On the Futility of Challenging Big Business

By Adrian Duyzer
Published February 02, 2007

Some recent comments on RTH make the case that "big business" is not responsible or responsive to citizens or even their own employees, and that pointing out their faults and asking for change is naive and unproductive.

Of the world's largest corporations, Microsoft is one of the most well-known and powerful. Microsoft is infamously litigious and ruthlessly competitive.

Microsoft is the ultimate 800 pound corporate gorilla, so if one is questioning the ability of independent organizations and individuals to provoke change in the behaviour of large corporations, a look at a recent situation involving Microsoft and an open-source software program called BlueJ is instructive.

BlueJ is an interactive software tool used for software development, mostly in educational scenarios. The software shares similarities with certain Microsoft products, which makes it a bit of a thorn in Microsoft's side, since BlueJ is free and always has been.

When an educational institution chooses to use BlueJ instead of a Microsoft product, it's money out of Microsoft's products. Worse, from Microsoft's perspective, is that students who learn with Microsoft products are more likely to use and recommend Microsoft products when they graduate school and enter the workforce.

Thus it was unsurprising to many people when Microsoft went on the offense. First, Microsoft incorporated a key BlueJ feature into their own software, even admitting at the time that they copied the feature from BlueJ. Then they filed a patent application for it.

This feature, which Microsoft called the "Object Test Bench", is so key to BlueJ that were Microsoft's patent application to be successful it would mean the demise of BlueJ entirely.

Worried about this possibility and frustrated that Microsoft would attempt to rip off BlueJ in so blatant a manner, key BlueJ designer Michael Kölling took to the Internet and wrote about it.

A few days later, after a raging Internet controversy, Microsoft backed down. Microsoft withdrew their patent application and issued an apology.

And so one person with a grievance and a website on which to air it forced a mega-corporation with 76,000 employees and an annual revenue of $44.28 billion USD to back down.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz

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By Alex (registered) | Posted February 03, 2007 at 06:34:19

I'm a student at Michael Kollings university and I just wanted to point out that BlueJ isn't actually open source - it may be free to use, but the source is closed.

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