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Windows Phone 7: the best choice for Patent Trolls

On Monday October 11, 2010 Microsoft will release Windows Phone 7 software, backed by the largest phone marketing campaign in history: reports estimate costs at between 400 and 500 million dollars.

Why does Microsoft need to spend so much money promoting their latest proprietary software? Clearly they face strong competition, but marketing, especially for high end mobile phones, is about creating an image in the consumer's mind; an image that they want to identify with.

And that's the problem that Microsoft has. Who wants to be identified with Microsoft? Who wants to be identified with a corporation run by Steve Ballmer?

Microsoft has a long history of unethical behavior in the software industry, abusing competitors and its customers alike. Steve Ballmer has long been recognized as the leading force behind this behavior at Microsoft. Yet amazingly he was promoted to lead the corporation when Bill Gates stepped down.

Microsoft's growth was tied directly to the growing popularity of personal computers. Normally you'd expect a fledgling company in a new industry to grow through customer goodwill. So how has Microsoft been able to mistreat customers every step of the way without losing them?

The tool Microsoft uses is what the FSF has been fighting against for 25 years: proprietary software. The problems with proprietary software are part of the reason free software is such a growing force today.

Proprietary software keeps users divided and powerless. If you are dependent on a proprietary software company for the software you run — and so many people are — you lose your freedom, and open yourself to abuse. Today, many people's reaction to Microsoft is based upon the abuse they have suffered because the software they used was proprietary.

A history of abusive behavior

When you read a news report about a terrible Internet security problem, what you're really hearing is a Windows problem. Why do you need to have virus protection software on your computer? Why isn't the software safe to use as is?

When you can't open a Microsoft created document using another piece of software, what you're experiencing is Microsoft's deliberate action to stop interoperability. You can use more than one browser to read web pages, or more than one music player to listen to your collection; why can't you use different software to read office documents? Why won't Microsoft tell other developers how to work with these files?

When the software you use doesn't have the functionality or feature you want, or a bug is causing your computer to freeze, your only prayer is that Microsoft will release an update or a fix. Why can't you tell the developers directly about the problem? How can Microsoft be so unconcerned about the issues that affect your work?

These are good reasons to avoid proprietary software in general, and Microsoft and Windows Phone 7 in particular. But Microsoft and Steve Ballmer aren't satisfied. They also want you to buy a Windows Phone 7 to reward them for becoming the most dangerous patent troll imaginable.

Microsoft are suing mobile phone companies that use competing products like Android: products based upon free software. Microsoft is aiming to remove them from the market entirely or have them pay a patent tax for their availability.

If you haven't heard anything about software patents yet, you can learn the sad tale here. In summary: there are hundreds of thousands of them, and you can't write or distribute a meaningful piece of software without the threat of being sued. In particular, everyone in the software industry knows that the patents Microsoft is threatening others with are junk.

Software patents are the most important anti-competitive, anti-software-developer tool available. And right now they are being used to crush freedom.

On Monday and beyond, you can help by raising awareness for Microsoft's actions.

Obligatory note on Apple when we write about Microsoft:

Yes, Steve Jobs and Apple are busy laying strong foundations to build this same reputation for themselves. Restricting users, abusing competitors, promoting DRM.

Power over users does that to any corporation.