February 10, 2003

Anger spews over Microsoft appearance at yet another Open Source event

- by Tina Gasperson -
Now that some people in the Free Software community have discovered Microsoft's Shared Source guru Jason Matusow is slated to speak at the Open Source for National and Local eGovernment Programs in the U.S.and EU conference, they are gunning for the show's organizer.Members of the New York Linux Scene (NYLXS) believe a company whose core values are antithetical to Open Source should not be allowed to promote itself during a gathering dedicated to Open Source software. And they blame the organizer of the event, Tony Stanco. They're even discussing plans to stage a protest at the conference in March.

In 1999 Stanco was a senior attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission. He became enamored with Free Software and started FreeDevelopers.net in 2000. The premise of FreeDevelopers was that "the community is the company." Stanco wanted to see that Free Software developers would be paid for their work and he intended to make that happen by securing grants and other funds in sponsorship of worthy development projects.

That fell flat, but Stanco ended up landing an executive position at the Cyber Security Policy & Research Institute at George Washington University. And that led to his role as organizer of the conference, which is in its second year.

Ruben Safir, the president of NYLXS, has been the most vocal opponent of the Microsoft appearance. He's even gone so far as to recommend legal action against Stanco.

"Tony should be investigated for criminal activities in this regard, and the session should
be boycotted," Safir wrote to members of his constituency and to Richard Stallman, the man who founded the Free Software Foundation.

He bases that statement on his belief that Microsoft is involved in criminal activities.

"Microsoft is an anti-competitive corporation GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY of destroying
individuals and separating them from the fruit of their work through unfair competition
and stifling people's right to innovation. Microsoft is DIRECTLY responsible for undermining
people's right to innovate and compete in a free market," Safir writes.

"That company should have been decommissioned long ago for anti-trust activities, and I'll
be damned if their blood should be on my hands. Their objective is to destroy the community
and it's really as simple as that."

David Sugar, Free Software developer tries to clarify Safir's assertions. "If this conference is, as appearently it is stated, as
being a conference for "marketing" OS/FS ideas and ideals, then why have
a hostile vendor intending to disrupt that message?" Sugar writes.

"When I say
intending to disrupt the message, I come to that conclusion on the
stated reasons given by Microsoft's own reps on what they intend to say
and do at the conference. If this event is intended primarly for us to
'market', then why do we have them there? This, I think, is the
principle question Ruben is posing, and from that particular
perspective, it is a very fair question to raise."

We asked Richard Stallman how he feels about Microsoft attending the Open Source conference. "We don't need to invite
Microsoft to share our platform in order to point out the fallacies in
their position," Stallman says. "Inviting them is simply weakness; more people will
hear their statement than our response.

"Tony Stanco invited me and several free software leaders to his
previous conference about 'open source' in government. We asked him
to recognize our movement equally, to make it a 'free software and
open source' conference.

"He refused, insisting in effect that the
conference would only recognize the Open Source Movement and would in
effect present us as its supporters, so we declined to attend. I
heard that proprietary software forces had put pressure on the event's
sponsors to exclude our movement and our views.

"It may be useful for some free software advocates to participate in a
carefully chosen way in Stanco's conferences; but in order for this to
be positive, we have to do it in a way that presents loud and clear
our disapproval of the conference itself. Anyone who thinks that we
share the values of the organizers of this event has completely
misunderstood where we stand.

"I am not sure of the best method to get this view across. But
Microsoft and other non-free software developers deserve protests
wherever they have an event."

Other people in the community are trying to talk Safir and his supporters down, saying that because Free Software is becoming mainstream and governments around the world are adopting it, the sphere of activity is bound to include some participants who don't see things the same way.

To demonstrate would only make Free Software look bad, says Bruce Perens, who calls himself "an agent for constructive change during the genesis of corporate cooperation with the Open Source community."

"My feeling is that if we either locked them out or disrupted their
program, it would only make them look better," Perens wrote to the group. "If we lock them out,
they will say, very publicly, 'see, these folks won't let us tell
you the truth.' If we disrupt their program, they'd say the same,
and also would point out that we were incapable of taking part in a
civilized political dialogue. We don't want either of those, because
we want to be seen as the good guys who are fighting the side that
doesn't play fair."

Stanley Klein, a GNU developer out of Rockville, Maryland concurs. "Tony (Stanco) is doing the right thing letting Microsoft
speak. At least they
want to show up to take the heat themselves."

Klein adds, "We are running a guerilla, stealth campaign and doing quite well at it with
a very limited budget. Terry Bollinger, who is on the conference committee
and will speak, wrote the Mitre report on free/open-source penetration in
the Defense Department. He showed it runs around 40% and opened a bunch of
eyes--and raised a lot of hackles in Redmond.

"Susan Turnbull and Brand Niemann, who are both on the conference committee
and will also speak, run a monthly government/industry "Collaborative
Exploration Workshop" that is helping government CIO's learn about
free/open-source and a bunch of other disruptive ideas that can save money
and improve productivity.

"I hope to speak there about a forthcoming
IEEE-USA broadband position that will really make things interesting
politically.

"David Wheeler, another conference committee member who will also speak,
works for a government contractor but has independently made a name
collecting business case numbers on the benefits of free/open-source and is
the author of the 'stacker' module of the Linux Loadable Security Module
effort.

"Microsoft's next point of attack will be in the area of security. Tony has been working on countering that for some
time by getting Security Enhanced Linux evaluated. That's probably what
the Microsoft lobbying at NSA was all about.

"Come in here with New York tactics," Klein concludes, "disrupt the conference, and raise the
level of controversy to in-your-face 24/7 and you will cut all these people
off at the knees.
"

Tony Stanco shares his conviction with NewsForge that Free Software is all about free speech, and that means hearing from some people you may disagree with. "It is not about unilaterally
stopping people from presenting their viewpoint, because you disagree with
them. That is generally called censorship and is unacceptable to reasonable
minds."

Despite the rancor against him, Stanco finds humor in the situation. "Microsoft thinks I'm too
sympathetic to Free Software and tries to discredit me to the government on
that basis. Now, it seems that Free Software wants to discredit me, because I
am perceived as too sympathetic to Microsoft. I guess if I am upsetting both
extremes equally, I must be being perceived somewhere near the middle by most
people, which is the right place for someone in my position to be."

"True arguments are like true gold," he adds. "They don't fear the fire. The hotter the
fire, the purer the gold."

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