The FSF (Free Software Foundation) has created a petition to open source Windows 7. Windows 7 has reached EOL status, but there are extended support agreements that require Microsoft to continue to provide updates to customers paying for those agreements. So why do the FSF hippies believe now is the time to change license on Windows 7?
First, what they’re asking for:
- We demand that Windows 7 be released as free software. Its life doesn’t have to end. Give it to the community to study, modify, and share.
- We urge you to respect the freedom and privacy of your users – not simply strong-arm them into the newest Windows version.
- We want more proof that you really respect users and user freedom, and aren’t just using those concepts as marketing when convenient.
I take issue with the 2nd demand. It isn’t really strong-arming users when Microsoft has been giving away free-as-in-cost licenses to Windows 10 for a few years now.
So why are they doing this? Because their foundational principle is that all software should be under a license that lets you see and modify the code to your needs – that’s the freedom they’re talking about in Free Software.
It’s why, for years, they pushed the GPL as the purest form of that freedom, and why they also advocate that Microsoft’s Github should push developers to use free software licenses.
Microsoft has been trending towards free software, from the previous position former CEO Steve Ballmer held, having said that “Linux is a cancer,” and that free software infected everything it touched. (The FSF does want more free-license software, but that’s not exactly how the licenses work.)
But that isn’t enough for the FSF, who seem to insist that the trend towards open source licenses and free software isn’t a real commitment. opensource.microsoft.com/explore exists. It never would have back in the old days when Ballmer positioned open source as the devil – but the transition has been happening for some time. .NET’s open sourcing began three years before Nadella became CEO.
The FSF wants Microsoft to “undo past wrongs”. I submit that the best way to do that is encourage them to keep doing good deeds in the present, with all of the previously linked open source projects, support for Github, and the Windows subsystem for Linux which lets you install whatever Linux (sorry, GNU/Linux) distribution you please.
At time of publishing this, over 9000 people have signed on asking for Microsoft to open source Windows 7. It’s untenable and unattractive for a few reasons.
- Microsoft is still using Windows 7 code in Windows 10.
- Microsoft still has support contracts in place for some customers
- Microsoft is burdened with a history of legacy support – applications for Windows 98 still run in Windows 10 today, 21 years later.
- By prolonging Windows 7 use in the wild, developers won’t take advantage of the new features being developed in Windows 10, leading to an artificially held-back software ecosystem.
Sure, it’s a developer’s choice to support old systems, but that doesn’t have to be Microsoft’s vision of their future.
The FSF’s demands seem unrealistic and poorly thought out. Demanding this as a means of undoing past wrongs is probably not a winning argument. No one wants to do favors after being insulted. And yes, I led off calling the FSF hippies, not because they’re idealistic, but because these kinds of accusations seem outdated.
In some ways, it seems as if the FSF want this because they recognize that The Year of Linux on the Desktop has yet to happen, and the alternative path to victory is bullying Microsoft into opening up an already-successful system. But bullying wasn’t a good look for Microsoft back in the bad old days, and it isn’t a good look for the FSF now.