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Propaganda in IT: Microsoft Buys GitHub: The Linux Foundation’s Reaction

June 12, 2018
[rant]

It's been over a week since MS declared that it buys GitHub, which generated a lot of discussions, but one of the most interesting pieces is a post from The Linux Foundation. It is quite short and at the same time seems to be constructed to sway people in a certain direction that can serve as a nice example on propaganda. Let's take a look at how things are worded, what is omitted and how the rest is framed.

What do words mean

I waited for a few days to write up my thoughts because this is something that deserves some thoughtful reflection.

This phrase seems to be meant for increasing importance of other paragraphs. Like in "look, those people who wrote negatively about the event didn't take enough time to think, while I did, so listen to me instead".

The bottom line: This is pretty good news for the world of Open Source and we should celebrate Microsoft’s smart move.

The message of propaganda is right here in plain English.

... it’s worth noting that I have been working in this dynamic space for many years ...

"I know what I'm talking about, listen to me and not others" #2.

... and the differing reactions to the announcement reminded me of a few things:

Things, most of which are only tangentially related to the topic.

1. How awesome Git is [...]

Unrelated.

2. How awesome GitHub is [...] brought millions of developers together in a way that we had not seen before in the open source community [...]

Well, SourceForge existed before and did a very similar job. GNU project also. GitHub was somewhat more successful, but doesn't strike me as something revolutionary in any real way.

3. How there are still small pockets of deep mistrust of Microsoft in the open source community.

Underestimation :-)

I will own responsibility for some of that as I spent a good part of my career at the Linux Foundation poking fun at Microsoft [...].

"I used to be one of you, but I've changed my mind" card. Analogous version from religious apologists says "I used to be an atheists, but then I found faith, bla-bla", which given that faith is an irrational position, doesn't say anything good about them, quite the opposite, it reveals gullibility. Here too, no actual reasons are put forth.

But times have changed and it’s time to recognize that we have all grown up – the industry, the open source community, even me.

"Not liking Microsoft is so old and unfashionable that every grown up developer should abandon it immediately". Reminds of no true Scotsman fallacy, although might not be an exact match, it's that kind of reasoning.

4. How folks seem to conflate “buying GitHub” the company and development platform with somehow buying “open source”: [...].

People that genuinely think so are probably a very small minority. Most people seem to mean that after all Microsoft attempts to do open source largely failed, it decided to just buy one that didn't. This seems to be a pattern.

However (and I triple checked this with our lawyers), Microsoft does not own Kubernetes or Node.js as a result of this transaction.

Not that it needed any checking beyond seeing that terms of use don't require assigning copyright ownership.

5. How Microsoft under the leadership of Satya Nadella has now completed its transition from an adversary of open source to a first-class citizen.

"It's old Microsoft was bad, it's new one now, a good one". Yeah, right. It just adjusted it methods slightly.

If you haven’t noticed, Microsoft has been opening up a ton of code ...

Like explorer from ancient Windows version.

... and has been hiring top developers who are deeply engaged in open source.

Tell us more how Microsoft is not buying open source.

6. How open source developer communities are deeply reliant on platforms: [...].

And due to this unfortunate circumstances, Microsoft has bought one of them.

So what does this mean for open source? I expect generally good things.

Repetition is one of the key things in propaganda.

Microsoft has the means and the expertise to make GitHub better.

Interesting, in another post they claimed that nothing will change for the users. Now it's "make GitHub better". Later it will probably be "make GitHub different".

They brought in Nat Friedman as GitHub’s CEO, someone I have known for years and has been well-respected in the open source community for a couple decades.

Just a pill of argument from authority.

Should the open source community be concerned? Probably not.

Repetition of the propaganda point, again.

Most of the important projects on GitHub are licensed under an open source license, which addresses intellectual property ownership.

Except that they don't. Copyright is opt-out, so by not explicitly waving copyright all authors retain it. This explains why he needed to ask layers about copyright three times, apparently he knows nothing about it or licences, yet heads Linux Foundation. This will be important later.

And let’s be quite clear – the hearts and minds of developers are not something one “buys” – they are something one “earns” (see Nat’s quote above).

What a lofty marketing bullshit, isn't it?

Microsoft has always loved developers [...].

Documenting obvious bugs as features, therefore perpetuating incompatible and unexpected behaviour is a very perverted kind of love.

It is literally their mission on the about page of their web site: “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Wow, believing marketing bullshit (presence of "empower" makes spotting it without reading an easy task). And Google isn't evil, yeah, right. What's next, believing politicians?

Today more than 28 million of those developers are on GitHub.

What "a non-buying developers" behaviour, again.

Microsoft has become a top contributor to Linux and Kubernetes...

For their own business goals.

... and they are backers of The Linux Foundation, the Apache Software Foundation, the Open Source Initiative and many similar efforts.

Again, "non-buying" anything, ha? What a surprise that executive Director at organization they sponsor loves them so much... Just like Tim Berners-Lee likes DRM from people who sponsor W3C even though he claimed to be for open web.

As we all evaluate the evolution of open source from the early days to now, I suggest we celebrate this moment.

He doesn't get tired of repeating, does he?

I wrote that “the multi-decade progression toward the adoption and continual use of open source software (OSS) [...] open source Linux operating system [...]".

Noticed anything missing? The letter "F" in "FOSS" as well as word "free" anywhere in the post. This is where his ignorance of licenses comes back. The interest is not and never was in the code, it's in a business model which open source is for companies as opposed to free software. Free software is open, but open software isn't free (in that sense).

As you can see on this slide (press right arrow):

Karen Copenhaver, Legal Counsel of Linux Foundation, said to me at a LinuxCon 2013: if allowing proprietary Linux modules creates more Linux jobs, that to me is an acceptable outcome.

So no wonder Jim also doesn't care about Linux being FOSS and completely omits it, that's irrelevant for them as long as money come from Microsoft or anyone else.

Overall picture

  • Excessive repetition of the same message over and over again.
  • Everything is painted in pink colors, the only bad things are associated either with the past or with people who are "still wrong" about Microsoft.
  • Constant appeals to authority, experience and calls to just believe him as he believes in Microsoft.
  • Absence of any actual reasoning except for marketing bullshit level phrases. Every time subject seemingly turns to considering alternatives it's just to claim that they are unrealistic and are not justified.
  • Concentration on emotions, motivations and intentions rather than real world data from the past and present.

Reliability of this overview

The above interpretations are obviously speculative. However, given the amount of propaganda markers in such a short text, it's just hard to imagine how it can be anything else. If that text wasn't deliberately written this way, the author must actually think in marketing bullshit, which makes the post a garbage either way.

Conclusion

Even if the post wasn't constructed to be this way on purpose, it's definitely not an objectively written piece. While the overview isn't a formal breakdown and the author is biased too (everyone is in some way, but not everyone will admit it), it's based on previous observations of organizations like Linux Foundation and companies like Microsoft. They will always assign virtues to themselves to disguise their intentions. If M$ has changed, how come their proprietary VSCode build collects metrics and its open source version lacks some functionality thereby pushing some people to use it? Privacy and security are among the biggest advantages of open source, but somehow those who allegedly dig it don't bother living up to them.