How sinful is Windows?

Anyone who has benefited from the open source movement – which I guess is anyone who uses the Internet – should respect the Free Software Foundation for its efforts in championing the cause. Linux, Apache, PHP: all shining examples of how the community working alongside (not against) the software industry can create software of amazing value.

Speaking for myself, this site runs on WordPress, Apache, Linux and MySQL. There are proprietary alternatives, but they cost more and in some cases work less well. I also run a Linux server in my office, and boot into Linux on my laptop – though less often since Windows 7 arrived.

It is this latter point that seems to have spooked the FSF, which has launched an ill-conceived attack on both Windows 7 and proprietary software in general. There’s even a website dedicated to the sinfulness of Windows.

Unfortunately the campaign is both misdirected and poorly executed. The open letter tends toward hysteria and not all its points stand up to scrutiny.

Like its plans to include DRM restrictions with Windows Vista, Microsoft’s continued attacks against the security, privacy and freedom of your organization, are no mistake.

Well, the protected media path does exist, but I’m not clear how this has impacted organizations using Vista; Microsoft says it is inactive when non-DRM media is played, and I have no reason to disbelieve this.

There are significant privacy issues for users today, but are they Windows-related? I’d suggest that it is the Internet that is more significant here, and Google more than Microsoft that is the threat. Switching to Linux will not change that.

With its most recent actions, it further threatens computing standards by polluting and perverting the OpenDocument standard with its own XML-based file format.

This one is odd: Microsoft’s Open XML is not part of the OpenDocument standard, though in some respects it competes with it. Thus, it cannot be polluting or perverting it, though it could make it less pervasive.

With this and other misleading points the FSF weakens its case and makes it less likely to be taken seriously.

Leaving that aside though, would it pay organizations to abandon Windows, Office and/or OS X in favour of Linux? It might in some cases; but I’ve spent enough time with Linux and open source software to realise that it is not the best solution to every problem.

Vista and its poor reputation has been a gift to those offering alternatives, including Apple as well as free software advocates, and that is about to change as Windows 7 launches. Not that Windows 7 is perfect; but it is a job well done.

That said, we need the free software movement, and we need the likes of Linux and OpenOffice.org, if only to be a restraining influence to the high prices and proprietary lock-in which the big software companies – whatever they may say – like to impose. There is some truth in what the FSF claims – but not enough to make this an effective campaign.

See also Alan Zeichick’s remarks.

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3 comments to How sinful is Windows?

  • All very good points.

    When I first started with Linux I bought into the Bill Gate is evil and stuff like that. However I long since realised Microsoft are “just another company” and that the biggest threat to Linux are the people behind it being so closed minded.

    I have read plenty of cases where good, useful features are not implemented in Linux because an “outsider” suggested them. In some cases this was as fundamental as kernel patches that would improve performance, reliability or fix major bugs in hardware support. Its hardly the open-source that they claim to be.

    Sure you can hack it yourself, but when it comes to getting your code included in the main trunk, forget about it. Linux will always have limited desktop appeal until it “just works”. Its made a LOT of progress in the past 10 years but still lags behind in some areas.

    For example I still cannot enable a compositing window manager without Firefox taking a nosedive, yet it works perfectly on Windows 7. I cannot use my Linux box to receive HD Sattelite broadcasts.

    Granted, not everything is due to refusing support, sometimes its just tricky reverse engineering. But the fact sometimes people do offer help and it is refused is not going to encourage developers to come along and fix the things that are not working.

  • Joshua Ochs

    Sadly, the FSF is like many other such idealistic organizations. Their core aims are good, and you can usually agree with them. But then they take those agreeable principles to bizarre lengths (Greenpeace, PETA, etc).

    I agree with their core values, but screeds like this do nothing to help their cause.

  • Clyde Davies

    Like its plans to include DRM restrictions with Windows Vista, Microsoft’s continued attacks against the security, privacy and freedom of your organization, are no mistake.

    I can remember during my days at Nottingham Uni, I was one of the first people trialling out a GNU Emacs implementation on X-Windows. I couldn’t use the Macs we had available to write my thesis because GNU wouldn’t let Emacs be ported to Macs as they regarded Apple as being evil.

    Now the tinfoil hat brigade have singled out Microsoft as being the Great Satan, while turning a blind eye to restrictive practices by other suppliers. If they want to moan about DRM, why not pick on iTunes?

    The open letter also makes glib claims about free software. Those who have fallen foul of the Debian/Ubuntu SSL bug might care to differ about free software being ‘more secure because you and the wider community are independently able to read the source code of and customize any program you use in your infrastructure’.

    As for the claim that ‘the security experts and researchers around the world, are continually studying and reporting on its integrity’, does this explain why bugs in OpenOffice have gone unfixed for years?

    I have no problems with people either writing software for free or making money from writing it. I just wish that whatever they ended up doing, they’d stop talking such rubbish about it.