May 18, 2001, 11:42 AM — I promise. This is not going to be another long tirade about Microsoft's latest FUD assault on free software and the GNU General Public License (GPL). There may be a short screech or two, but by the time this column appears, most of us will have gotten past Craig Mundie's May 3 speech in New York and moved on to the next RAT (Really Annoying Thing). The significance of Mundie's remarks is not so much in what he said -- most of that has been completely rebuked in any event -- but in how it was received. FUD, after all, is an attempt to alter reality by changing your perception. Sometimes the FUD she flies, and sometimes she no fly. Mundie's effort was a belly flop.
Alerted to the speech the day before its arrival by Eric Raymond, the free software and open source communities were ready and waiting for Mundie. Their responses came quickly once the text of his remarks became available (see Resources for a link). Linus Torvalds took no prisoners as he lectured on Microsoft's ignorance of the history of science, especially Sir Isaac Newton's famous line, "If I have been able to see further, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants." Dan Gillmor, writing in his ejournal for SiliconValley.com, gave Torvalds an opportunity to react to Mundie's speech. The usually polite and mild Torvalds concluded, "I'd rather listen to Newton than to Mundie. He may have been dead for almost three hundred years, but despite that he stinks up the room less."
Richard Stallman, the patron saint of the free software movement, responded as well, pointing out in a Free Software Foundation (FSF) press release that Microsoft voiced its opinions on the GPL without even the most basic understanding of the differences between open source and free software. Professor Eben Moglen, legal counsel for the FSF, said in the same press release, "Taking advice on what the GPL means from Microsoft is like taking Stalin's word on the meaning of the US Constitution."
Alan Cox, Linus Torvalds's right-hand man, also had a few choice words about Mundie's remarks. With unerring accuracy Cox reached in and pulled the beating heart out of Mundie's speech, then held it aloft for inspection by noting that its basic premise was a fallacy of the third kind. Just like close encounters, fallacies of the third kind are right in your face. Cox rebuked Mundie's claims that intellectual property rights are the driving force behind the advancement of technology. Cox said, "Most of the great leaps of the computer age have happened despite rather than because of IPR. In fact before the Internet the proprietary network protocols divided customers, locked them into providers, and forced them to exchange much of their data by tape."