Open Up

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.

6 thoughts on “Open Up

  1. Hi Chris,
    good analysis. The licensing terms for software from Redmont become more and more restrictive. In this sense you are getting less for more money anyway.

    Also, did you read that important applications like QuickBooks except the latest version run on Vista? Intuit is anyway a good competitor to Microsoft in the race to offer the most restrictive products and licenses. They just announced end of support for online services (stock quotes, bank data download) for Quicken 2004. About 3 1/2 years after the product came out. That is what I call value and convenience.

  2. My computer science friends thought I was wack for using Microsoft aps and pimped my computer with Linux and Ubuntu – took awhile to get used to but everything is running smoothly now. They are also working on the $100 laptop project which will be equipped entirely with open source software.

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