"Embrace, extend and extinguish" -- that's how Microsoft described its strategy for locking its users into proprietary extensions to standards.
Microsoft regularly attempts to force upgrades on its customers, by removing support for older versions of Windows and Office, whilst changing the file formats used by its desktop applications, leaving many businesses in a position where they are forced to upgrade to continue to use the software and document formats they've invested time in.
By removing support from operating systems and other software, such as Microsoft Office, Microsoft leaves companies with no choice but to upgrade to later versions of its software. The later versions of the software have file formats which differ from the previous versions, forcing companies who exchange these documents to also upgrade. Additionally, some applications refuse to run on older versions of Microsoft Windows, forcing complete system upgrades for what is essentially a document exchange format.
This behavior is not limited to Microsoft, but also to proprietary software companies producing products for Windows. Adobe regularly updates its software to patch flaws used to bypass restrictive measures in its PDF readers, and Apple used its Software Update application on Windows to coerce users of iTunes to install the Safari web-browser.
How free software defeats this problem: Everybody who uses the software has access to the source code, this creates three distinct options for providing support for the software beyond any support that may be offered by the developers of the software: Firstly, a subset of users of the software may decide to continue supporting the product with updates and bug fixes themselves -- a group called Fedora Legacy did this for Red Hat 7.3 and Red Hat 9, for several years after official updates ceased. Secondly, a new project may decide to continue the development of the software by itself, offering users an alternative upgrade option in the form of a new release or distribution of the software. Finally, the user can hire an independent software developer, or team of developers to continue to improve and maintain the software.
© 2009 Free Software Foundation, Inc
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