Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Disaster Relief and the Evil Empire

Yesterday afternoon, Mike stopped by my office and we talked about laptops. A PowerBook(tm) is several hundred dollars less than the Standard Corporate Laptop, but Mike pointed out that after you buy the software, meaning Microsoft Office, and add in the wireless card, you might be looking at more money. I said "OpenOffice" and he said Bill Gates has done a lot of good in Africa through philanthropy.

Well, that's a point. Suppose the convicted monopoly had to give back all the money it took through illegal means (the illegality wasn't disputed by the appeals court) -- what would happen? Would those people donate some amount - any amount - to relief efforts in Africa? Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't -- but probably they wouldn't. Generous people don't become more generous when Office costs 20% or 80% less.

Effectively Microsoft is like a government in that it extracts money and redistributes it -- some money goes to lawyers who help it maintain its illegal practices and intimidate people; some money goes to relief and development efforts in Africa.

Overall it's probably no worse than the U.S. Government -- I'll bet Bill Gates never started a land war in Asia, or tested biological weapons on its own constituents, or scattered radioactive dust to see how many people got cancer.

Does our household donate more for tsunami, hurricane, or earthquake relief because we use Free Software? Probably not. But we probably do spend more at local merchants.

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