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Interesting fall-out from the Irish Times Microsoft supplement

Open Source: on the 18th March the Irish Times published a commercial supplement for Microsoft. Naturally, given that it was paid advertising, there were lots of MS plugs — but in the mix there was also a couple of more worrying articles: one by Tom Kitt, government ‘Minister for the Information Society’, noting

Microsoft has been one of the most innovative companies in the world and has a long track record over several decades of creating new product markets. The EU has to be open to allowing such innovation in Europe. Ireland will continue to argue at EU level, based on the solid evidence of our successful economy, that the Community must look at its rules on innovation and intellectual property rights to ensure they encourage risk taking in Europe and growth in the IT industry in the EU and around the globe.

And another with Cathal Friel, credited as ‘chairman of the Irish Software Association‘. Quoting the article text:

(Friel) also noted that Open Source software – which is developed by large communities of programmers and distributed for free or at low cost – is also going to have an effect on the software market. While Friel believes Open Source itself has a limited business model – ‘at the end of the day, there’s nothing but services to sell’ – it is nonetheless becoming more pervasive and is ‘a fact of life’ for more traditional software companies. He believes the Open Source movement is actually stifling innovation, because fewer programmers will develop software without the financial incentive of success.

MS observers will note that both Kitt and Friel’s statements mirror the MS ‘party line’ — either the lads were well-briefed, or they just put their names to a story written by MS PR.

Well, there’s been an interesting follow-up. Éibhear Ó hAnluain put pen to paper about Cathal Friel’s statements, and received an interesting reply:

I received a ‘phone call from Kathryn Raleigh, Director of the ISA, in reponse to my letter. As I was unable to take notes at the time, what follows is a memory of the conversation. She told me that the ISA would like to apologise to me for any offense that I took from the comments. She said that the first the ISA heard of the comments was after the piece was published and the Mr. Friel was not speaking with the ISA’s authority. She told me that the ISA had indeed conducted some sort of analysis of the market regarding licensing and the ‘proprietary’ versus Free Software competition, and that the ISA’s position on the matter is not to have a position. She gave me the impression that Mr. Friel has been told that he was out of line. She asked me to convey the ISA’s regrets to my colleagues.

Well now, that’s interesting!

I find it very encouraging to see that the ISA don’t take the position noted in Friel’s article, anyway. In my opinion, this is wise — alienating free software and open-source-using companies doesn’t seem likely to be a good idea, given that many of today’s SMEs use open source extensively ‘behind the scenes’ in production, if not directly in the products they sell.

There’s also the matter of Google’s recent major entry into the Irish software industry, with its new offices in Barrow St. in Dublin. MS are no longer the only major multinational player on the Irish scene to whom open source’s success, or failure, is a key factor in their business plans. Google use free software extremely extensively internally, are members of several major free software bodies including the FSF, and have released quite a few interesting pieces of open source software themselves.

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