Monday, March 14, 2016

How the Windows Tax supports the Clinton campaign

Microsoft is in the news, but just barely with their patent aggression against Linux. They have signed yet another pair of patent deals shrouded in non-disclosure agreements to prevent people from really understanding what the cost of the patent system means to them.

Microsoft is the company that makes Windows the computer operating system everyone knows about. 90% of the desktop market uses Windows. You use it, I use it. I use it at work but I don't use it at home - we only run Linux in this house. Most governments, businesses and pretty much everybody else has to use Windows. Microsoft enjoys a monopoly in the personal computing business that many entrepreneurs dream of, but few will ever realize.

Microsoft claims to be an innovator, yet, they've copied many ideas from Apple, Unix and Linux. They've even copied desktop ideas from the Gnome Project. At the same time, they are using patents they've acquired based on other people's hard work and innovation and they are using their patents to impose a tax on Linux.

Despite widespread use, few people know about Linux. That is because Linux doesn't really have a marketing presence in personal computing. At least not like Windows has. Microsoft is a master at marketing their product. Everyone in the developed world knows what Windows is and what to use it for. Most assume that they use Windows because that is how the free market works. But nothing could be further from the truth.

How do you use Linux? You might not even know if you use Linux. But most people use Linux every day. Linux runs the web. The majority of web servers run Linux. That WiFi router in your house? It uses Linux, too. If you use an Android phone or tablet, you're using Linux. More than a million Android phones are activated every day. No matter where you turn, from your smart watch to the fastest computers in the world, to Google, you're using Linux. IBM and Google have both converted their fleet of desktop computers to Linux. They don't want to pay the Windows tax.

By the way, if you want a Linux desktop, you can get one. You can check out System76 and get a computer built for use with Linux. Or you can buy a Google Chromebook. It runs Linux, but the operating system runs in the cloud. All applications connect to Google, but you'll be running Linux. And if you want, Google offers tools to help you back up the image on the Chromebook, and then you can install Ubuntu Linux or Fedora Linux, if you want to. Google doesn't really care what you use, as long as you want to us Google Search.

In contrast, Microsoft wants you to use Windows and to use Bing for search. And they will use every law they can find to get you to do it, too. That's why Microsoft loves patents.

Now, even with a worldwide de facto monopoly on personal computing, Microsoft is attempting to forestall the rise of a competitor in the desktop, smart phone and tablet spaces, Linux. Linux is a free operating system. Free to use, free to copy and free to give to anyone you want to give it to. You are even free to modify the source code as long as you share the code when you distribute it. This is how Linux distributions like Debian, Ubuntu and Fedora work. They share their ideas freely and allow others to use them. You can even download DVD images that let you test the operating system on your computer to see if it will run there. This is what allows Linux to innovate around Microsoft, at a rate much faster than Microsoft can keep up with.

How is Microsoft attempting to hinder Linux? Patents. Microsoft is widely acknowledged to have accumulated one of the largest collection of patents on software in the world. They are using those patents to go after every Android phone maker, every desktop manufacturer and any distribution maker that tries to sell hardware with Linux on it. Like Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux.

Microsoft is claiming intellectual property they own to be in Linux. Yet, they don't make Linux. Microsoft is attempting an enormous gambit - to own Linux so that we have no other choice but to use Windows or pay a tax to Microsoft when we use Linux.

This is part of establishment politics. This Windows Tax is something that most politicians are not willing to discuss. Most people don't see it as a tax because it's voluntary. You can use a computer or you don't have to. It's up to you. But to participate in civic life and business these days, you need a computer. And you need an operating system to run it. If Microsoft manages to impose a tax on Linux, then there is no escape from paying Microsoft something, even if you don't want to pay them for a free operating system.

Patents impose huge costs upon consumers. For example, Microsoft makes more than $1 billion a year from patent royalties on Android. This increases the cost of the phone we want to buy and provides no clear benefit to the public. Why should Microsoft reap huge financial benefits from something they don't own or build? Because that is their business model.

Who supports this sort of behavior? Let's follow the money. Microsoft has been somewhat behind the scenes as one of the top donors to the Clinton Foundation. They made their donation to the foundation while Hilary Clinton was Secretary of State. They have no doubt noticed that countries that made contributions to the Clinton Foundation got arms deals while Hilary was Secretary of State. So it would seem that Microsoft is expecting support through trade agreements like the TPP and the TTIP in return for their generous donations.

Microsoft has also worked to help Hilary win the vote in Iowa. They have donated computing services to assure an accurate count of the vote. Nevermind that most voting machines already use Windows.

So when you go to the polls, remember that when Hilary Clinton accepts money from Microsoft, either through her foundation or directly to her campaign, you know what the expectation is. That expectation is to help Microsoft collect the Windows tax on all things running Linux.

Fortunately, we have an alternative. We can vote for Bernie Sanders instead. He takes no corporate money and only accepts small contributions from anyone. He knows that corporations are not people. As someone who has taken no money from Microsoft, I am confident that Sanders will not try perpetuate the Windows tax.
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