A decade ago, when the Web had just been spun, the computer industry learned the hard way how it needed lobbyists to keep competition alive. (Why the movie? Read on.)
Chief among these companies was Microsoft, which stepped up to the plate for the industry, hired lots of warm bodies (often with fine minds) and fought even the mighty telephone industry to a draw.
Someone in the open source community must do today what Microsoft did then, lobby government and fight the mighty to a draw. Only the mighty now is Microsoft.
The recent experience of Florida, reported by Linux.Com, illustrates the point. A legislator, prodded by his software-developer son, sought to place some language favoring open source into a bill creating a technology office for new Gov. Charlie Crist.
Rep. Ed Homan was stopped, he says, by three Microsoft lobbyists, all wearing dark suits and shades, who spun the issue in a way that would make a Washington pol proud.
An unnamed source who was in on the discussion put it this way:
"By the time those lobbyists were done talking, it sounded like ODF (Open Document Format, the free and open format used by OpenOffice.org and other free software) was proprietary and the Microsoft format was the open and free one."
They will, if we can just find the money to pay them, or hire someone just like them. We'll need effective lobbyists in every state capitol, as well as Washington. Until then, the law will be tilted in favor of the proprietary folks, just as it has long been tilted toward the telecomms.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and it's high time open source squeaked.