Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A Windows expert opts for a Mac life

Windows Vista is in most ways an excellent operating system. But I've found myself increasingly disturbed by the many ways Microsoft is willing to erode the overall user experience, in most cases in the name of boosting its bottom line.

I'm talking about aspects like the new upgrade to Microsoft's antipiracy measures, known as Software Protection Platform (which includes a "reduced functionality mode"); the little-detailed digital rights management features -- if any -- that some people believe will surface in Vista; and the repetitious frustration of User Account Control, a security feature that takes an extreme approach to protecting you from potential threats that probably 98.44% of the time aren't actually there.

My assessment of UAC is that it's a good idea that is badly implemented, even after recent refinements. I think it will have the opposite of its intended effect on many Vista desktops, where it will deaden users to security risks by asking them too frequently whether they're sure an activity is something they really want to do or allow. UAC will protect Microsoft's image as a purveyor of secure software (or at least it might do so). But if it adds any real protection, it will do so at the expense of the user experience.

My sentiments about Software Protection Platform, which might also be called Windows Genuine Advantage on steroids, is that it serves just one entity: Microsoft. For users, it has no advantages, and for a small percentage of individuals and enterprises, it could be a ticking time bomb waiting to unleash frustration.

Let's not forget that the dramatic IT breakthrough that drove Wall Street in the last decade was a significant return on investment in the form of increased user productivity. Moreover, the last time I looked, Microsoft rose to power two and a half decades ago precisely because it helped free users from onerous restrictions on access to computer power. The rise of the PC eventually killed off the minicomputer dominance of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The software giant should be reading the history of the mistakes its competitors made back then, because it could be heading down the same path.

Microsoft invests incredible R&D resources into the products it builds. The company has not only a right but an ethical requirement to get a good return on its investment for its stockholders. But it's not paying attention to the grass-roots welling up of frustration over many of its business practices.

Scratch the millions of forums and blogs on the Internet, even slightly, and you'll find them oozing with angst and disgust about Microsoft's approach to creating, selling and protecting its products. There is pent-up demand for a change, for a real alternative, especially among more experienced computer users. Moreover, this is not isolated to "consumers" at all. Despite the Windows-oriented policies of many IT shops and the fact that many companies have Microsoft DNA deeply embedded in their IT infrastructures, a good portion of the people who manage, run and toil in IT organizations have become openly contemptuous of Microsoft's products and policies.

If I could strip out aspects of Vista -- like Microsoft's aggressive antipiracy measures and some of its onerous protective mechanisms, the high cost of Vista Ultimate, and other unpleasant aspects of the new operating system -- I might continue as a more-or-less content Windows user. But the emergence of Vista has sparked something new inside me, a serious need to explore my alternatives.

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