December 11, 2002

Lindows CEO to deliver keynote at Libertarian seminar

- by Tina Gasperson -
Michael Robertson is speaking at a Cato Institute City Seminar in San Diego on Wednesday, December 11th. Interesting that Cato, a libertarian think tank, has been known to defend Microsoft's right to stifle competitors like Lindows.The speech is entitled "Fighting Giants." Robertson has given at least one similarly-titled speech before, at debconf2. One attendee at that conference described it this way:

"As he began, I could see lots of the conference attendees rolling their eyes and there were a few people playing with their laptops. His speech talked about "Fighting With Giants" and how fighting with giants requires standing by one's convictions. He discussed his work at and got a round of applause when he said that the success of the mp3 format meant the death of all digital rights management schemes for music. By the time he was done, all the laptop lids had been closed."

The Cato institute bases its opinions and ideals on libertarian values, which state that each person should be free to do as they please, as long as they harm no other human in the process. Defining exactly what "harm" is has been an arguing point among Libertarians for years.

Many Libertarians believe that providing every schmo in the world an "equal chance to compete" is something the government should not be wasting its time with. They say that products like Windows XP, which has features that "steer consumers to Microsoft's own proprietary products" will not injure consumers, who are the supposed to be the actual beneficiaries of antitrust law anyway, not other companies. Writes D. T. Armentano for Cato's "Tech Knowledge" newsletter:

"Never mind that no one (including the government's expert witnesses at the antitrust trial) produced a shred of evidence that any of Microsoft's previous innovations injured consumers. And never mind that the antitrust laws are not intended to protect competitors from consumer-friendly innovation, and that to do so would betray any alleged consumer- protection mission. Never even mind that no law in the U.S. mandates that a firm must structure its innovation to make competitive life easier for its rivals. Put aside all of that and consider the following: Do you really want the likes of Sen. Schumer and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) writing your future computer software?"

Conversely, Michael Robertson is quoted in PCWorld: "Microsoft is enamored with the closed world they've built with the Xbox where they control what software can run. They believe they can use that strategy to restrict competition and increase their control in the PC arena."

Also interesting is the apparent juxtaposition of Robertson's stated views on DRM (see "death to DRM schemes above) and the libertarian viewpoint. Robertson spoke of "abra la puerta" with regard to digital rights management at the 2000 Festival for New Media Visionaires: "open the door" on digital media. Cato people don't think companies with the capability to produce DRM should either be stopped OR mandated by the government, but allowed to freely produce and present to a free market.

Other slated speakers at the Cato Institute event include Doug Bandow and Tom Palmer of CATO, and Dinesh D'Souza, speaking on "Islam vs. the West: A Clash of Civilizations?"


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