Hasta La Vista

Windows Vista has reached corporate customers and is en route to retailers and OEMs for release at the end of January. It’s going to be huge. I’m not going to support it. Here’s why…

The history of Microsoft’s releases is, to say the least, chequered. It has been a sequence of promises that have not been delivered. Worse than that the promises have been deliberately designes to frighten users away from switching to other operating systems that already contained these innovations. Let’s look at some:

Active Directory

Active Directory is an implementation of LDAP directory services by Microsoft for use in Windows environments. Active Directory allows administrators to assign enterprise-wide policies, deploy programs to many computers, and apply critical updates to an entire organization. An Active Directory stores information and settings relating to an organization in a central, organized, accessible database. Active Directory networks can vary from a small installation with a few hundred objects, to a large installation with millions of objects. [Wikipedia]

Active Directory was promised 1996 (to ship with NT 4.0). It was delivered in 2000, shipping with Windows 2000. Novel’s NDS (now called eDirectory) could do this in 1993.

Windows 95

Promised in 1990 to detract from the fact that Windows 3.0 was rubbish when compared to anything else on the market (ie NeXT and Mac System 7), it would theoretically feature an object oriented user interface, featuring direct manipulation of desktop objects, and an object oriented development environment. Neither of these features actually made it into Windows 95 – in fact it was little more than a re-polish of Windows 3.11 with the addition of a 32 bit API which was kept secret from other developers until after Office (which used it) had shipped.

Meanwhile NeXT already had both an object oriented user interface and an object oriented development environment. It also supported distributed computing to boot and had been available since 1993.

Windows XP

Windows XP was set to deliver many of the same features promised for Windows 95. It arrived five years late and didn’t have a range of features available in Mac OS X that shipped seven months earlier.

Vista

Which brings us to Vista. The list of features promised that have been dropped is longer than the list of ones that remain in. There is also more than a slight suspicion that the developers were given a copy of Mac OS X and told to copy it. Have a look at the hilarious video attached to this review [nytimes.com] by David Pogue.

Not only that but many of the shiney new features of Vista I’ve had running on my linux box [linuxforums.org] for ages.

More

That’s the short version – you can find out more in this excellent article [roughlydrafted.com] by Daniel Erin and this one on vapourware [ncsu.edu].

The Lawsuit

So good at promising the world and failing to deliver are they that several companies have filed against them in Iowa [Groklaw.net], the problem being that Microsoft’s half baked promises and the difficulty in getting other products shipped with Windows (both technically and because of restrictions placed on OEM manfacturers) not to mention the forcing of OEMs to promise not to ship any other OS on their machinery with Windows (heaven forfend that consumers be given a choice!) all adds up to anti-competitive behaviour which has destroyed products that were better.

I’ve Had Enough

I’m not saying that Microsoft Products, when they eventually get to market – stripped down as necessary, are actually bad. The simple fact of the matter is that you can do better. Further to that some things which should be done better aren’t because Microsoft seems to pursuing a deliberate tactic of bullying them out of the market. Competition is supposed to drive innovation, and it does, the problem is that innovation is being stiffled by their behaviour and consumers are settling for second best, often without even realising it.

This is the digital age; How you manage your personal data and your computer environment is important. That technology continues to be able to be innovative is important. That documents people write now can be read in the future is important.

This last one is a not-so-separate issue relating to the proprietary format that MS Office documents are saved in and their attempts to sideline the Open Document Format with their (not) OpenXML format, see this article [regdeveloper.co.uk] for a quick overview.

In short, to be guaranteed that you can read your old documents at some nebulous time in the future you can:

  1. Hope Microsoft will always exist and continue to release programs that you can read your files with.
  2. Save your files in a format whose specifications are open, known and published so anyone can write a program that can correctly read them.

Microsoft is pretending that (not) OpenXML meets the latter while in fact still being the former.

Why? Why not just implement the ODF standard? Because then consumers wont be locked into Microsoft Office because of file compatibility and they will have to compete on technical quality and price. Wouldn’t that be awful!?

No of course it wouldn’t be awful. It would drive up innovation and drive down price which is better for consumers isn’t it?

I’ve had enough of supporting this behaviour. Obviously the nature of my job means I need to go on supporting MS servers in the Enterprise for the time being although many of the key products I deal with are migrating to run on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Outside of work though I’m drawing a line under Windows XP – if you get Vista I’m not going to help you get anything working with it. Sorry.

Alternatives

OK, so you all know I’m a Linux geek but trust me, just try it and see. Download the Ubuntu Live CD which will let you try it out without actually overwriting anything and, if you like it, then go ahead and install it!

Remember that this ships with a fantastic web browser, fully featured email and callendar client and Open Office 2.0 which is miles better than the previous release and even supports macros. It’ll read most MS documents, from what they’ve been able to decifer about the format.

Or buy a Mac. Not a massive fan (other than of the sexy hardware) myself but everything you want to do on your Windows PC you can do on your Mac only easier and better.

What about games!? I hear you cry. Well there are some you can get and play on Linux and Mac but a fair few more you can’t… to be honest my usual reply is “buy a playstation”. But the wider the user base of an OS is, the more incentive there is for companies to release games for it.

A Plea

When it comes time to upgrade your hardware and your OS I simply make this one plea: Be a good consumer and choose what operating system you are going to use, compare and contrast what is on offer and pick what you think is best. Do not just take what is given – beware of Greeks bearing gifts.