Comparing Microsoft to Drug Dealers

Posted 12 Sep 2004 at 19:24 UTC by shlomif Share This

Many people have recently compared the fact that Microsoft supplies licenses for its software for free or very cheaply to educational institutes to drug dealers who give the first serving of drugs free of charge. While there is a similarity, this comparison is very misleading.

In fact, this is a tactic that many merchants and distributors have employed for a long time, and is perfectly legitimate. For example, J. D. Rockefeller gave away free Kerosene lamps so people will buy his oil. Likewise, in the story "A Simply Story", Shmuel Yosef Agnon tells of a shop owner who gave away candies to children, that when they grew up bought a lot of pricier products from her, consistently.

There's nothing wrong with employing this strategy, and it's perfectly moral and legal. So, comparing Microsoft to drug dealers on these grounds alone, is something that is completely out of place.


Moral, posted 12 Sep 2004 at 19:42 UTC by stefan » (Master)

what makes you say that this is 'perfectly moral and legal' ?

Re: Moral, posted 12 Sep 2004 at 23:37 UTC by shlomif » (Master)

stefan: well, now you triggered my opinion bit. OK, first of all let's agree by saying it is legal. Unless your country has some crazy laws trying to prevent such business practices (which it shouldn't), then it is legal according to the juristication. As for objectively legal, (i.e: what can be deduced from logic and basic facts of nature to be the proper bylaws) that depends on how you define objective law. The definition I like is the Neo-Tech constitution and you can see that such actions are perfectly in accordance to it.

Now for moral. The definition I accept of what is moral and what isn't is very simple: "Whatever is consciously done to fill human biological needs is good and moral. Whatever is consciously done to prevent filling human biological needs is bad and immoral.". Now by itself, this marketing technique is moral only depending on the context. Obviously, when used by drug dealers it is immoral. But when used by more benevolent traders, it is perfectly moral and acceptable, as it helps fill their own biological needs, while not detracting on others.

Wait, posted 12 Sep 2004 at 23:50 UTC by Mysidia » (Journeyer)

Just because it seems to be popular does not mean tht it is moral. There are some fundamental differences between the simple marketing/ promotion tactic: I don't see these analogies as a convincing argument that the tactic is moral. And I think the differences between the Development Software in an Educational environment situation is much different than free tidbits to help give a positive impression to a brand name.

  • Receiving a kerosene lamp may indeed encourage you to use the oil for the lamp. But there is little burden from you later choosing another oil or a different kind of light source and faring just as well.

  • However: once a student learns to use a software package, they will have a much stronger impetus to continue to use it, a knowledge barrier: they may not know how to use the other packages... they have already created work/data with the other packages, hence they need to continue to use it or they have to start over and possibly do a lot of work to learn how to use an alternative.

Similarly there is a fundamental difference from giving candles to children; they won't be putting much work into learning how a specific kind of candle's interface works: they all work the same, and the children can readily make the choice to use any different kind of candle without extra work.

The store owner would NOT have had the bargainning power to sell "educational candles" and later raise the price to $500 a piece for their edition of candles usable outside an educational environment and continue to sell them. Whereas Microsoft WOULD have this level of bargainning power.

That is to say, the major difference between pushing a complex software product in this way is it SNARES users onto the particular product, that they will later have to license for exhorbitant amounts.

jurisdiction etc., posted 13 Sep 2004 at 00:20 UTC by stefan » (Master)

well, one of the reasons I questioned the meaning of 'moral' and 'legal' was that I'd like to point out that these are quite relative terms. What is legal in your jurisdiction isn't necessarily so in mine. The same holds for moral. Just for the record, I do consider such practice amoral, and I would render it illegal if I could. But that's beside the point...

Economy doesn't follow human made laws, quite in the opposite: laws are usually made to provide a-posteriory justification for existing practice. At least for those who rule.

I'd rather not follow the direction you outline with 'human biological needs'. Thats scaringly reductionistic. I hope humanity at the beginning of the 21st century has learned that there is more to the attribute 'humane' than biology.

And no, nothing in what you are saying is 'obvious'.

Gah, posted 13 Sep 2004 at 03:11 UTC by tk » (Observer)

I write about Neo-Tech here.

this comparison, posted 13 Sep 2004 at 07:33 UTC by yeupou » (Master)

"There's nothing wrong with employing this strategy, and it's perfectly moral and legal. So, comparing Microsoft to drug dealers on these grounds alone, is something that is completely out of place. "

I think this comparison is only valid when we look at the customer: to accept Microsoft deals because of lowered price, you definitely have to be a bit short-sighted, like a dumb kid wanting to have fun without paying attention to the high cost he'll have to pay later. Microsoft commercial deals is not a big surprise. Most companies do so. And it makes sense. It's up to customers to think about their needs.

Re: Wait (answer to Mysidia), posted 13 Sep 2004 at 09:55 UTC by shlomif » (Master)

Mysidia: You are right that just because it is popular it isn't necessarily moral. However, I gave some examples from more legitimate sources to show that it isn't limited to Microsoft and drug dealers alone.

As for the "getting used to software" argument, well - you have a point. Nevertheless, if the formats used by the software are well-documented and the software behaviour is obvious, there should not be a problem in converting to a different software, or write a script to convert the files from the old format to the new one.

I personally detest undocumented formats and protocols, very much, and even support laws that force government bodies to use only software whose formats are fully-documented. This way, the risk of vendor lock-in is minimized.

As for "candles", I specifically said "candies" (i.e: "sweets").

Re: jurisdiction etc. (reply to stefan), posted 13 Sep 2004 at 10:21 UTC by shlomif » (Master)

You are right that there can be different actions that may be legal or illegal in different places. However, the technique I described is legal in most countries, and would be very hard to be made illegal. From when is giving sweets to children considered illegal? A person is entitled to do anything he pleases with his property, including giving it away. If there's a long-term benefit in this for a shop owner, then so be it, but the action per-ce is still not wrong.

Now regarding "moral" and "legal": I think we can distinguish between two levels of Ethics. One of them consists of actions that should be enforced and prohibited. Among the unenforcable actions are actions that while being harmful should still be perfectly legal. Smoking is harmful, but there's no point in prohibiting it. So is getting angry at someone, because you thought he insulted you.

I don't agree that making this practice illegal would be a good idea. For once, it's very hard to prove someone is doing this. (requires future forecasting, etc.) And it also has the potential of criminalizing many other legitimate practices.

As for "human biological needs". Granted, humanism is more about biology. There's also a lot of spirituality involved, and Neo-Tech acknowledges that Happiness is the ultimate human goal. However, as far as morality is concerned, the human biological needs are the only objective way to define them. If we take the actions of great villains (like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc.) then they killed many people, thus depriving them of their needs (life is definitely a human biological need). So, you can easily say they were acting immorally.

On the other hand if we take a look at the great producers of the world, who gave us electricity, transport, abundant food supply, raised the quality of living, etc. then they clearly helped fill human biological needs, and ergo their actions were good and moral. Between these two extremes, there's a lot of middle-ground. Some actions are naturally ammoral - neither good nor bad.

Nazi comparison meme, posted 13 Sep 2004 at 15:04 UTC by tk » (Observer)

shlomif: as gilbou might say, you crossed Godwin's point and thus you lose.

Re: Nazi comparison meme, posted 13 Sep 2004 at 18:21 UTC by shlomif » (Master)

tk: merely mentioning Hitler does not violate Godwin's Law. Plus, I did not compare any distinguished Advogatoer to Hitler. For more information refer to the Godwin's Law FAQ.

YHBT. YHL. HAGD.

Re: Nazi comparison meme, posted 13 Sep 2004 at 19:16 UTC by tk » (Observer)

Here's what the FAQ says:

"So, what this means in practical terms:

  • If someone brings up Nazis in general conversation when it wasn't necessary or germane without it necessarily being an insult, it's probably about time for the thread to end."

You put the reference to Hitler in parentheses, which means it wasn't necessary. Man, can't you just lose with honour instead of being a sore loser?

blah, posted 14 Sep 2004 at 06:53 UTC by yeupou » (Master)

Godwin Law is definitely pure crap. It just have no sense. There no difference between saying "you earn a godwin point because you use the word BLAH" and saying "you are a nazi because you said BLOH".

What does "lose" mean?, posted 14 Sep 2004 at 07:28 UTC by slamb » (Journeyer)

tk: A discussion is not a war, to be won or lost. It is a communal quest for truth. And you are inhibiting it by responding at only the most superficial level. Look beyond the presence of a word to its context. Respond to the thoughts expressed there. Or simply leave.

Re: what does "lose" mean?, posted 14 Sep 2004 at 09:10 UTC by shlomif » (Master)

slamb: thanks for coming to my defense. In any case, I suggest we ignore tk for the time being. He is obviously one of the Advogato resident trolls. He is intelligent, but often reports various perfectly fine elements as wrong ones. If his programming is anything like his philosophizing, he would find ten imaginary bugs in the "Hello World" program. ;-)

Let's continue this discussion (and others) while simply ignoring him. "Don't argue with a fool. People may not be able to tell the difference."

*sigh*, posted 14 Sep 2004 at 19:59 UTC by tk » (Observer)

slamb, I know you can say more intelligent things than that.

And shlomif, that's a nice try, but don't even think of going against the laws of nature. As Usenet Rule #4 says,

Any off-topic mention of Hitler or Nazis will cause the thread it is mentioned in to an irrelevant and off-topic end very soon; ...

seeking moral ground for drug dealing, posted 15 Sep 2004 at 16:45 UTC by sye » (Journeyer)

drug dealing is a reality for a long long time in many places. What has been a reality for many people has to have a moral ground. So what is the moral ground for drug dealing? And if we start discussion from that view point, we may be ready to proceed with 'what's this moral and immortal thing about companies like Microsoft'.

Both are greedy, posted 15 Sep 2004 at 20:55 UTC by Mysidia » (Journeyer)

As I see it... In the sense that they provide for something free at first, which they could afford to provide cheaply (and still see beyond immense profit).

Once addicted to their product like one of their OSes.. a "fair price" is whatever they tell you it is; even though it doesn't or shouldn't cost them much at all per unit to make.

They've established some kind of unfair coercive power over you: your data locked in proprietary file formats, everything you have learned applicable and specific to the idiosyncracies of their products, their frameworks, etc.

In the case of drug dealers... the coercive power is physical dependency on a drug. In the case of software it's mental dependency... in the sense that the choices you know of are reduced as your data becomes intertwined (and stored in .XLS files and .PPT files).

The situation that arises is noone learns about alternatives (like Linux or rehab).. because everyone's too busy lighting up or booting up to the blue screen of death. Besides, if you switched OSes you lose access to your favorite interfaces and favorite applications

Which drugs? Which dealers?, posted 16 Sep 2004 at 14:12 UTC by redi » (Master)

Do people who sell cannabis to Multiple Schlerosis sufferers really deserve to be tarred with the same brush as heroin pushers and Microsoft?

Has anyone ever met one of these drug dealers who give their product away? I'm sure it does happen, but only dealers of certain habit-forming drugs. I think there are probably lots more drug dealers who've never given away any of their product - maybe because they deal in non-addictive substances, maybe because they don't think it makes good business sense, maybe they just can't afford to give it away.

There are also legitimate businesses that give away samples of new products (manufacturers of soft drinks, chocolates etc. etc.) that aren't forcing anyone to buy anything after the free sample.

So the article is really about people who sell addictive drugs using questionable methods (read "immoral" if you want to), creating "vendor lock-in" (as Mysidia has said). Now you can carry on, but let's have no more of these wishy-washy "drug dealer" generalisations. Otherwise you might as well refer to the entire software industry when you say "Microsoft".

dependencies, posted 16 Sep 2004 at 14:51 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

If you have problems writing without Word, or communicating to an audience with PowerPoint, this might be a sign of a mental dependence. This should be a concern when introducing Microsoft software -- or any kind of software -- into an educational environment. The drug addiction example is really an example of a chemical dependence.

Microsoft has created a social and economic dependence on their software. Social, because communicating with or using the content created by Microsoft users can mean running Microsoft software. Economic, because once you have invested in the Microsoft system it can be costly to switch to a competing system. The social dependence can effect you even if you don't use Microsoft software, via proprietary formats and protocols and a strong influence of the computing trends overall (e.g. browser wars).

The drug dealer analogy is essentially correct, though it is probably crafted because drug dealing and use is stigmatized, except in the case when the drug dealers are doctors suplied by the pharmicutical giants and the users are their patients.

Are all drugs evil?, posted 16 Sep 2004 at 18:37 UTC by tk » (Observer)

mslicker, you seem to suggest that all drugs are evil.

nonsense, posted 16 Sep 2004 at 19:03 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

There is no moral stance in my post. I'll give you the benefit of doubt and just assume that you post nonsense out of sheer idiocy, rather than as a deliberate attempt to disrupt a discussion.

addiction and dependence, posted 19 Sep 2004 at 15:58 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

additions are psychological as well as physiological.

heroin and nicotine are extremely short (a couple of days) _physical_ addiction and habit-breaking drugs.

tk - yes, all drugs are definitely "evil" but i haven't used the word "evil" for quite some time, it is very misleading.

drugs do physical and irreversible biological damage and destruction that is quite unnecessary, especially when, in a medical sense, there are perfectly good ways to literally kick a psyche out of a pathological state (all properly "administered" and "believed in" shall we say alternative medicines will do the trick).

pathological state means "unable to get self back to desired state" and therefore alternative medicine provides an external kick up the pants to move from that pathological state into the desired (healthy) state.

WITHOUT the chemical damage (and usually supression or destruction) involved with "drugs".

[alternative medicine is a quantum mechanics thing that i am happy to describe to anyone who wishes to listen, bearing in mind that i am not a physics person myself but have had the privilege of listening to someone in this field who is]

now, in comparison to microsoft:

* the "product" is fundamentally flawed

* it does damage to people by totally abasing their expectations of technology.

* it misuses computers and computing resources

e.g. XP SP2 makes your documents available over the internet if you also installed SP1

* it's psychologically addictive (as already described by people in this article: once you're on it, you have to continue)

so the parallels are quite clear.

moral ground for drug-dealing, posted 19 Sep 2004 at 16:18 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

the moral ground for drug-dealing, _that's_ an interesting one!

... the thing is that for as long as people are so psychologically unwell as to want to _use_ drugs, there's always going to be people willing to give or sell them.

any drug dealer would look at you real funny if you asked them what the moral ground for drug dealing was. THEY'RE MAKING MONEY who _gives_ a shit.

if it wasn't them it would be someone else: the demand is always going to be there.

btw i challenge _anyone_ who tells me that drugs are only physically addictive: that's just _such_ rubbish. anyone who is psychologically unwell will take the easy way out to blotting out their problems in any way they think they can.

... just like pharmaceutical drugs and alternative medicines, people are not aware of or do not believe in the alternatives to microsoft.

it's so sad.

Hey!, posted 1 Oct 2004 at 08:10 UTC by Malx » (Journeyer)

But isn't it the marketing? :)

Last news I know - MS is going to sell for certain contries lite version of OS for half price. It was intended for stoping piracy and movemment to Linux desctops.

IBM has opened access for educational organizations to their software and documentation for free (do not know details).

And just a fun comparision ;) - Linux is free to install but then requires payment on support and education and books and internet access.

..., posted 25 Dec 2004 at 08:39 UTC by tk » (Observer)

Neo-Tech redux.

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