When Microsoft released Vista (the latest version of Windows) this week, the general reaction from a usability standpoint was underwhelming. It’s been five years since Windows XP, so computer users were expecting a lot. Instead, most of the new features seem to focus on ensuring that it’s a little bit harder to steal Hollywood movies or Vista itself, causing thieves and non-thieves to respond with “damnit!” and “who cares?,” respectively.
Then, the more substantive criticisms emerged. First, from Canadian internet law expert Michael Geist, who points out that Vista’s fine print gives it the right to delete certain programs without the user’s knowledge, and provides that “this agreement only gives you some rights to use the software. Microsoft reserves all other rights.”
Also, Vista intentionally degrades the picture quality of Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs when played on most computer monitors. In other words, you’ll pay more for less. And don’t bother trying to fix that, because the terms and conditions state that “you may not work around any technical limitations in the software.”
Then, the UK Green Party pointed out that Vista is also bad for the environment because, even though it doesn’t have many new features, it “requires more expensive and energy-hungry hardware, passing the cost on to consumers and the environment…Future archaeologists will be able to identify a ‘Vista Upgrade Layer’ when they go through our landfill sites.”
I didn’t think that was worth mentioning until I saw Microsoft’s ultra-lame response, which basically just said, “environmental issues are important to us.” Um, good to hear. What are you doing about it?
Taken together with Geist’s concerns about user rights, and the fact that Vista isn’t that great of an upgrade anyway, the case against using Microsoft’s new OS is strong. In addition, the critical importance that computers have to our lives and economy makes this a political issue.
Fortunately, there’s a ready alternative. Open source software is the democratic way of designing computer programs. This website, for example, runs on a free, open source programming language called PHP, instead of Microsoft’s almost identical (and much more expensive than free) ASP. There are also open source alternatives to Windows, Microsoft Office, and almost any other application you’d use on a day-to-day basis.
The Green Party of Canada has called for “federal departments and agencies to transition to open source or free software for general applications and provide free technical support to Canadian companies who use this software.” It’s one of our wackier ideas, but I like it. And, the more bloated and intrusive closed source products like Microsoft’s get, the less wacky it will seem.