My children sometimes ask me to explain the difference between Republicans and Democrats (especially during election season). While I admit that sometimes I can't tell the difference myself, I generally simplify by saying that Republicans trust business to do the right thing, but don't trust individuals to do the right thing, while Democrats don't trust business to do the right thing, but trust individuals to do the right thing. Another way I sometimes put this is that Republicans want to de-regulate businesses (pro free trade) but regulate individuals (anti same-sex marriage), while Democrats want to regulate business (pro pollution controls), but de-regulate individuals (pro choice). These are, of course oversimplifications, but they I do believe they have some merit.
I recently posted some notes from the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2006), which included several inspiring aspects of Bill Buxton's closing keynote, and a brief allusion to [what I judged to be] his dismissive comments with respect to Linux. Bill kindly posted a comment on that blog entry, clarifying his position (and elaborated on what he said during his keynote). I posted an additional comment regarding closed platforms and open platforms, boundaries, societies and culture.
A BoingBoing post yesterday on Vista DRM is bad for Microsoft got me thinking about how Microsoft is like the Republican Party of the technology world: they don't want regulations on business (no anti-trust), but want to regulate individuals (no copying):
Computerworld has published a blistering indictment of the DRM in Vista, Microsoft's new OS. Microsoft has a bunch of competitive problems in the market -- security, ease of use, elegance, and so on. DRM fixes none of these -- and it makes security, much, much harder. It's far easier to secure a computer that is designed from the ground up to lock out remote attackers who want to use the machine in ways that the owner objects to, but that's precisely what DRM does. Microsoft's Vista strategy has been to design an OS from the ground up that lets remote parties override the computer's owner. This will not make Vista a better, more competitive product in the market.
Other headlines that came streaming through my Google Sidebar yesterday seemed to reinforce this notion, e.g., ZDNet's article on Can Microsoft brand its way to coolness?, reminding me of Republican attempts to be cool, and a Guardian article on Gates leads Microsoft's charm offensive in Europe, reminding me of similarly targeted charm offensives undertaken by our Republican president.
I was going to let all this go without posting any [further] comment ... until I read the most recent post in "I, Cringely", on Divide and Conquer: The Microsoft/Novell deal is more about disruption than cooperation:
In the U.S. elections this week, a change of power took place in the Congress that had an almost instantaneous effect at the White House. Just a few days before, President Bush said of a potential Democratic takeover of Congress: "The terrorists win and America loses." This week his line has changed to "reconciliation" and "bipartisan effort." That's the way it is with dogma, which is heartfelt right up to the moment when it is no longer felt at all. That might be the best way, too, to understand Microsoft's recent deal with Novell and apparent embracing of Linux.
There was a time -- right up to a week ago -- when Microsoft appeared to feel, from the statements of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, that they could ridicule Linux out of corporate America or use a campaign of fear uncertainty and doubt (FUD) to undermine the open source operating system. There was nothing good about Linux, they said, and a lot that was bad. They even argued that paying Microsoft for Windows was less expensive than getting Linux for free. Yeah, right.
But Linux happens. And Linux isn't going away. As a server operating system, Linux is far more important than Windows and that trend isn't changing, something that Microsoft has finally acknowledged, not just through this agreement with Novell, but also through the PHP license Redmond also announced this week. But Microsoft is still Microsoft and has its own peculiar way of changing with the times as we see in this very interesting agreement.
The article goes on to quote Bob Metcalfe quoting a Microsoft executive (in explaining why 3Com suffered after making an earlier deal with Microsoft) as saying "You made a fatal error, you trusted us" ... reminiscent of a statement about trust made in 2000 by George W, Bush: "If you give me your trust, I will honor it".
The American people - many Republican and independent voters among them - entrusted Democrats with their hopes and aspirations for themselves, their families, and their future. We are prepared to lead and ready to govern. We will honor that trust, and we will not disappoint.
As I noted in my earlier comment, I do not consider myself a Microsoft basher -- I know many Microsoft employees with high levels of intelligence and integrity (and, for the record, I know a few Republicans with both of those characteristics). I don't know how well my analogy between Microsoft and the Republican Party will bear out, but given the transitions going on at Microsoft, this might be a good time for the company, whose reign in the technology world precedes the takeover of the U.S. Congress by Republicans in 1994, to re-evaluate some of its core values and strategies.