Snake Oil Stories
The story is nothing new. For thousands of years, there have been people who are easily swayed into following the masses if for no other reason than a lack of confidence of their own beliefs. And for thousands of years there have been people who’s destiny seems to be to take advantage of these potentially gullible people. It is a kind of social Darwinism where the “weak” are preyed upon by the “strong”.
Think of a snake charmer. The snake is potentially one of the strongest, most confident, most formidable creatures on the face of the earth, yet frail villagers are able to turn them into playthings for their own amusement by distracting and confusing them while sitting only a few inches directly in front of them. They toy with them for the amusement of others even though these venomous creatures are capable of killing them with a single bite from their poisonous, razor sharp fangs.
The handler knows this of course, yet they also know that if they can keep the snake distracted and focused on something other than the obvious, they are likely to get away with whatever they want. Sure, someday they may get caught and the snake may bite them, but they are willing to take the risk. Why? Perhaps because they like the feeling of having power over the snake, or because they get a thrill from living on the edge or taking chances. It also may be because they can endure the bite, take anti-venom and pop up somewhere else to do it all again.
They can make money from the masses who pay to watch and who marvel at the show with glistening, entranced eyes. Oh yes, the show may be good, but with today’s snake charmers, the audience is getting a lot more than they bargained for. That, ladies and gentlemen, is our premise, and the pages beyond will take a look at this phenomenon in a bit more detail about the practices involved. In our next article, we’ll take a closer look at why these companies can get away with what they do, and why we as consumers allow them to do so.
Case In Point: Licensing Restrictions
One of the most overlooked items in computing has been the End User License Agreements, or EULA’s. Over the years companies have taken it upon themselves to sneak more and more restrictive language into them. Some web designer software actually made claims of ownership for anything produced by the program. Some coding software put restrictions on distribution, believe it or not! How horrible would it be to work on an application in your favorite programming language only to find that each person who uses it has to pay a fee? Sounds lame, but they have actually been put in print.
One of the most annoying EULA changes in recent years has been the limit that Microsoft has placed on peer-to-peer connectivity. We are not talking client/server here, but setting up things like LAN parties or small offices that do not have a central server. Why should you not be able to hook ten, twenty or even thirty computers together in a peer to peer configuration for whatever purpose you want? What basis do they have to limit the amount of connections to five or ten at a time? For that matter, why should you have to pay for client access to a server anyway? You get Windows 2000 Server, setup shared partitions and printing devices and have to pay for each client that accesses those shared items? Why should we have to pay for that? You go out and buy a Linksys router and 253 people can get on the net without paying an extra dime. Why should software be any different?
With operating systems like Linux, you have no licensing fees at all, at least in theory. You can set one machine up as a server, have fifty machines accessing it and not pay a dime in licensing fees. It certainly sounds reasonable to me. You don’t have to pay client fees for remote access, web transactions, application hosting, file downloads, etc. No limits on how you can use your own software. You can edit and recompile the kernel, choose which applications to install or not install, you don’t have to worry about audits, you don’t have to worry about much of anything at all. Just install the operating system where you want, when you want and how many times you want and be done with it. Why users would settle for anything less is baffling to me. At the very least you could have a Linux server and Windows clients that you’ve already paid for.