Monday, November 20, 2006


Should that next computer be a Windows system?

The computer literati like Stormcrow will, of course, say that the last machine should have been Linux. But for most home users, the choices are pretty constricted. They don't have the suitable time/talent/money to put together a nice box. They want something to write letters, read Newsweek, and play games for the kids. That means Windows or, if they're graphically inclined/hopeless with computers/just plain contrary, a Mac. Now Microsoft is about to give users a very good reason to either develop better computer skills or buy a Mac: Windows controls the horizontal, the vertical For Windows Vista, Microsoft is rolling out a new version of its Windows Genuine Advantage anti-piracy program, complete with a new name: the Windows Software Protection Platform. This time, they mean business. Let's call it WGA Plus, shall we? The Plus means this software, which is baked into Windows Vista, is even more aggressive about detecting and blocking what it considers software that is running with unauthorized license keys or has been tampered with....What's most distressing about the SPP announcement is Microsoft's continued insistence that its anti-piracy tools are nearly perfect and that innocent victims never suffer from errors in their code. The most chilling part of SPP is its new code to detect tampering. .... When an anti-tampering warning first appears, you have three days to reinstall or otherwise fix your copy of Windows Vista or shift into reduced functionality mode. It's going to go in new versions of Office and Browser Just as it is doing with Vista, Microsoft plans to incorporate what basically amounts to a “kill switch” into Office 2007. Office 2007 users who can’t or won’t pass activation muster within a set time period will be moved into “reduced-functionality mode...The Web browser will fully function and Internet connectivity will not be blocked. After one hour, the system will log the user out without warning. " This can happen due to false positives. And does. Last week, I reported on a mysterious outbreak of failures that were causing legitimate Windows XP users to fail validation and be tagged as pirates. In all, 42% of the problem reports I looked at were from customers running confirmed genuine copies of Windows XP.This week, the WGA Validation Problems forum is awash in reports from customers in corporations and at universities that volume license keys (VLKs) are suddenly being reported as blocked. So, some modules gets corrupted or hacked or a user installs something without your knowledge, and ::boom:: your business is down, your computing lab is inactive, the display showing enemy combatants goes dark, the screen on which you are tracing the progress of an endoscope though a patient displays a You must restart your computer message. I've run systems using Windows, UNIX, Mac, so I can make my way. But this article gives me pause. Is a kill switch too much power in too few hands? What OS should your next computer run?
Now is the time for somebody to take a prettied-up user-friendly version of Linux, complete with a software suite, and strike a licensing deal with a major computer manufacturer: "Hey, you KNOW our stuff will run on your machines. Vista? Not so much, plus Gates is gonna hold you up for beaucoup bux."
As always, the problem is the range of applications. Running an OS without any applications is a lot less fun than many system managers may imagine.
Linux has the apps, all right. The problem it has right now is that it isn't perceived as a "non-techie" OS, and Windows is.

Having gotten into trouble on both sides of the street and subsequently gotten myself out, I can tell you that neither is a "non-techie" OS, when you come right down to it.

Computers aren't toasters. Marketing isn't going to change that.

It's just that when non-technical people get into hot water with Windows boxes, they have a wider range of Windows shops to hand the problem off to. A MUCH wider range; Linux users have traditionally expected, or have been expected, to go it alone, so the market for post-installation repair, maintenance, and security never blossomed the way it did in the Windows world.

One thing I will say to MS' credit, though this isn't going to make the life of nontechies any simpler - MS Press has got to have absolutely first-rate editors. The things they print may be voluminous, but they are also of uniformly high quality. Finding authoritative aftermarket Linux documentation is possible, but chancy and the road has far too many potholes. Thanks to MS Press, that is not true for Windows.

As for my next system - alas, it may not be Windows at all. The reviews of Vista point to bloat in memory requirements compared to XP, without a corresponding improvement in performance. Right now, memory starts at $100/gigabyte and goes up from there, as it has for the last two or three years. I DO NOT appreciate having to buy an extra 1 gig stick just to make my Windows workhorse climb up out of the basement.

Nor do I appreciate all the lovely DRM crap Redmond seems bound and determined to inflict upon us all. When I buy a CD or a DVD, as far as I am concerned, it's mine. I do not intend to permit the OS vendor or anybody else sticking their mitts into my carefully secured system and trusted network to be sure I don't pirate it. We have already seen where that leads.

You can bet your sweet bippy that had Sony-BMG been an individual instead of a Holy Corporation, they would be in gaol for the next 30 years for the multiple tens of thousands of counts of felony computer trespass they perpetrated with that rootkit of theirs.

I have issues with Apple Computer too, and they're not trivial ones. Primary among these are their smug complacency about client-side security and their history of insanely proprietary hardware designs. You are expected to ship your iPods back to Apple to get the bloody batteries changed out???. That's daylight madness.

But if my only practical choices boiled down to Vista, as it is today, or a Mac, I'd go with the Mac in a hot instant, premium be damned.

Beautiful post, Stormcrow.

My systems consultant agrees with you on documentation/troubleshooting, and says that he often has to get into the OS when an Excel page doesn't open or do its sums or whatever. He likes Red Hat's Fedora. He says that he is working with a pre-release of Vista and thinks it will do.

The Mac Core Duo machines are pretty good, but interoperability is still very messy. My consultant says that they fail Boot Camp.

So, I am still wondering. Will MSFT drive away customers by being too anal about ownership issues or will it come to its senses and tone down WGA to simply refuse updates, and perhaps report on machines running noncompliant software for followup?
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