IN October this year, Microsoft will make another attempt to push its concept of computing a step further with the release of its XP line of products. This company, which has done more than any other in its time to produce mediocre software and foist it on people by overuse of an aggressive marketing machine using tactics that are often illegal, has just one objective in mind - every PC which runs on the face of the earth should run the rubbish which it puts out. Income, a steady stream, is what it means to Microsoft and if it has to tie people down to using third-class products for the rest of their lives, who really gives a damn?
The problem, to my way of thinking, does not lie solely with this company. It also lies with people who are willing to swallow all the crap that is thrown at them and then pay for more. Nobody wants to make the effort to switch because that would involve a great deal of work. It is easy to stick to bad habits - just ask the tobacco companies and they will tell you. If people didn't have this tendency, Philip Morris would have been out of business a long time back.
But back to software. It is supposed to make people productive, supposed to automate repetitive tasks, and generally add to the efficiency of the operation. It is also supposed to cut overhead costs. Microsoft is notorious for selling products that are broken or else liable to, products that promise one thing and fall well short, products that claim to be easy to use and deceive the user into thinking this way. In fact, a whole lot of advertising emanating from Microsoft now proclaims that its current generation of software is much more reliable than what it put out last year and before that. It is difficult to imagine an automobile company putting out a model this year and claiming that it is much more reliable than the one that came out last year as this would in effect mean that it is taking people for a ride (literally).
There is a lot of money at stake in this market. Companies which depend on advertising from Microsoft (and web sites which live off Redmond) do not dare to cross the company for fear that their source of income would dry up. Press releases are paraded as news, little is heard about the bad points of Windows (there would be little room for other material if people really decided to write about this) and the average punter continues to be bombarded with propaganda. In short, people are conditioned to accept that computing is bound to be a buggy experience. There is no other way, else Microsoft would have found it. This is a load of crap.
Unfortunately, the alternatives are not being pushed by the right people in the right manner. There is this great myth that using computers is simple; some people even go to the extent of saying that they have to be easy to use. Hiding the fact that computers are somewhat difficult playmates is the beginning of the problem. That said, like any other gadget or gizmo, once one is willing to learn, the computer becomes a tool which can be easily put to productive use.
Linux can easily be used at home and in the workplace. Hundreds of so-called average joes and ordinary businesses are finding out that they can use Linux and enjoy much more productivity - provided they have their machines set up by someone who knows what they are doing. Definitely not the kid next door who suffers from an overdose of testosterone. Linux has proved its worth on the server side of things, but its desktop potential has been neglected.
Some of the most sensible writing on Linux and its use can be found at www.aaxnet.com. The site isn't much to look at but it loads under any browser and the stuff is good. Another site which provides a down-to-earth look at moving an organisation to Linux is www.gbdirect.co.uk. There is no emotion on either of these sites when it comes to using Linux - just a calm, dispassionate look at the pros and cons and the smple conclusion that anything which prevent people from wasting their time, cuts down on overheads and gets work done (that, IMHO, is what companies are about) with the minimum of fuss must be worth looking at.
But back to Microsoft and its vision of computing. The new operating system will require product activation - you come home, start your PC and you'll have to get a registration code from the company to run your own operating system. After a set period, it will stop working and the only way to reactivate it would be to get a fresh key - after you pay. If you make changes to your hardware - say you throw out an old IDE CD writer and install a new SCSI one - your machine may stop working. You'll have to call your local Microsoft agent and convince him or her that you are still using the the same PC. Basically, freedom gets a kick in the balls.
But wait there's more. Those who choose to install Windows 2000 Server as their server OS will find that client machines which have a Microsoft OS run better and can use all the features which the server OS affords. In others word, you eat Microsoft, drink Microsoft and also piss Microsoft. Not by choice, you'll bloody well have to.
Think that's the end of the road? Hold on, the best is yet to come. There are two more insidious aspects of Microsoft's grand plan to control computing and keep filling its pockets with the people's money. There is something called Passport which will store all your personal data in order to make it easy for you to log on to various sites where authentication is required - but that data can also be sold to anyone who is willing to pay the right price. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the buyer will afford you any secrecy at all. You will also have to pay Microsoft for this service!!!
If you are someone who values your freedom in any way, you had better think of an alternative soon. Once you go down this track, turning back will be well nigh impossible.