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Productivity – The death knell for free software

Microsoft Teams is used in the pandemic and in the home office – it’s already there. You already pay for it anyway. So it is used. Even if there were alternatives. Companies that have done little to work from home in the past are rolling out one new Microsoft service after another. But the US corporation is not only celebrating new heights in companies; very few schools in the education sector can get past this tool. However, this raises a number of questions and problems.

The great success of Microsoft Teams rests on several pillars – but one crucial one is a very simple one: convenience. Since Office 365 is already running on the company’s Windows computers, many companies have gradually rolled out teams. Yes, it works – at least most of the time and with little effort. The next product is already ready, presumably for an additional monthly fee: Microsoft Viva. A so-called Employee Experience Platform (EXP) that combines communication, specialist knowledge, training, resources and insights, as Microsoft believes.

Data protection and school

The use of teams in schools, on the other hand, has been discussed in Germany for months. Not only is Microsoft able to address new customers very early on, a Linux laptop with the free office competitor OpenOffice simply cannot be used in distance learning. It is also criticized that the use of Microsoft 365 and Office 365 in schools is not compatible with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Various lawyers and data protection officers come to this conclusion again and again because, from their point of view, it is not permissible for personal data of schoolgirls (such as name and date of birth) and their usage data to be stored at Microsoft. Even if the servers are in Europe, US authorities could strike. The US foreign secret service NSA is allowed to access data on the servers of US companies even without a court order – one of the reasons why the European Court of Justice overturned the Privacy Shield agreement on data exchange between the EU and the USA.

However, Microsoft currently has problems because of a security gap that became known a few days ago, through which hundreds of thousands of e-mail servers from companies, government agencies and educational institutions have fallen victim to hacker attacks. The US government has urged network administrators to take additional protective measures because it is a very threatening, active threat that is still evolving. Numerous damages have also been reported in Austria.

Free software such as Linux, OpenOffice, Jitsi or Big Blue Button cannot keep up with the proprietary competition – which is good in the case of security gaps, but otherwise a disadvantage. The pandemic shows how weak Europe is in this area. Schools are currently unable to operate and maintain their own systems. Which in turn should bring Amazon and Google and their cloud services influx. An EU-wide counter-strategy would be necessary.

Some freely available software solutions are threatened with hardship. The two classics OpenStreetMap (OMS) and VLC have announced that they are approaching an uncertain future. In the case of the freely available map service OMS, also known as the “Wikipedia of maps”, it is about the influence of large corporations. Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and others are contributing more and more entries and are changing the future and the direction of the software, my critics say. The multimedia player VLC in turn fears if software patents are introduced in the EU to prevent its existence. The question of patents on software in particular poses a great danger for open software.

In many cases, however, neither users nor politicians seem to be aware of this problem in its entirety. The pandemic should not be the death knell for free software, but rather it should demonstrate how important this area is for society. And how urgently you have to react.

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