Thursday, March 1, 2007

Microsoft and the Russian bug :)

While reading a linux forum I came across this email from Irina Aristarkhova. I did read about some news on Cnet - Russia hits out at microsoft licensing, Arstechnica- Russian piracy case dismissed etc; but this email seemed different and interesting. Read it and get a hang of things for yourself.
There has been moderately active Linux community in Russia, with availability of cheap hardware and good programming skills. However, there has been little government or institutional support, and a lack of understanding of why one would want not to use Windows. But not anymore.

Runet and Russian official media have been flooded with discussions and instructions on open source, and what it would take to drop Microsoft 'soft' altogether. All this has been prompted by the recent legal case of 'Microsoft versus Ponosov'. Alexander Ponosov is a
school director from a Perm' region (Ural mountains), who does not seem to be an 'advanced' Windows user himself (which in Russia usually means word, exel and powerpoint). However, he was charged with violating Microsoft copyright, and under the current legal
provision could be sentenced for 5 years in jail. Plus Micrisoft side demanded 266.593.63 roubles (presumably calculated to equal 10.000 dollars, but the dollar is falling), from a school director whose salary is probably 200-300 dollars per month (at best!).

What is it all about? 20 computers in his school computer lab, with illegal copies of Windows, claims Microsoft side, that violates piracy law and its IP.
It started as a quiet case, but gradually became a matter of national concern. It became about "American multi-national mammoth corporation" against "a little man" of our own. The fact that Ponosov (whose name, curiously, might be translated both as related to 'nose' as well as 'diarrhea' that is widely referred to in Runet) looked like he had no clue what it is all about, was an 'ordinary' man, making very little money in a remote secondary school, unconnected to IT sector, showed how unwise Microsoft actions were. Until then Russia was demonstratively trying hard to fit Western IP laws. But 5 years in jail for 20 computers in a school lab?

First, Russian bloggers started flooding Microsoft with letters that hey all use pirated Windows, and that they are ready to go to jail for Ponosov. He had no idea what was on those computers, while they, real programmers and IT geeks, know what they are doing. Take me!
Leave a poor school teacher alone! they were typing and e-mailing off.

Second, Russian television and press jumped on this out of control, pressing local authorities to think further (at first it seemed as if Microsoft surely had the case, and would win it. Ponosov was visibly worried that he would lose).

Microsoft corporation still had no comment, saying it is handled by its office in Moscow.

Third, Gorbachev wrote an open letter to Bill Gates, asking him to personally interfere, and stop the case. Putin called the case "dog's rubbish".

It was becoming an international scandal for Microsoft. And Bill Gates in his reply to Gorbachev distanced himself and his corporation from this case, arguing that it was started by Russians against Russians, and Microsoft had nothing to do with it.

Meanwhile, Ponosov was becoming more and more visible and vocal, giving interviews to BBC and other major media.

About two weeks ago a judge ruled that this case should be dismissed, since the charges (10,000 dollars and 5 years in jail) were unreasonable.

Ponosov is unhappy and plans to appeal, he wants to be declared 'innocent'. Microsoft lost a very important case, made more important by its own making. And Russian officials, schools and Runet are busy discussing what it would take NOT to use Windows. They are not sure
yet, and they feel it is a difficult task (Office price is about 5 dollars for a pirated copy). But they've started discussing it. For the first time so seriously and openly.

This is a short extract from one of the letters to Moscow Microsoft head Olga Dergunova:

"Respected and Dear Olga,

My name is Sasha, I live in Mitischi (near Moscow), and I am 30 years old. I have never - you hear me? never - bought any licensed software. And I never will. Let me know if you want my passport number, my address, and go ahead, sue me. I'd be only happy. I have about 15 unlicensed Microsoft products installed on my laptop. All of it - pirated. I am not ashamed, and please do not tell me about programmers who want to eat. ... Sue me, not Ponosov. And sue another one million people like me. It is not about love: that we do not love you personally, or Bill Gates - abstractly. We love everybody. It is you who hate us." (translated from a full letter and a blog at

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ruso said...

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