WSIS - Microsoft failed to remove free software reference

Microsoft tried and failed to remove references to free software from WSIS document, a blog discussion has revealed.

Microsoft tried to have references to free software removed from a document approved at the United Nations-sponsored Internet summit in Tunis two weeks ago, a blog discussion has revealed. But the attempt failed.

Several weeks ahead of the second phase of World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, the Austrian government invited numerous companies and organizations to participate in a conference to help draft a briefing paper, called Vienna Conclusions, which Austrian government officials planned to present at the summit.

The original draft of that briefing paper contained a reference to free software, but the final draft did not, after a request from Microsoft's Austrian subsidiary to the Austrian government to have it removed. That briefing paper was one of many used to craft a final document, which did contain a reference to free software, despite Microsoft's attempts to have it read otherwise.

"We presented our position in public; we needed to correct a one-sided perspective," Thomas Lutz, public affairs manager and a member of the management board at Microsoft, said Monday in an interview. "We did nothing behind closed doors."

Microsoft, according to Lutz, was unhappy with the original version, which read: "Increasingly, revenue is generated not by selling content and digital works, as they can be freely distributed at almost not cost, but by offering services on top of them. The success of the free software model is one example."

In a comment on a Vienna Conclusions conference blog, Lutz wrote that the aim of free software is not to enable a healthy software business, but rather to make it impossible to generate income from software as a commercial product. Microsoft views this model "neither as a viable nor a desirable path for the future economy of Europe," Lutz wrote.

The final draft omitted the reference to the free software model.

Georg Greve, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), claims Microsoft didn't play with open cards. "Microsoft was not willing to make [its] statements in the panel," he wrote in a blog, referring to Microsoft as a company trying to uphold "its monopoly by preventing freedom of markets," which free software, he said, is all about.

Despite its efforts in Austria, Microsoft failed to impact the outcome of the Tunis agreement, judging by the final document.

"Our conviction is that governments, the private sector, civil society, the scientific and academic community, and users can utilize various technologies and licensing models, including those developed under proprietary schemes and those developed under open-source and free modalities, in accordance with their interests and with the need to have reliable services and [to] implement effective programmes for their people," the document says. "Taking into account the importance of proprietary software in the markets of the countries, we reiterate the need to encourage and foster collaborative development, inter-operative platforms and free and open source software, in ways that reflect the possibilities of different software models, notably for education, science and digital inclusion programmes."

Nor is the free software movement totally happy with the final outcome. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Project, referred to the result as "a compromise, a watered-down, neutral paper." In an earlier interview, he said: "We didn't lose anything, but we didn't win anything, either."

The document is available here

The blog conversations are available here, and here

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