch Hall's decision to adopt the software for everything represents a breakthrough, said SuSE, Germany's leading Linux distributor, which swung the deal to make the switch.

SuSE credits the move to its user-friendly Linux desktop products, which make it palatable to the average computer user who wants only to deal with a graphical Windows-like interface.

"This is the first customer that has said, 'This is the platform that our future is going to be taking shape with,' " said Stefan Werden, a senior SuSE sales engineer.

I take no position on the city’s decision, but there was one quote that struck me as odd. The head of Schwaebisch Hall’s local college implied there were “higher principles” at play in the Linux switch:

"As a democratic society, we should not support monopolies," he said, adding a gentle dig, "Freedom of choice — it's the American way, isn't it?"

Um, if you’re freely able to switch from Windows to Linux, then Microsoft can’t be a monopoly, since that requires, well, a monopoly. Nor does it follow that “democratic” principles require one to shun a successful company merely for being successful. And isn’t it a bedrock of “democratic” societies like Germany to have the state monopolize large sectors of the economy?

If you want to switch to Linux for cost reasons, more power to you. But don’t argue that an operating system reflects a nation’s political or moral values. If that’s the terms of the debate, I’ll side with capitalists like Microsoft 100 times out of 100.

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