Barney's Blog

Blog archive

The 'Sins' of Windows 7

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) kicked off a public awareness campaign on Wednesday called "Windows 7 Sins," which, as you can probably guess from the name, lists seven deadly sins of Microsoft, honing in on its latest Windows 7 OS. (Incidentally, you can check out this feature in our latest issue that covers the seven things Windows 7 did get right.)

The organization advocates that software should be available for free, and not be proprietary. So it's not just Windows 7 that gets the evil eye from the FSF; Vista and even the venerable XP get panned for the same reason: proprietary control. FSF doesn't necessarily advocate open source as the solution. The software just needs to be free, an FSF spokesperson explained to me a few months back. And while this FSF campaign focuses on Microsoft, Adobe and Apple are also in its sights.

People may tend to dismiss the FSF, but it depends on your perspective. IT pros responsible for setting up desktops in organizations have practical concerns that must be addressed. They'll install whatever software is easy to use and supported. Things do go horribly wrong, after all, so organizations will pay to ensure that it's someone's job to provide that support. Really, that's the reason why organizations agree to Microsoft's complex licensing, which does seem rather arbitrary and limiting -- and expensive.

For everyday use, free software is great, except when things go wrong. Case in point: I bought a Dell laptop equipped with the free Ubuntu Linux OS. The OS updates every six months or so. One of the updates wiped out the system's sound. I tried searching for the sound driver online, but failed. I contacted Dell's support and they promised to call me to fix the problem. They didn't. Of course, I guess it's my own fault for not knowing how to control my computer using the BASH command line.

On an intellectual level, can people really object to some of the FSF's claims? The group says that Microsoft is pushing its OS monopoly in the public schools, and that its software accesses your computer, which constitutes an invasion of privacy. Security is a problem with Microsoft's software, the FSF adds.

But the FSF's argument that Microsoft has tried to block the OpenDocument Format seems a bit off. Microsoft is now part of the OASIS effort overseeing ODF. In late April, Microsoft released Office 2007 SP2, which includes built-in support for ODF. So instead of blocking ODF, it seems Microsoft is absorbing it.

The FSF could make a strong argument on the document format front, as many institutions like governments and schools need to keep electronic records that won't disappear along with the Wang word processor. Alas, it seems that Microsoft has actually responded to this issue, and now there's support for ODF as well as Microsoft's Office Open XML document format as international standards.

Overall, the FSF is arguing about the ills of capitalism, which is a big topic. However, in the meantime, I'm wondering if someone can just help me fix the lack of sound in my Ubuntu-driven laptop. Any ideas?

Posted by Kurt Mackie on August 26, 2009