I am not a fan of Microsoft Windows, most people who know me appreciate this to be a slight understatement. But I’ve used Microsoft’s products. Like many people I’ve often had no choice. I actually use Microsoft trackballs. It’s quite an irony that the best thing I can say about the world’s largest software company that some of their hardware is good.
There’s a tendency for people to believe I have no basis for this dislike, or that it is just kind of fashionable. But actually, I’ve used lots of operating systems over my time, and I’ve got good, solid reasons to dislike it. Here are just two.
- Their software is … crap;
- Their conduct in the market place is just disgraceful.
So let’s explore these a little more. The week before last, I was forced to use Windows (I know). So often, when one buys a consumer device (in this case a satnav system), it is will nigh impossible to update or maintain it without it. I had a huge download and install to do, and left it running overnight, safe in the knowledge that in the morning it would all be over and I could revert to Debian, my current OS of choice.
Of course not, I woke up in the middle of the night to find the box (laptop, I mean Vista came installed with no other choice, you don’t think I wanted it did you?) had shut itself down due to inactivity, even when it was plainly on mains, and busy. Wearily I started it all over again, the download manager failed to resume and started from scratch. In the morning I found the laptop at a Debian prompt. Nice, but unexpected. Yes, Windows had helpfully, and without my consent restarted itself half way through the download to install updates. I note people wrestling with these stupid prompts doing presentations all the time. So more hours later I finally download the software, installing it is, quite simple, a nightmare. The task manager shows the box is waiting for consent, but there is no visible window. I have to wrestle with the whole thing for some hours. In a way, it’s a good thing. It reminds me that I actually find this OS not just unethical, but just plain brain dead and ineffective.
But on the topic of ethics, I frequently lecture on these issues and list some of Microsoft’s past misdemeanors. It often comes as a surprise to my students that these are often proven court findings, not just vague soapbox opinions. So for that reason, this report from ECIS, the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, is an excellent document. Well researched and referenced, it makes the long and consistent pattern of disgraceful behaviour in the market place very clear. It’s a very readable report, but for the impatient, this Groklaw summary is very helpful.
On the one hand, these two reasons look very distinct, but on the other, they are actually inextricably linked. Microsoft’s monopoly position, gained through some skill, and much luck, and bolstered by their persistent behaviour issues, is exactly why their products are so crap. Put simply, Microsoft is lazy; it is only in the presence of strong competition that they raise their game. Just look at the changes in Internet Explorer since Mozilla Firefox entered on the scene.
Yeah, for many of you, none of this is any surprise, but sometimes it’s useful to remind myself, and everyone else, that the position I have on Microsoft is based on experience and fact.