My opinion on Mandriva vs. Microsoft

I have posted about an open letter François Bancilhon, CEO of Mandriva, wrote to Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft.

Here I intend to give proper answer to some comments in the Mandriva blog page, mostly covering ethical and legal issues.

For a complete immersion on the subject, please read the whole letter. For a summary: the government of Nigeria decided to buy 17k computers. Mandriva and Microsoft made offers, and Mandriva won. After the computers being sent to Nigeria, the government of Nigeria contacted Mandriva and informed them that they'd pay the bill, but that they had changed their mind and would install Windows instead.

Now some comments in the Mandriva blog page, and my responses:

Charles said

November 1, 2007 at 3:03 pm

Would you entrust your country’s educational computer future to a company whose CEO writes whiny unprofessional conspiracy theories on his blog? I sure as hell wouldn’t.

Even if bribes were made (and I’m just saying hypothetically ‘if’), the reality is that for this to have happened somebody must have seen value in a Microsoft solution over your ware. It’s your fault for not being able to convince the customer otherwise, not Microsoft’s for behaving like a business.

Grow up.

1) The whole point is that with Mandriva the Nigerian government wouldn't be "entrusting their country's educational computer future" to anyone. It's the other way around! No matter how stupid/lame/immoral/illegal Mandriva and its CEO are, once you make the Linux bet, you are free. You don't depend on any single vendor for anything. I know it's a complex concept for a slave-minded Windows user, but Linux is about Freedom. On the other hand, going for Windows implies entrusting yourself to a single company: Microsoft. Would you pledge obedience to an unethical, monopolistic, soulless, predatory and often illegal company? You are doing so by surrendering to MS. Besides, the CEO of Mandriva is not "whining". He is caring. After all, they got the money, so, if money was his only concern, he'd be happy. But he is concerned about more things, which you seem to be impervious to: the fairness of the deal, the fulfillment of closed agreements, the access of Nigerian youth to Free Software, the respect of MS to anti-monopoly and fair market rules... The wise is pointing the sky, and you look at the finger instead.

2) It is not Mandriva's "fault", and MS did not "behave like a business". If MS somehow bribed the Nigerian government, they'd be seriously breaking international law, violating the rules you rely on to believe you live in a democracy. Not "everything" is permitted in business. A monopolistic holding can not sell products below price (dumping) to eliminate the competitors. It is against law, and, if permitted, it totally damages the consumer in the long run. In the short run, the lower prices are a plus for the consumer, but once the competition is hampered, the company in the monopolistic position can continue abusing the market (raising the prices, lowering the quality, applying arbitrary limitations...).

sarek said,

November 5, 2007 at 3:46 pm


What are you whining about. You have sold your PC you already have your money. If the Nigerians would say, we don’t want to pay for the software because we install Microsoft Windows i could understand your complaining. But you have deliverd your goods, and got payed. What is your problem, if the Nigerians want to convert the machines to a Sony Playstation, that is not you problem, it is their right because they have bought and payed for the goods. I can’t understand all those whining of Linux community against Microsoft, I use Linux myself and the company uses Windows. Linux is not heaven and Microsoft is not Hell. If you look at companies as Suse/Novell and Red Hat, it is no open source anymore (they are copieing the Microsoft marketing strategie).

François, stop whining and use a better sales team

3) Again, François is not complaining for money! He is speaking of fairness, justice, and even the good of the Nigerians themselves. Don't you get it? Mandriva won the contract, because their offer was better. Any act whatsoever afterwards is a dirty trick (possibly illegal) to impose a worse product that had lost in fair competition. François is worried about Nigerians getting the worse product.

4) About Mandriva getting a better sales team... why should they? They freakin' won the contract!! Their product is better, and their sales team did convince the Nigerian government. Where did Mandriva fail? They should have bribed the Nigerian government, I infer?

Steve said,

November 5, 2007 at 2:41 pm

Come on guys! Seriously, you wonder why the mass market isn’t taking on Linux in numbers? There’s a number of reasons, but comments like:

“I am proud to be a linux user and i’ll die as a linux user.”

“MS is like a drug dealer”

And then moaning about ethics. Come on - this is business.

5) No. François is not talking only about ethics. Bribing someone to dump the option that won in a public competition and choose the loser option is illegal and unfair. Besides, it is also unethic, and your lame ad hominem attack on Linux users doesn't "prove" otherwise. What you accuse Linux users of is not unethic, and even if it were, it doesn't disprove our arguments (read what an ad hominem is, please).

Maybe, just maybe Microsoft presented a really good business case, stating the TCO on a volume licence agreement compared to the Mandrivia option. The cost would be reduced due to the volume licence agreement anyway, and that also includes free technical support to MS.

6) This line of argumentation is irrelevant. Obviously MS might have a better offer than Mandriva. But the public competition was made just for that! Both Mandriva and MS made the offers they considered fit, and Mandriva won. How many times does this need to be said? Mandriva won the competition and MS lost it. If the Nigerian government changed their mind afterwards, it has nothing to do with MS's merits, because such merits were judged in the public competition that Mandriva won.

Whilst Linux is a great platform, it’s still nowhere near Vista or XP level yet. Whilst Linux is free or very cheap this is OK - but if you compare Vista against Linux and remove the cost out of the equasion then the worlds most popular OS is probably going to win it.

7) You have obviously not used Linux much. The technical competition was lost for Windows long time ago. The only advantage of Windows is that it is more widely used and that more commercial software is made for it, and this generates a vendor lock-in effect. Both effects are external to Windows. Intrinsically, and leaving the price aside, Linux is miles ahead of MS Windows.

That’s just business, we’ve had the same thing happen to us (our company is a web development company. Got Phase 1 done, but support went as they got their system redone by a competitor before we even finished development) Get over it, stop whining like children and start working as a commerical entity rather than hobbyists.

8 ) This is not "business", this is breaking the law (see point 2 above).

chineme said,

November 4, 2007 at 8:28 pm

I don’t understand what all this fuss is about,Someone buys a laptop or PC that comes pre-installed with windows (also paying for the software) then remove windows and install mandriva no one complains.

Then he do the opposite and everyone takes up arms.

9) You are wrong. If I buy a laptop privately, I can do with it whatever I see fit. But the Nigerian government bought 17k computers with public money. Whenever you do something like that, you have to make (if you live in a democracy) a public competition, to see which provider makes the best offer (to guarantee that public money is spent correctly). This competition was made, and Mandriva won. If, afterwards, and with no further public competition, the government decides otherwise, they are misusing the public funds.

Lets face it the Nigerian government wanted a good cheap hardware deal and they got it and they probably also got a good deal on OS from Microsft as well. So they went for it. What is this Francois complaining about? Wasnt he paid or did they violate a contract that he can sue them for? If they did he can go ahead ad sue and stop whinning.

10) See point 9 above.

Did he ever go to Nigeria to protect his investment? Or did he just read up all the drivel and nonsense about Nigeria being a corrupt country full of spammers like the rest of you and decide to stay away as far as possible.

11) No. What François did was to win the public competition with his better offer. Period. Mandriva's offer was better, it won, and any other use of the Nigerian money is a misuse on the government's side, and illegal actions from MS's side depending on what they did to get the deal.

On spam: I recieve more spam on people trying to sell me viagra or sell me a home ownership loan or even winning a lottery than Nigerians trying to get me to move millions out of the country and I treat them all the same way: I trash them.

Lets concentrate on the real issue being poor marketing and follow up and leave Nigeria’s ethics or lack of it out of the issue

12) The "real issue" is not poor marketing. It is improper assignation of public funds. Read points 9 and 11 above.

Alex said,

November 3, 2007 at 5:46 pm

Dear François,
Your letter show ignorance on your part about black people in general and Nigerians in partucular. Nigerians may be poor now- but they are certainly not stupid!
Your assuption- even though you have dealt with nigerians is that they are ignorant about both business issue and they do not have they technical savvy to make their own decisions- it’s nothing but pure racism. Not racisim out of malice- you seem to demonstarte a sincere ignorance about the abilities of africans.

Incidentlly, only French young people spend more time in education than Nigerians in the whole world- you can check that out
Do you seriously Think Nigerians- some of the best educated people in in African , if not in the world are not clever enough to change from your OS to microsoft’s.

13) You are using a laughable straw man argument. François is not implying that Nigerians are stupid. He (if I understand correctly) is implying that a) MS behaved illegally, bribing the Nigerian government to make it choose an option that had lost in a fair and public competition, over the one that had won, and b) it might be a case of corruption in the Nigerian government side, by knowingly choosing the loser in the aforementioned competition, and hence misusing the public money assigned to buy computers. To "change their mind", the Nigerian government would have had to repeat the public competition, so that MS could win in a second round.

As a person of Nigerian parentage, when i first read about your deal I was alamed about you supplying your OS to nigerian schools. From what I know about Nigerians everybody used microsoft anyway- Every Nigerian I know- including the teachers who would be using this machnines use microsoft.

The delivery of machine s that are rugged by your company is just the perfect thing for nigeria and her schools.
To me it sounds like the best business outcome- from the point of view of the customer.
They get rugged machines good for their situation, and an os they are used to

I think for once Nigerians have let common sence rather than money to prevail.
Maybe you should press our advantage that they loved your machines to keep your relationship with the Nigerian govermenmt going, so that you get more contracts from the country- Nigerian is a huge country with millions of young people eager to learn. A well considered stategy and long term view by your country in a frican may in the end popularise your OS there as well- believe me there are ways to beat microsoft in a country like nigeria- I mean software design wise

14) Getting computers with Windows is about the worst possible outcome for Nigeria. You say that Nigerians are eager to learn, but on the other hand you say that getting Windows is better, because they are used to it! Staying with the known "bad" thing, not to have to learn the new "good" thing is very bad politics for a developing country.

GvS said,

November 2, 2007 at 4:55 pm

Maybe because Mandriva is just one of 10.000 linux distro’s, and Windows is the defacto industry standard.

15) Windows being the de facto standard is really really bad for the computer users. What this means is that instead of software makers following the standards agreed upon by all agents (makers, users, governments...), it's the other way around: users, governments and other companies have to follow the decisions of MS. Decisions that are taken to benefit only MS, regardless of how negative they might be for the users. Do you really think this situation is good for you?

If you are running a government, and you have to choose between:
a. A linux distro that my students have a 1% (a very very high estimate) of using in real life (that is working for a company)
b. A M$ solution, they will use in at least 50% (a very very low estimate) of the companies they will ever work for.
Now what do you choose to best prepare your students?

16) Your argument is that people shouldn't use Linux because people don't use Linux. Reread it, an realize what a nonsense it is! The correct reasoning is the following:

a) Windows binds you to a vendor (MS) / Linux doesn't
b) Windows restricts your rights to use, modify and redistribute it / Linux doesn't
c) Windows artificially restricts (DRM) what kind of media you can play on it / Linux doesn't
d) Windows encourages you not to learn how the computer works / Linux does the opposite
e) Windows makes you dependent on proprietary formats / Linux doesn't
f) Windows is bug ridden, unstable and subject to malware / The incidence of these is infinitely smaller in Linux
g) Windows encourages following the beaten path / Linux encourages finding your own way
h) Windows makes you fall in a dependency loop that is hard to get out of / Linux gives you freedom
i) Windows means more money to the already rich / Linux means more power to the user

Now, as a teacher in a developing country, eager to break the chains with the First World domination, to give the most freedom and power to your students, to educate them to learn, and not just repeat what others do without real knowledge... what would you choose to provide your students?

Anonymous said,

November 1, 2007 at 4:02 am


Why are you assuming that Microsoft did something underhanded? It could very well be the case that a deal with Microsoft is more viable for the Nigerian goverment in the longer run -
- Their products are tried and trusted. Yours is still an unknown quantity.
- Their customer support is supposedly very good. How about yours?
- Maybe the TCO for Microsoft’s solution is lower than your solution.

I’m in no way taking sides. But you must be willing to accept the possibility that Microsoft could have presented a better long term deal for them.

17) Did you actually read François's post? MS lost the public competition. Mandriva won it. MS's offer could have been better, but it actually wasn't. Read point 6 above.

djbon2112 said,

November 2, 2007 at 11:37 am

Wow, more bitching from a Linux distro because Microsoft won a deal? Unheard-of!

18) Again the same nonsense! Microsoft LOST the deal. There was a public competition, and Mandriva won. Mandriva and MS had the opportunity to make their best offers, both did, and the government chose Madriva. MS didn't win the deal: they bribed their way into it. Read points 2, 6 and 9 above, please.

Sorry, but Microsoft makes a better product. You know why? It doesn’t abuse my time.

I’ve tried to use Linux. I’ve tried Ubuntu, and Debian, and Fedora, and countless other distros (yours included) throughout the years. And every time, I’ve run into problems which are so simple to fix in Windows, but take HOURS of my time to attempt to fix in Linux. And I say “attempt”, because 90% of the time, the “solutions” don’t work, and I’ve wasted another hour of my life trying to make something simple (like, a Flash plug-in for Firefox in x64?, to name one of MANY!) work.

A friend of mine said, “Linux is only free if your time is worthless”. Microsoft products work easily, the first time, and don’t waste my life with trivial issues and setup. I can get a Windows Vista box up and surfing the internet, playing games, watching movies, doing ANYTHING you want, in under 2 hours. I’ll take a little “insecurity” (and Windows is only insecure if you’re an idiot) for that!

19) This rant is more tech-related than about the Mandriva vs. MS issue at hand. Anyway, I will comment something: your experience is anecdotal. Windows is easier than Linux if you are an expert in the former, and an ignorant in the latter. I have a long experience in both, and for me Linux is easier. When I an forced to use that pile of crap called Windows I keep finding that I don't know how to do the simplest things. Maybe it's because I am more used to Linux... so this proves my point. And there are a lot of things that are really simple in Linux, and are really annoying, or impossible to do in Windows.

You say that "Linux is only free if your time is worthless". It's a good point, but rather false. You are assuming that you already know how to use Windows, and that you have to learn how to use Linux. But if you know neither, learning Linux does not necessarily require more of your valuable time. Moreover, all the time I have spent figuring out how to do things in Linux was not wasted time for me. I learned a lot, not about Linux, but about how to do stuff, and how computers work, and how the Internet works, and about security, and about programming, and about an awful lot of things. Linux gave me the marvelous opportunity to learn a lot!

Update: Nigerian government moves back to Mandriva

Euskaltel y sus tarifas

Da gusto ver anuncios de empresas que te cuentan que se preocupan por tí. Que mejoran contínuamente por tí. Que avanzan por tí.

Euskaltel es una de esas empresas. Una empresa que ofrece cosas nuevas constantemente, y que no para de mejorar el servicio y abaratar las facturas. Como muestra un botón. He encontrado un papel con las tarifas de Euskaltel a fecha de 11 de octubre de 2005, cuando acudía a un distribuidor oficial para contratar banda ancha en casa. Pues bien, me ha entrado curiosidad por compararla con las tarifas actuales, y los resultados los resumo en la tabla que sigue. Todos los precios están en euros (mensuales, excepto "Recarga", que son por 4h), y sin IVA.

Servicio Tarifa a 11/10/2005 Tarifa a 07/10/2007
Tarifa plana 56kbps 15.03 17.54
Despega 300 23 23
Despega 3M 39 39
Despega 6M 75 -
Despega 8M 120 -
Despega 12M - 75
Despega 24M - 120
Por Volumen 1M 19.5 19.5
Recarga 300 5 5
Recarga 1M - 7.5
Recarga 3M 7.5 -
Recarga 4M - 14.5
Recarga 6M 14.5 -

Los servicios "Despega" son tarifas planas (desde 300kbps hasta 24Mbps). Los servicios "Recarga" se cobran por bonos de 4, 8 o 12 horas (que cuestan x, 2x o 3x. No hay ningún beneficio por adquirir bonos de mayor duración. La tabla muestra el valor de "x"). El servicio "Por Volumen" implica un tráfico total (download+upload) de menos de 4GB/més. Mencionar también (aunque la tabla no lo incluye) que Euskaltel ofrece ahora (y hace dos años no), un servicio de "Contrato", en el que el consumo de banda ancha se paga por horas (¡menudo avance!).

Un análisis crítico de la tabla nos muestra lo siguiente: en "Despega", los servicios de menor ancho de banda cuestan lo mismo que hace dos años. Los servicios más caros han mantenido el precio, pero aumentando la velocidad de la conexión. Esto es, en principio, positivo. Pero me gustaría saber cuántos particulares (estas tarifas son para particulares. Las empresas tienen otras tarifas), contratan una banda ancha de 24Mbps, pagando ciento veinte eurazos al mes (más IVA). El cliente medio (por ejemplo, yo), quiere una banda ancha digna (300kbps apenas puede llamarse digno en el año 2007), lo más barata posible. Por ejemplo, 1M a 20 euros/més. Pero esto no lo ofrecerán nunca; no porque nadie lo quiera, sino precisamente porque todo el mundo lo quiere, y por tanto dejarían de pagar más por otras opciones que no quieren, pero son "lo que hay". Ahora mismo, Euskaltel ofrece unos lamentables 300kbps por 23 euros (más IVA). Si uno quiere más de 0.3Mbps, tiene que irse a 3Mbps y pagar 39 euros más IVA. Yo me conformaría con la mitad de velocidad (1.5Mbps) y la mitad de precio... pero no lo hay!

Más kafkiano aún es el análisis del servicio "Recarga". Los precios siguen siendo los mismos que hace 2 años, también. Pero lo brutalmente irónico es que ahora te cobran por 1Mbps/4Mbps lo que hace 2 años te cobraban por 3Mbps/6Mbps. Han tenido el morro de bajar la velocidad del servicio, manteniendo el precio.

El que dijo que el capitalismo y el mercado libre hacen que las empresas mejoren sus productos y bajen sus precios que venga y me explique esto, porque yo no lo entiendo.

Yahoo!, the defenders of the civil liberties

It is not new: we all know that companies like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! sold their souls to the capital so badly, that they'd even collaborate with communism. Paradoxical, uh? In other words: they love freedom, but they love money best (I don't berate China for being communist, but for its lack of liberties). These companies will collaborate with any totalitarian government or do any unethical thing if it returns money... and this is legal? Surely not.

The last bit is Yahoo! betraying the confidence in their online privacy of some Chinese anti-government activists, and selling their identities to the police of that country. You can read more at the BBC site.

Yahoo! kind of defends itself by saying that it has to comply with the local laws in the countries it operates. I call this bullshit. If the laws of some country are not ethically acceptable, or are legally incompatible with the civil rights of most "first world" countries (including the original country of the company, in this case the USA), then the company must dismiss operating on the country at all, unless it accepts abiding by these laws (as Yahoo! itself says), therefore supporting them, and therefore being liable to a punishment for their application (e.g. they can be fined in the USA for doing whatever in China, if this act is legal in China, but illegal in the USA). If they don't have what it takes to face the punishment, they should refrain from operating in the country at all.

More news:

1) Digg search for Yahoo and China

2) Same, for Google (incidentally, see the mentions to Wikipedia not bowing to China).

3) Same, for Microsoft. Check, e.g., Gates defending Google over censorship issue.

4) Yahoo!, Microsoft ink web pact with Chinese government

Compre libros y gane dinero

Cierto es que no gané mucho dinero, pero ayer compré un libro y volví a casa con más dinero del que llevaba... ¿cómo?

Fui con mi hermana a comprar un libro de Harry Potter (la excusa es decir que le gustan a ella), y como era sábado y un poco tarde, nos fuimos a Eroski (un supermercado). Allí encontramos un ejemplar que nos faltaba, por 19.00 euros (¡ménudo robo!), y lo cogimos. En la caja nos cobraron 19.48 euros, aunque le avisé a la cajera de que ese no era el precio que ponía en el propio libro. Ella me dijo que fuera a Información a reclamar. Así lo hice, con mis 52 céntimos de vueltas de un billete de 20 euros, más el libro y el ticket.

Pues bien, en Información nos devolvieron el dinero, que es la política que tiene Eroski cuando cobra algo de manera incorrecta. Hasta ahí todo bien: el libro me salía gratis, por 48 céntimos de error en la cuenta. Pero lo bueno vino cuando le di los 52 céntimos, para que la empleada me diera un billete de 20 euros. Resulta que se hizo la picha un lío y me devolvió 20 euros y cinco céntimos. Yo la habría sacado de su error, pero no me apetecía perder cinco minutos aclarando semejante minucia, y opté por ignorarlo.

Así que acabé llevándome un libro, no solo sin pagarlo, sino cobrándolo.

Prisoners, queens and why we should bother about them

There are two concepts that I find very interesting, and that apply to many situations, from everyday life to international politics. One concept applies to prisoners, and the other to Royalty, but their long arms reach much farther.

The "royal" concept is that of the Red Queen's race, taken from Lewis Carrol's Through the Looking-Glass (aka "Alice in Wonderland II"). This race is one in which runners must run the fastest they can to stay in place. To move, they'd have to run twice that fast.

The other concept is that of the prisoner's dilemma. The dilemma is a game with the following rules (taken from Wikipedia):

Two suspects, A and B, are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal: if one testifies for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent, the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both stay silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must make the choice of whether to betray the other or to remain silent. However, neither prisoner knows for sure what choice the other prisoner will make. So this dilemma poses the question: How should the prisoners act?

The "ideal" solution would seem both to stay silent, but if you look closely, whatever the other player chooses, any single player is better off by betraying. So, any rational player should choose to betray, even though this leads to both betraying, and gives an overall lower payoff (higher punishment for both).

Now, for the third part of the title of this post... why should we care? Well, it seems to me that we can find all around us cases of Red Queen races caused by sub-optimal solutions to prisoner's dilemmas. For example, it is quite apparent the rise in SUVs and all-terrain vehicle sales. People here in Europe seem to start following the silly North-American custom of buying the biggest vehicle available, regardless of usability and needs fulfilled. One of the pseudo-reasons given by sellers is that SUVs are safer. Why would that be? Well, because if a small car and a SUV crash head-on, the passengers of the latter are much more likely to be less hurt than the ones in the former. This sounds rational... but is utter crap. I don't claim that people buy these vehicles for that reason, but it helps.

Now, let's analize the scenario: it is true that in a SUV/small car crash, the SUV is better off. However, SUV/SUV crashes are worse for all passengers than small car/small car hits are. From that information, it is apparent that we are facing a prissoner's dilemma (not counting the fact that SUV/wall hits are also worse). Buying a SUV would be betraying, and buying a small car cooperating. The buyer of a SUV hopes that all other players/buyers get small cars, so that her option gives her an edge over the others. However, if we all think the same, we'll all buy SUVs, and then we will reach a betray/betray equilibrium, when a coop/coop equilibrium would be better for all. We'd be running a Red Queen race, only to end up in the same place: all with SUVs, instead of all with small cars... but all with equivalent vehicles (and actually worse, overall).

Another similar situation would be that of the arms race. We all know the story: two or more countries/factions increase their weaponry, not to be overwhelmed by the other country/faction, in a potential war. Now, no matter what country A does, country B will be better off stocking more weapons: if A stays unarmed, B can beat it. If A arms itself, B has to arm itself not to be beat. However, Both countries being armed (betray/betray) is immensely worse than both countries being unarmed (coop/coop). In both cases the war is deterred by the offensive/defensive equilibrium, but in the former the risk for a catastrophe is much higher.

We are fooled by governments and army leaders, assuring us that other countries will play the "betray" card (and arm themselves), so we should play it too. However, think of the fact that in their countries, the other citizens are told exactly the same about us by their government. An no-one seems to explain that the betray/betray solution is sub-optimal, and that coop/coop solutions could exist.

I have no solution for these issues... but, dear reader, maybe you could find it if you thought about it. Please, do.

Manzanas, CDs y mucho cuento

Supongo que no estoy descubriendo nada nuevo con este post, pero quizá aclare mis ideas escribiéndolas, y puede que hasta aclare las de algún lector.

Empecemos por establecer el objetivo del post: hacer ver al lector que cobrar por copias/licencias de CDs de música/software es robar. Sí, ha leído ud. bien. No me refiero a que "piratear" sea robar, sino todo lo contrario: es la discográfica o la empresa de software la que roba al cliente.

Aclarémoslo: ¿en concepto de qué nos cobran?

Tomemos un CD de música, o un programa de software comercial. Cuando pagamos un dinero por "comprarlo", ¿qué pagamos?

Para contestar a esta pregunta quizá convenga comparar un CD con algo más cercano (para algunos, al menos): una manzana. Si vamos a la frutería y pagamos por un kilo de manzanas... ¿qué gasto sufragamos con nuestro dinero? Puede argumentarse que estamos pagando los gastos de producción, y que ese es también el caso de nuestro proverbial CD de música o software. Pero esto no es del todo cierto. En una sociedad capitalista, no se paga por compensar los sufrimientos del que produce algo, sino en función de cuánto estemos dispuestos a pagar por ello, porque el comprarlo nos evita la molestia de tener que obtener por nuestros propios medios el producto (en el ejemplo, plantar nosotros mismos un manzano).

Supongamos que compramos una manzana, y cogemos sus pepitas. Supongamos que las plantamos y cuidamos durante años, hasta que florece un manzano, y cuando las manzanas están maduras las recogemos y comemos, redistribuyendo entre nuestros amigos las que no queramos. Nadie puede impedírnoslo, y el único motivo para no hacerlo, y comprar las manzanas en la tienda, es que esta manera de duplicar manzanas es costoso. Es esta molestia la que evitamos con nuestro dinero, y no el preservar ningún derecho del vendedor de la manzana original, quien ya nos cobró un precio que consideraba justo por la manzana, y lo que hagamos con ella tras esta transacción de compra-venta justa no le incumbe.

Ahora bien, supongamos que plantar las semillas es trivial. Supongamos que el ciclo de crecimiento del manzano es prácticamente inmediato, y supongamos que obtener las manzanas maduras sea un proceso rápido y poco costoso. Supongamos, también, que la redistribución de las manzanas sobrantes no nos cueste nada. En este caso, ¿sería justo que el vendedor de la manzana original quisiera limitar nuestro derecho a multiplicarla y redistribuir los productos? ¿En base a qué? ¿Simplemente porque es fácil hacerlo? ¿Simplemente porque nuestra redistribución daña su negocio, al serle a él más difícil vender sus manzanas, si nosotros damos gratis las nuestras?

Reflexionemos un poco, porque esto es lo que pasa con la música y el software. Si la copia primigenia se vende a un precio justo, lo que el comprador haga con ella no puede ser de incumbencia del vendedor. Tal como están ahora las cosas, los vendedores de música/software nos están cobrando por el privilegio de hacer copias, que a ellos les salen a un coste marginal. Hay unas leyes que criminalizan el hacer copias y redistribuir ciertos productos, y ello obliga al consumidor a pagar a ciertas personas autorizadas para que ellas hagan las copias y se las proporcionen... Pero no estamos pagando, como con las manzanas, por que otros hagan algo que nosotros no queremos hacer, sino algo que no nos dejan hacer.

Pero, ¿acaso no merece el artista/programador una compensación?

Pues claro que sí. Sucede que, como he dicho, no estamos pagando para cubrir los gastos de producción, sino los "gastos" de duplicación, que son prácticamente inexistentes, y solo se pagan porque las leyes nos quitan el derecho de hacerlo nosotros mismos, y dan los privilegios a otros.

Puede entonces preguntárseme cómo pagar al artista/programador por su trabajo. Pues es bien fácil: cobrando un precio justo por la copia original. Da igual que este precio sea un euro o un millón de euros. El CD "original" debe ser vendido en justicia, y el legítimo comprador debe obtener todos los derechos sobre lo que ha comprado.

Analicemos esta proposición. Supongamos que la empresa Nanosoft produce el sistema operativo Doors, y que le ha costado 10M euros (por decir algo) producirlo. Puede intentar vender 100k copias, a 110 euros cada, y sacará un 10% de beneficio, pero hemos visto que esto no es muy justo, porque traslada el cobrar por un producto (el software), lo cual es justo, a cobrar por un servicio (la duplicación y redistribución), lo cual, siendo prácticamente gratuito y fácil de hacer por el propio cliente, es injusto.

La alternativa es que Nanosoft venda el software original, junto con todos los derechos de duplicación, por 11M euros. Sí, comprendo que nadie estaría dispuesto a pagar ese precio por una copia, pero es que los está pagando por hacer, potencialmente, infinitas copias. Si alguien no está dispuesto a pagar ese precio, ¿por qué se produce ese producto? Si el valor del producto que obtiene el comprador no compensa un desembolso de 11M euros, ¿por qué se ha gastado Nanosoft 10M en producirlo? Y, en todo caso, ¿por qué espera Nanosoft recuperar su inversión?

Si existiera un comprador que obtenga Doors al precio considerado justo por Nanosoft, este compador podría, a su vez, venderlo a otra persona, y/o hacer copias ilimitadas, vendiéndolas o no (y recordemos que Nanosoft sigue pudiendo hacer copias del software). Pero tengamos en cuenta otra cosa: que todo comprador, una vez pagado un precio justo al vendedor (Nanosoft, o cualquiera en la cadena), se convierte a su vez en vendedor y redistribuidor legítimo. Esto implica, obviamente, que el software será cada vez más difícil de vender, y que se "devaluará", pues los sucesivos compradores temerán cada vez más que sus predecesores redistribuyan las copias que se quedaron. Pero esto no es injusto, dado que cada vez que alguien revende el CD no pierde realmente nada, ya que sigue quedándose con todos los derechos que adquirió cuando hizo su compra.

Hay que hacer especial hincapié en el hecho de que alguien en la cadena de compradores (incluido el primer eslabón: el productor) tiene que vender una copia del producto (p.e. un CD de Doors XP) si y solo si el comprador le ofrece un precio justo, y que una vez vendida la copia por un precio justo, el vendedor comparte todos los derechos de los que disfruta sobre la copia y redistribución del producto con el comprador. No "cede" ningún derecho, porque una vez efectuada la venta, él sigue teniendo todos sus derechos intactos.

La presente situación, en que los compradores somos criminalizados por hacer copias y redistribuir productos que no están fuera de nuestra capacidad de copiar y redistribuir, se produce por el simple hecho de que los productores de software/música no son capaces de vender sus productos por un precio justo, y se ven obligados a vender copias individuales a precios inferiores, esperando recuperar el gasto vendiendo muchas copias. Pero esto no es nuestro problema como consumidores. Si a mí se me vende algo por un precio considerado justo, tengo todo el derecho a hacer con ese producto lo que quiera, incluido compartirlo, regalarlo, duplicarlo o quemarlo. Yo no tengo ningún problema con que los precios suban. Me parece una opción lícita. Los productores pueden pedir lo que quieran por sus productos, y el comprador puede comprar o no. Pero lo que el productor no puede hacer es violar los derechos del comprador, ni fiscalizar qué hace el comprador con su compra.

Si no permitimos que el frutero nos diga qué hacemos con una manzana (comerla, compartirla, plantarla y duplicarla, o tirarla a la basura), ¿por qué tenemos que aceptarlo de un productor de software o música? Respuesta: no tenemos por qué.

How (legally) strong is the word "free"?

It seems that the answer is: a lot.

Perusing some old e-mails (I save all the e-mails I receive, except spam and stupid 2MB presentations), I found the following one, dated November 11, 2006:

Hello all,

I read in your page at:

That your "[...] project has the goal of providing high quality, comprehensive, accessible and free information about Linux and other free software"

How is it "free", if the page also reads?:

"Copyright © 2004 - 2006 The Linux Information Project. All Rights reserved."

Could you publish the information under a Creative Commons, or GNU Free
Documentation License? Either that, or remove the "free" part in the
paragraph above.

Yours sincerely,


As it follows from my e-mail, I was concerned for the use of the adjective "free" in an incorrect way. The reader might think they (of course) ignored my warning, because "free" is such a loose, multi-meaning, not-legally-binding word, much like "healthy", "good", "in a minute", "you can do it yourself", "natural", "organic"... and all the jargon used in advertising to convey a positive look of the product, while still dodging potential sues for misguiding information.

Well, not quite. It seems that in software and information technology, "free" has a definite meaning, which would not meet. As such, you can visit their current page, which now reads:

Welcome to The Linux Information Project (LINFO)! This project is dedicated to providing high quality, comprehensive and easily accessible information about Linux and other free software.

See any missing word? Why, the "free" is gone!

Maybe it sounds petty and nit-picking, but it isn't. There is an increasing tendency to bastardize words like free software and the like, which I ascribe to closing the gap between "free and good" and "closed, for-profit, and evil". Corporations have noticed how some terms are gaining progressive good reputation, like e.g. free software, and don't want to lose terrain in the ensuing war.

This war has two fronts: first, demean everything that smells of "freedom". For example, label "free software" products as "open souce software". Why? Because it weakens its link with some freedom ideals, and conveys the idea that what makes that software different is simply that you can read the source code. You will also recognize bastards playing on this side because they will always refer to "free software" (software created and used with freedom) as "software that is free of cost" or "no-cost software", or any other construction that tries to reduce all the benefits and characteristics of free software to the concept that it is free of cost, like mere freeware (read an example in a previous post[es]).

The second front is attaching the label "free" and/or "open" to any product that could conceivably (or inconceivably) bear it, much like "low-fat" would be attached to any food, be it naturally fatty or not (in which case little an achievement it would be), or even non-food (like tobacco), or "organic" to anything from food to clothes to shampoos.

In this confrontation, we start a slippery slope of giving blurry meanings to words, then end up having blurry concepts applied, like a "low-fat" super-hamburger that can single-handedly obstruct all your arteries with its cholesterol, but is called "low-fat" because it has lower fat content than another similar size burger, or a page showing information that they call "free", but is under burdensome copyrights, that (for example) take from you the simplest right of copying the information and sharing it with others freely.

Vodafone 0 - Iñaki 1

El que haya leído mi anterior post, sabrá que había renunciado a comprarme el móvil que estaba buscando, porque, pese a que lo pedí en dos tiendas Vodafone antes de que la promoción que me interesaba expirase, me decían que me cobrarían lo que valiese el móvil el día que llegara a la tienda (tenían que encargarlo, porque había lista de espera), no lo que valía el día que lo pedí (dentro de la oferta).

Obviamente mi posición particular no tiene nada que ver con ello, pero hoy me he enterado de que han prorrogado el plazo de la promoción un més, con lo cual he encargado uno.

Aunque había gente que se burlaba de mi actuación, porque al fin y al cabo me estaba quedando sin móvil, y me recomendaban bajarme los pantalones y encargar el móvil de marras, pidieran lo que pidieran el día que fuese a pagarlo... pues mira, me ha salido bien la jugada. Si me hubiera bajado los pantalones habría obtenido el mismo móvil, y al mismo precio, porque la promoción se habría prorrogado de todas maneras... pero lograrlo manteniendo un poquito de dignidad he de reconocer que le hace sentir a uno bastante mejor.

Vodafone: este es tu momento

Este es mi momento sí. Literalmente un "momento" es lo que te dan para actuar.

Resulta que he recibido este fin de semana propaganda de unas ofertas del programa de puntos de Vodafone, y he visto un móvil (Nokia 6085) que me podía interesar. Pues bien, esta mañana he pasado por una tienda Vodafone, y ya no lo tenían. He llamado a otra tienda de Donosti y tampoco les quedaban. En ambas tiendas tenían una lista de espera de gente que lo había pedido, y en ambas tiendas me decían que si el móvil llegaba después del día 28 (mañana), cuando el plazo de la oferta expira, me cobrarían el precio que hubiera en ese momento, no el de la oferta.

He llamado al 123 y al 114 (teléfonos gratuitos de Vodafone), pero responde una máquina, y lograr algo de información o llegar a hablar con una persona a la que gritar e insultar requiere la paciencia que uno no tiene (y por eso precisamente llama), por no decir que resulta directamente imposible.

Y yo me pregunto: ¿qué posibilidades me ha dado Vodafone de beneficiarme de la promoción? Me han avisado tarde (tenía de plazo del viernes que me enteré al miércoles siguiente, que expira la promoción), las tiendas no tienen el producto que Vodafone promete, y no tengo posibilidad alguna de lograr ese producto al precio que se me promete... a mí me suena a timo, ¿no?

Métete el móvil por donde puedas, Vodafone.