A Fresh Cup is Mike Gunderloy's software development weblog, covering Ruby on Rails and whatever else I find interesting in the universe of software. I'm a full-time software developer: most of my time in recent years has been spent writing Rails, though I've dabbled in many other things and like most people who have been writing code for decades I can learn new stuff as needed.

Currently I'm employed as the Vice President of Engineering at Faria Education Group. If you're interested in working with me, we're often hiring smart developers. Drop me a comment if you're interested or email MikeG1 [at] larkfarm.com.

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Monday
May142007

The Rest of the Story

Some readers who have come here via Jeff Atwood's Coding Horror blog entry Giving Up on Microsoft have asked for some further development of my views on the issues involved. I go back and forth on whether I want to develop this stuff in public at any great length, because the most important thing for me at this point is to continue to build up my skills in new (to me) areas of software and to use those skills to make a living, not to develop a reputation as someone who pens brilliant anti-Microsoft polemics. The kids can't eat polemics.

But it basically boils down to this: Microsoft itself is built on open intellectual property from the first three or four decades of computer science. The folks who invented computer programming for the most part didn't worry about who owned what; algorithms and ideas and languages and interface improvements were freely shared, and everyone built on everyone else's work. Now, if the Microsofts of the world have their way, we'll end up with everything in fenced-off gardens: every piece of user interface, every algorithm, every data structure, will belong to someone, and will not be available for use unless you pay for it somehow. It will become literally impossible to legally write software without entering into a web of commercial cross-licensing agreements.

To me, that's a horrifying thought. As far as I'm concerned, software is no more deserving of patent protection than mathematics is. While I personally am not willing to sign on to all of the positions of the Free Software Foundation, I do agree with Eben Moglen "that software is the embodiment of knowledge about technology, which needs to be free in the same way that mathematics is free." The notion that software couldn't be developed without strong intellectual property protection is demonstrably false - just look at all the software that was developed before people got it into their head that algorithms could be patented, or that you could assert nebulous unspecified rights over a particular sort of user interface innovation.

Although I am referring specifically to Microsoft here, I am well aware that they are not the only company seeking to patent basic algorithms. Nor do I intend to demonize Microsoft or to draw the inferences, popular in some circles, the because I find their corporate policies odious their employees or software must be inferior. On the contrary, I have over the years had many friends who work at Microsoft and happily used many of their products. I've done much of my own most productive work with Microsoft products, and though I think some of their recent innovations are poorly-designed for power users, I continue to be impressed with their ability to produce software.

But I see Microsoft leading the charge into a world where the independent software developer ceases to exist, because it will not be possible to develop software without an intellectual property lawyer at your elbow. And I don't want to live in that world. As a result, I choose to cut off what tiny bit I can of the fuel that keeps Microsoft going: the licensing dollars I pay for Microsoft software, and those that my clients pay for deploying the software that I write, as well as my own implied moral support for the company's policies. It's not a whole lot, probably not more than a few million bucks over the remaining course of my career, but it's something.

Reader Comments (3)

[...] A Fresh Cup » Blog Archive » The Rest of the Story  Annotated [...]

[...] Inept Recruiter - The story of a technical recruiter who managed to spawn an entire Rails dev mailing list through poor use of the cc: field. I had my own inept recruiter yesterday - wanted to hire me to work at Microsoft. Um, no. [...]

I have one life, I want (or rather, I say, I need) to devote my time to developing technology that the people need. I want to develop technology that is harmless to the people and is super meaningful in existence. As a student of computer science I don't have a clear idea, how can software eradicate word poverty or provide water to people. But I know this, computer science and software will definitely be part of the solution, whoever discovers it. Open source is a great movement and people like you give it a the backbone it needs.
I wish in next 3-4 years the world starts to switch to some kind of alternate technology that is fully open source and where everything has a purpose not redundant.

June 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterArjob

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