The FAST show suits nobody

FAST says IT professionals are not to be trusted. That's a profoundly unimpressive way to win hearts and minds

The Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) — which despite its name, has nothing to do with stopping theft — has pronounced from on high. The toilers in the server rooms are not to be trusted, it says. They are engaged in wickedness, and chief executives should instigate campaigns of ruthless cleansing or divine wrath will be visited upon them (details of divine wrath: not disclosed).

This is dangerously counterproductive. Companies will go a lot further towards ensuring compliance if they treat their IT staff with respect, making sure they feel committed to the success of the enterprise. FAST's scare tactics might appeal to the authoritarian streak in upper management but will only ensure that subversion flourishes. Any board that feels it can out-think a disgruntled team of IT specialists with their hands on the controls will find out the hard way that this doesn't work.

FAST also paints a black and white picture where there are many shades of grey. Licenses can be stretched not only with the knowledge but with the approval of senior managers, who are under constant pressure to cut costs. It may be no excuse to say that certain vendors are happy to abandon all pretence of value for money if they engineer their clients into dependency but we're not dealing with the Ten Commandments — just contract law. Perceived injustice on one side of a contract will encourage a certain laxity on the other. FAST has no business unilaterally condemning the very IT professionals who have the responsibility to stand up to those in charge in order to discourage this sort of corporate behaviour.

If FAST is really concerned about reducing the incidence of non-compliance, it should be offering unbiased assessments of free and open source software which, while not licence-free, removes nearly all of these worries. It should be campaigning for fairer licensing schemes, and against the fear, uncertainty and doubt which surrounds much public posturing by some larger vendors who really should know better. It should not be pointing the finger of blame at an entire worker caste.

Companies and contracts work best when everyone's interests are aligned. FAST in no way recognises this: it assumes that the interests of the major software vendors are the primary interests of us all. That it attempts to propagate these interests in the guise of judicial policing is no more convincing than a car park attendant in a peaked cap affecting to be a policeman in the hope of getting respect.

There are plenty of problems with software licensing that reduce the effectiveness of the industry as a whole — and the flow of revenues to software vendors in particular. FAST's monochrome hectoring impresses nobody and alienates many who by rights should be on the same side.


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