Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Digging for Conspiracies?

While I appreciate the research and legal commentary over at Groklaw, the tendency of PJ and the regular posters to imagine vast conspiracies makes me more than a little uneasy. Yesterday I came across a truly jaw-dropping example that would be offensive if it wasn't so laughable; and since I happen to know more about the situation, I felt I should comment on it:

I have some questions about this group, BELUG, who did the article, I gather. There is no info on the site to be more informed. Anyone in the Seattle LUG know anything about this new group in Bellevue, 5 mins. from Bill Gates' house?


I don't like to be a cynic, and maybe they are a Linux user group, but if so, maybe the Seattle LUG can give them a hand.

Of course, we all know that the Microsoft corporate campus has an enormous mind-control ray mounted on Building 1 that turns everyone living on the Eastside of Seattle into mindless Gates-worshipping zombies. Part of Bill's personal security plan, dontchaknow. That's why BELUG starts every meeting with a round of "All Hail Gates, Lord of All That Is Electrified".

She goes on to complain about "major confusion" in their description of free software. At a quick read, I can only see two glaring problems with this page: first, they describe free software as being both "free in a monetary sense" and able to be sold (which is actually true but sounds like a contradiction without more explanation that they don't provide); later, there's some weird wooly-headed stuff about revolutionizing entire economies and societies. I don't know what they're talking about, but they certainly can't be accused of lacking enthusiasm.

Finally, she quotes a section of the FAQ that suggests that Microsoft professionals should learn Linux and vice versa, since the world is heterogenous and getting more so. I don't think that's controversial, so I think she must be referring to this question:

Q: Why does BELUG dislike Microsoft?

A: That is a complete misunderstanding. BELUG does not dislike Microsoft. Microsoft is our neighbor, and many of our friends and relatives work there. Both Microsoft's headquarters and Bill Gates' house are located just minutes away, and Microsoft's world sales headquarters is currently under construction nearly adjacent to BELUG's meeting location. BELUG merely believes in friendly competition and that competition can benefit everyone, including Microsoft. This is what a free market economy and the American system is (supposed to be) all about, and this is what has helped make the U.S. a great country.

The statement that Microsoft is nearby is nothing but geographical fact (I could walk about fifteen minutes from my apartment and be on the MS campus; does that make me an MS mole?).

As for the rest, I really don't see anything to complain about. I know some people like to rhetorically shred Microsoft at every opportunity, but if you're trying to attract members in Microsoft's hometown, it's wise to keep your comments polite. It's also true that Microsoft benefits from competition (even if they don't see it that way); I don't think it's a coincidence that their products started sucking drastically less as OSX and Linux became reasonable alternatives to Windows. And the fact that we can have friendly competition (as opposed to the cut-throat, take-no-prisoners style that's popular in some quarters) is exactly one of things I like about Linux. You will notice, however, that the Q&A carefully doesn't mention what sort of competition Microsoft engages in. I think anyone who knows anything about the company knows the answer to that one.

Here's the kicker, though: I actually attended a BELUG meeting a few months ago. It seemed pretty much like what I'd expect from a small group of volunteers: one guy gave a talk about hooking ALSA up to a digital audio receiver, another guy showed off a Unix kernel he had written for classic MacOS (it ran as a user process and presented a Unix-like interface to the Mac), someone passed around cookies, and people talked a bit about using Linux and so on.

The poor quality of the Web site and the lack of a mailing list probably reflect the fact that there are a handful of people organizing the thing who all have day jobs and other committments, not some vast Microsoft conspiracy to undermine Linux from the inside by setting up fake LUGs. PJ never said they were fakes outright, but it was a clear subtext of her comment, and the Groklaw regulars who replied knew exactly what she was getting at. If she really thinks they might be fakes, then I think she needs to take a break from watching SCO (which could make anyone paranoid and suspicious) and enjoy the holiday season instead.