A Bitter Legacy
Copy protection is just the start of the increasing madness. Companies have gotten far more ruthless than that. They get you hooked on things by virtually giving them away with no strings attached, and then once you become dependent on it, they yank the hook and reel you in.
Let’s take a look at just a few of the modern things that have come up. First, let’s get a handle on Windows XP, shall we? You have Product Activation to deal with. No biggie some say, but others are not so sure. Why should you have to call Microsoft if you upgrade or replace your machine? What’s the big idea with actually disabling the software if it thinks you did something wrong and then forcing you to plead your case back to Microsoft? You paid for the license after all, right? How can they just turn it off like that?
Why do they make it so hard to uninstall all of their “preferred” applications? Why do they keep integrating everything to such a degree that they become interdependent on each other? Why do they keep shoving Passport down your throat all the time? And for the love of money, why do they keep insisting that their XP operating system is the most stable, most secure software they have ever made, when in fact, they know it isn’t really true? They put out this new version and try to force you to upgrade by not allowing you to buy previous versions and by telling you that if you have a version older than Windows ME, you won’t be able to get an upgrade price after the first of the year. We have paid cash for their operating system, and it should not matter if we have 95, 98 or 98 SE, we should be able to get the upgrade price, right?
It’s Not Just Microsoft
There are many more examples of bad corporate behavior. Take a look at Gracenote, formerly CDDB. For years individual users put data into the system so others could use that data for automatic lookups of album information on the web. It was a fantastic example of a community in action, working to help each other out for the benefit of all. Companies like Adaptec and Musicmatch took advantage of the free lookup features and integrated the calls into their software. Then, when people get reliant on it and the momentum seems unstoppable, some folks get together, change the name from CDDB to Gracenote and go all proprietary on us, telling us that they want us to pay for the privilege of accessing the data that we entered in the first place!
Remember the Unisys/CompuServe battle with the users of the GIF format? Unisys had patented the LZW compression technique in 1985, but did not inform CompuServe of this until 1993. By that time, the GIF format had become a hugely popular web format, and the financial implications were staggering. CompuServe came to terms with Unisys, but in turn, informed other software makers that they would need to pay a fee to use the GIF format and by paying that fee, they would not be subject to prosecution by Unisys. Most companies ended up paying, but some have been working to develop and implement the PNG format in response, which would be an open source project, with no licensing fees or restrictions.
Linux has had a few ups and downs recently. There have been some Linux distribution makers who were stung so badly by the dot-com-bomb that in their desperation, they have been looking for ways to charge users for the operating system beyond what would normally be acceptable. When Corel first came out with their Linux distribution, they did not provide the source code on their site. Suse Linux refuses to allow their “basic” version to be downloaded for free at all, which is in direct violation of the spirit of GNU and open source. Other Linux distributors are seeking to collect licensing fees for users of their distributions, something which is a betrayal on its very face. Others may add one or two applications that they have written in a proprietary manner to a distribution and try to force users to pay excessive prices for a distribution that should be free for download or available in stores for a reasonable packaging fee. It seems that even in the strongest bastions of the open source movement, there are those that would let greed rule the day.