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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Vista is a conflict of interest for nonprofits (and everyone else practicing ethical behavior)

As TechSoup just announced that they will be offering Vista and Word 2007 to nonprofits for about $20 a license, I feel this is an appropriate time to talk about the moral implications of purchasing these products.

There are many reasons to discourage nonprofits from accepting donated software from Microsoft. Most nonprofits exist because they are trying to make the world a better place. Most nonprofit employees apply their own morals to their purchases. We buy recycled paper. We buy fair trade coffee. Software has moral implications behind it as well. Microsoft has refused to allow others to customize or edit their software. They have refused to share their knowledge with the rest of the community. They use monopolistic practices to discourage innovation. They routinely hire contract employees and require them to take periods of time off unpaid to avoid paying them benefits.

For these reasons, I strongly encourage you to examine Open Source options. Free software is not called free simply because it doesn't cost anything. It is free because anyone can use it, build on it, customize it, change it, and share it. Thousands of volunteer developers have spent their time building these tools. The software is better and easier to use because it is built by software users for software users, not by contract employees without benefits designing for profit.

One of the tools available is Open Office at http://openoffice.org/. Another is Ubuntu at http://ubuntu.com/. Many people in the tech community help nonprofits out with these tools on a daily basis in tech forums. If you feel especially uncomfortable with them, and want someone to hold your hand all the way through, consider Red Hat at http://www.redhat.com; they charge for the service of implementing and customizing open source software built by volunteers. I've spoken to some open source developers, and they've told me that they do it because they want to help the world, and if you go to their forums they will answer your questions (and they won't charge you $30/hour like Microsoft). Moreover, these tools are updated more often than proprietary software, and the updates are free of charge.

Doesn't that sound better?

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