Friday, May 6, 2011

Software tool goes to court

This is great news for those of us who've grown accustomed, over the years, to the excellent software tool called FreeHand, which I mentioned in my article of October 2010 entitled First, find an old Mac [display]. A lobby group named Free FreeHand has been set up, in the hope of preventing the Adobe corporation from allowing the tool to become extinct.

Well, this organization has actually filed an antitrust lawsuit against Adobe, in the northern district of California.

Onlookers who use neither FreeHand nor Illustrator—that's to say, people who never need to create sophisticated computer graphics—are likely to imagine this conflict as a storm in a teacup. But that would be a big mistake. It's a showdown between an arrogant monopolistic corporation and its customers, past, present and maybe future. Adobe decided unilaterally that it would be better (for Adobe, that is) if there were only one product, Illustrator. So, the corporation has been blithely suggesting to FreeHand enthusiasts that they drop their familiar drawing tool and change to Illustrator. Now, this is often an unrealistic suggestion, because you simply cannot obtain identical results with the two products, and people don't want to be faced with the task of redoing in Illustrator—supposing this were feasible—all the stuff they've mastered in FreeHand.

Let me tell you a trivial anecdote. Many years ago, after working as a sailor for a few months on a Greek cargo ship (which took me as far as Kuwait) and then a British tanker, I got back in contact with Europe at Rotterdam. Funnily, after the relative solitude and austerity of the big vessels, I was somewhat irritated by my rediscovery of an urban environment, which struck me as "soft" and superficial. (This attitude lasted for some 24 hours before I returned to a normal state of mind.) In a bar alongside the port, I found myself standing next to an American tourist, a guy in his fifties, who asked (in English) for a Coke. The friendly but naive Dutch barman dared to offer the American customer a glass of an unidentified brown liquid that came from the tap of a drink fountain that couldn't be seen from where we were standing. From his first sip, the American reamlized that it wasn't pure Coca-Cola, and he snarled furiously at the barman: "Hey, fellow, I'm an American and, when I ask for Coca-Cola, I mean Coca-Cola!" Then he stormed out of the bar. Now, if I think of that incident, it's because I see Adobe, today, as trying to persuade Coke drinkers throughout the world that they should switch to another beverage. The proposed beverage, brown and bubbly, might look a bit like Coke, and taste a bit like Coke… but it just ain't Coke! In any case, the idea of bringing the FreeHand affair to a court of law is fascinating, because it's probably one of the first of citizens asserting their right to carry on using a piece of software of their own choosing. It's truly a religious issue!

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