A look at windows7sins.org

When the Free Software Foundation scores a hit, it’s usually a home run. This one literally hasn’t landed yet.

Their latest campaign, Windows 7 Sins, is a brutal, gloves-are-off-now attack on Microsoft’s well-known monopolistic and anti-consumer tactics. Some of them are pretty damning.

I’ll go through each of the 7 sins and reply with my take on each one.

1. Poisoning education: Today, most children whose education involves computers are being taught to use one company’s product: Microsoft’s. Microsoft spends large sums on lobbyists and marketing to corrupt educational departments. An education using the power of computers should be a means to freedom and empowerment, not an avenue for one corporation to instill its monopoly.

To be fair about it, Apple did the same thing–not that Apple’s evil tactics, present or past, are strangers to readers of this blog either. In fact every time I used a computer in school (elementary to post-secondary) it ran proprietary software. This certainly should not be the case; the least Microsoft can do is not use the schools not to cement its monopoly.

2. Invading privacy: Microsoft uses software with backward names like Windows Genuine Advantage to inspect the contents of users’ hard drives. The licensing agreement users are required to accept before using Windows warns that Microsoft claims the right to do this without warning.

I have to giggle a bit when I read anything with “Windows” and “Advantage” in the same phrase. Seriously, the odious, obnoxious, and invasive “product activation” requirements are the reason I no longer use Windows on my PC. I’m different than most of the people who treat a computer like just another appliance; I don’t need a license agreement to tell me Microsoft does not have my best interests in mind. Though it is nice to have documentation.

3. Monopoly behavior: Nearly every computer purchased has Windows pre-installed — but not by choice. Microsoft dictates requirements to hardware vendors, who will not offer PCs without Windows installed on them, despite many people asking for them. Even computers available with other operating systems like GNU/Linux pre-installed often had Windows on them first.

It is possible to get even laptops without an OS already on them (referring here to PC hardware, of course). Local clone shops will happily give you a system with a clean hard drive and will even leave the license cost for Windows off of your final invoice. I, of course, prefer to build my own; my most recent computers were “rescued” so they do have major brand names on them. One was apparently dumped because the Windows XP install on it was busted. It’s now the firewall for our home network, running OpenBSD quite happily.

4. Lock-in: Microsoft regularly attempts to force updates on its users, by removing support for older versions of Windows and Office, and by inflating hardware requirements. For many people, this means having to throw away working computers just because they don’t meet the unnecessary requirements for the new Windows versions.

When I saw the requirement of 1G–yes, an entire gigabyte–of RAM for Windows Vista, I was floored. I hear you really needed to have 2G of RAM to get a usable system. That’s insane. I’m still getting by on a system running Debian 5.0 (lenny) with 256M of RAM; it remains relatively responsive as long as I am careful, though I probably do need to find something to replace or augment it in the not-so-distant future.

But to require 1G of RAM when the previous generation of PCs top out at that? That’s inexcusable and cruel to the people who can’t afford to buy a new computer because Microsoft says it’s time to.

5. Abusing standards: Microsoft has attempted to block free standardization of document formats, because standards like OpenDocument Format would threaten the control they have now over users via proprietary Word formats. They have engaged in underhanded behavior, including bribing officials, in an attempt to stop such efforts.

Indeed, this is probably the most unfair, unkind, unscrupulous, thoughtless, sneaky, and nasty thing Microsoft is guilty of. When OASIS released the OpenDocument standards, Microsoft shot back with the confusingly similar Office Open XML, which is despite its name not a true open standard.

Even though Microsoft is a part of the W3C, its Internet Explorer HTML viewer is pathetic enough that I refuse to call it a Web browser. I actually had to program MSIE as a mobile phone user agent because it completely bombs on this WordPress theme as used here. (Which is probably another reason I need to make a custom theme for this site, and now that I have the experience, I will probably start on that in about a week or two.)

Microsoft ignored certain parts of the TCP/IP standards or recommendations when first making a TCP/IP stack part of the Windows OS (Windows’ TCP/IP stack was adapted from BSD, yet none of the code changes or improvements were ever contributed back to that project that I am aware of). UDP port scans on early versions of Windows were much easier than a comparable Unix system. This kind of plays into the bit about security below.

6. Enforcing Digital Restrictions Management (DRM): With Windows Media Player, Microsoft works in collusion with the big media companies to build restrictions on copying and playing media into their operating system. For example, at the request of NBC, Microsoft was able to prevent Windows users from recording television shows that they have the legal right to record.

I’ve ranted about DRM enough times here that I’m not sure what new I can add. This is pretty much par for the course for Microsoft, and something they should have no problem doing. Microsoft does partner with NBC, so it’s not surprising they would cave in easily to such a demand.

7. Threatening user security: Windows has a long history of security vulnerabilities, enabling the spread of viruses and allowing remote users to take over people’s computers for use in spam-sending botnets. Because the software is secret, all users are dependent on Microsoft to fix these problems — but Microsoft has its own security interests at heart, not those of its users.

Again, to be fair about it, Microsoft is far from the only offender here; they are, however, the most egregious. I take any Microsoft initiative to tighten security with a grain of salt, if not a shaker full of it, as the exploits keep coming with no real end in sight. (Hypertension? What hypertension?)

Apple’s squabble over Google’s user interface

The Blade has a recent entry on the Google Voice application for the iPhone. The FCC inquired about the rejection to all three companies involved: Apple, Google, and AT&T (which has an exclusivity arrangement with Apple for the iPhone in the US market). The interesting part here is the reaction from each company.

AT&T denies any involvement in the rejection of the application.

Apple claims they have not actually rejected the application, and is “still pondering at this time.” What is surprising–or not, if you read this blog on a regular basis–is the following quote from the letter:

The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.

I gather that that’s almost the entire point of the Google Voice application. What I take away from this: If Apple can do this to Google, they can damn sure do it to any other iPhone developer–and in fact, in a couple of cases, they pretty much already have.

Ron Schenone (author of The Blade) certainly signs off with a telling question
or three:

When I first read this I wondered why the FCC even cared? Why did the FCC even ask the companies to comment? Doesn’t Apple have the right to accept or reject any application that runs on their iPhone?

In an ideal world, Apple would let anyone write any application they wanted to run on the iPhone without having to play a high-stakes game of “Mother, May I.” It’s entirely backwards to take hundreds of dollars from a customer, and then still claim some kind of ownership on the item being sold to that customer. If Apple still considers the iPhone theirs after it leaves the factory, there needs to be a warning label to that effect on each box.

I’d like to think that would do some good. In the end those warning labels may be scarcely more effective than the ones on cigarette cartons. But that is a whole ‘nother rant for a different day.

Less than a penny’s worth

A recent UPI story details the case of Mark Guard, charged with stealing electricity in London. The taxpayers will have to pay over £5,000 (US$8,200) for the two separate hearings before the case was dropped.

Mark was filming a documentary about crime and the homeless. During the filming squatters entered a vacant building, setting off a motion sensor. Not surprisingly, the squatters didn’t want to stick around. Mark does the responsible thing and turns off the alarm to avoid disturbing the rest of the neighborhood. To do that, he had to turn on the power. When the London police arrived, he was arrested for theft of a ridiculously small amount of electricity (£0.00003 worth, which I’m not even going to bother converting into US$). Even though Mark offered to pay for it, the electric company felt it wasn’t worth the bother.

And yet, somehow, pursuing criminal charges was. Indeed, no good deed goes unpunished. I can see this happening here in the US as well. Every taxpayer in London should be outraged at such an irresponsible use of their money.

Maybe Mark can make a movie about his ordeal to show the citizens of London just how silly the whole thing really was.