True Value - tuesday 2007-05-15 0327 last modified 2007-05-15 1447
Categories: Nerdy, Daily Grind, Linux
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Everything revolving around a corporation, be it employee salaries, executive bonuses, charitable works, public services, corporate scandals, local pollution, foreign child labor, successful products, or tasteless marketing campaigns all comes back to the almighty dollar: will it make the shareholders bolt or stay?

Yet as individuals and organizations, our choices as clients are not built solely around the economic viability of a potential purchase or contract. True, if the budget doesn't allow for Class A widgets, we just have to settle for the next best thing the wallet can stretch to cover. Our world is not a series of simple, independent financial transactions. Payment is an exquisite reduction to simple arithmetic - one number goes down by the same amount as another number goes up - and so it doesn't cover, wasn't ever meant to cover, everything else that goes on.

And in our connected world, everything else comprises a whole lot of else. Today we have a burgeoning concern for the environment (which, naturally, leads to all sorts of new business opportunities). Do the companies make an effort to be environmentally friendly? Or sweatshops. Or outsourcing. Or labor. Or health-consciousness. You can "vote with your wallet," a mostly ineffective but charming notion, if target business does something wrong in your ethical playbook. It is good for businesses to take these things into account, not solely for the good of its image in consumers' minds, though one can appreciate that being part of rational business practice, but because these things matter of their own accord. We have odd relationships as individuals to corporations. It would be nice if we could recognize our own ethics reflected in corporate behavior.

So what could Microsoft's strategists possibly be thinking in pursuing patent enforcements against Linux? Let's set the financial question entirely aside and marvel at how poorly this resembles an ethical individual's actions.

It is self-centered. "If you like it, I hate it" is the refrain of the passionately deranged, those who have no clear identity and must formulate it based on the actions of others. It is menacing, threatening brute force against not only the corporate competition but developers and users as well. Instead of adjusting to the large scale change that open, licensed software can bring to the computing ecology and society in general, it resists all change by attempting to force things back to the way they were ten years ago, when Microsoft was an inapproachable giant and software always cost money.

This latest ploy is puzzlingly isolationist. It recognizes no industry progress and makes no friends. Microsoft may have bank, but its actions are exemplary of why we should quantitatively evaluate companies on more than their bottom line. Their "social stock" is presently deeply in the red, and it grows deeper by the day. Are these the traits we want to encourage in a socially conscious business entity?

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