Moglen goes all Democratic on Microsoft

If you undermine community defenses you're undermining the whole ecology, and doing that for the benefit of your customers at the expense of your suppliers is not a good way to stay in business

I erred earlier in saying there was no news at the Red Hat summit in San Diego last week.

Eben Moglen was there. Moglen, who keynoted last year's Nashville summit, was not supposed to be the main attraction this time. But Microsoft had just done its thing, Moglen is a talented speaker, and someone asked the question.

A user dubbed K2307 then YouTubed the answer with a handheld. The same video also made it on RedHat Magazine, credited to Tim Kiernan.

Moglen put his answer in terms of a theoretical, a company with patents "of uncertain validity, but in large numbers, which it could conceivably use to scare developers and users." He described Microsoft's strategy as a "Be Very Afraid" tour, making it sound like Bush Administration officials engaged in broadcasting terror alerts.

As Moglen continued, the laughter of the audience (which got the double analogy) grew and grew. "I know, it sounds absurd," Moglen said, smiling, rocking back-and-forth, thoroughly enjoying the response.

It may have been pushback from big companies that caused the Novell agreement to come about, he suggested. The deal would let Microsoft ease the fear of big customers "so the only people left quaking when you do your 'Be Very Afraid' tour were the developers themselves."

Enterprises may think they have made a separate peace, he continued. "Please don't try to make a separate piece at the community's expense," he pleaded. "Please don't try to make your customers safe if that's going to result in the destruction of the upstream rain forest where your goods come from.

"We're an ecological system. If you undermine community defenses you're undermining the whole ecology, and doing that for the benefit of your customers at the expense of your suppliers is not a good way to stay in business."

Politics may indeed be the right context through which to view all of this. Turning Steve Ballmer into a loyal Bushie is the kind of political jiu jitsu that will keep Moglen firmly in the limelight for years to come.

He's the Al Gore of open source.