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MS chief lashes out at German Free Software petition

'Undemokratisch? Wir?'

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A petition lobbying for the use of Free Software in the German Bundestag has rattled Microsoft Germany sufficiently for the company to retaliate. Microsoft Deutschland chairman and EMEA VP Kurt Sibold has responded to the ringleaders, complaining of discrimination, and of being accused of being a hindrance to democracy.

(Pause while you think about that). "Open Source software," he continues, "is not per se a guarantee of free competition." The campaign is pushing for "discrimination against our products and services as being undemocratic and a hindrance to democracy."

Sibold may well have justification in feeling somewhat bruised, as the petition itself is rattling good stuff, possibly penned by people who believe that Bill Gates is indeed das Böse: "We believe that, in a free market economy, it is the state's duty to prevent the development of monopolies and to grant the possibility of real competition. The public signal of introducing alternative software in such a prominent institution as parliament would be an easy and practicable step in the direction of a more open market. While free software is not in itself a warrant for free competition, in today's situation there seems to be no other alternative to insure practicable and safe information technology equipment for the legislature.

"Civic supervision and improvement of software by the general public is only possible using free software, due to its openly accessible source code. Short term disclosure of source codes - as offered by Microsoft - can only remain patchwork... The democratic aspect cannot be reduced to its mere increased security and flexibility, but is much more the expression of an extended understanding of democracy, encompassing economic and scientific progress. It therefore seems to us the duty of a democratic state to support the use of open source systems."

In support of its case it cites the introduction of Open Source in South Korea, it's role in the European Commission's e-Europe initiative, and the UK's planned "mandatory introduction of open source software in the public sector." We hadn't heard that last one either - nor, frankly, do we expect to.

One of the things likely to have worried Microsoft most is the fact that quite a few of the initial supporters of the petition are Bundestag members, meaning it looks much more like a genuine campaign with heft than just a clutch of crazed visionary lobbyists. It has also, almost immediately, achieved a high level of support, some of whom seem to be listed here. So it could indeed be a tricky one for MS Gmbh... ®

Related links:
Heise's take on the petition (in German)
Sibold's response (also German)

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