February 23, 2019

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Speak Now or Ever After . . . Regret Your Silence

  • December 12, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

As I've mentioned, the best reasoned argument in the world, offered by only one person, will carry so little weight as to be negligible. But tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of well reasoned comments from concerned and knowledgeable individuals, companies, and groups might just stand a chance -- they would certainly be difficult to shove under the rug. If you are a Linux user who has never written a line of code or contributed documentation for a single feature, here is something that you can do, and your doing it will matter. (And though many of them would be hard pressed to believe it, a settlement more along the lines of the one I propose above would greatly benefit Windows users as well, because competition would force Microsoft to improve the quality of its products in areas including but not limited to reliability and security. The settlement before the judge would benefit only Microsoft; a sterner settlement would benefit everybody.)

Here, again quoting the Federal Register, is the information you need to make your voice heard:

"Public comment is invited within 60 days of the date of this notice. Such comments, and responses thereto, will be published in the Federal Register and filed with the Court. Comments should be directed to Renata Hesse, Trial Attorney, Suite 1200, Antitrust Division, Department of Justice, 601 D Street NW, Washington, DC 20530; (facsimile) 202-616-9937 or 202-307-1545; or e-mail microsoft.atr@usdoj.gov. While comments may also be sent by regular mail, in light of recent events affecting the delivery of all types of mail to the Department of Justice, including U.S. Postal Service and other commercial delivery services, and current uncertainties concerning when the timely delivery of this mail may resume, the Department strongly encourages, whenever possible, that comments be submitted via email or facsimile."

A couple of notes: Your comments will be published in the Federal Register. Ponder that for a moment. You can help produce editions of the Federal Register that run into the millions of pages. All involved in the case know that your comments will be in the permanent record. One thing that does matter in Washington is history's verdict, and if the settlement is approved despite thousands upon thousands of opinions to the contrary, the pressure of history falls upon the judge, who does not wish to be remembered only for one bad call.

Send a fax if at all possible, preferably one you've printed on paper so that you can affix your actual signature to it. (If you use a fax program and have a scanner, scan in your signature and send it that way.) And in any case, whether fax or email, include your full real name and your full real address. Keep any record your fax or email program, or your fax machine, provides as proof that the communication was properly sent. (This way, if your comment does not appear in the Federal Register -- and if those of others don't, either -- there will be cause to cry foul. No claims that the fax machine must have run out of paper will answer. It would rapidly become a public relations nightmare for people to whom public relations in important. But this is possible only if you keep the records. So do it.)

That is all I can reasonably ask of you, so now I'm going to be unreasonable. Now is the time, too, to write letters to the editor of your local newspaper, explaining that you think the proposed settlement is wrong, and why. It's also time to barrage your elected representatives with letters to the same effect.

If enough of us do this, there might just be a chance that the proposed settlement, which hurts each and every one of us in real, tangible ways, could be rejected.

And for those of you who have a contrarian bent (as I admit I do), I'll offer a tantalizing additional morsel to justify manning the barricades in our mutual cause: I've written, more than once, that there's no such thing per se as "the Linux community." Get this settlement rejected and you'll prove me wrong -- and I'll admit it in this space.

Fair enough?

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