FSF Comes Out Swinging Against Windows Vista - 19 Dec 2006

Recently, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) launched a marketing effort aimed at besmirching Windows Vista and promoting open-source alternatives. Sadly, the campaign, which can be viewed online at BadVista.org, does more to highlight how out of touch some members of the open-source community still are, despite years of work from both open-source and proprietary software businesses aimed at bridging the gaps between the two sides.

"Vista is an upsell masquerading as an upgrade," writes FSF Program Administrator John Sullivan in a note posted to the BadVista.org Web site. "It is an overall regression when you look at the most important aspect of owning and using a computer: your control over what it does. Obviously MS Windows is already proprietary and very restrictive, and well worth rejecting. But the new 'features' in Vista are a Trojan horse to smuggle in even more restrictions. We'll be focusing attention on detailing how they work, how to resist them, and why people should care."

There's little doubt that open-source products such as Linux compete with Microsoft products such as Vista, but in recent years the relationship between the two sides has veered into "co-opetition" territory, as evidenced by the agreement between SuSE Linux maker Novell and Microsoft. Clearly, most enterprises are heterogeneous environments, thanks to corporate acquisitions and mergers, and because customers are increasingly interested in solutions that just work, and not in religious issues.

But religion, not common sense, seems to be at the forefront of the FSF's arguments about Vista. I appreciate the FSF's desire to compete. Indeed, enterprises should evaluate both open-source and proprietary solutions on their merits whenever they begin shopping around for new solutions. But the FSF seems to be taking a step back in time with its arguments about Vista and by presenting links only to articles that are critical of Microsoft and Vista.

The whole thing is childish and unnecessary. Although Vista isn't likely to trigger an avalanche of corporate migrations right away, enterprises and other businesses will almost certainly move to Vista much more quickly than they did to Windows XP. And they'll discover an OS that is positively brimming with new features. Vista is an upsell in the same way that new model cars are upsells: The whole OS has been reworked from an architectural basis, paving the way for the next decade of computing. And yet, the basic UI is similar enough to that of XP that users will be able to get up and running quickly.

In a conversation with outgoing Microsoft Co-President of Platforms and Services Division Jim Allchin last week, I discovered that Microsoft is indeed going to undertake a marketing campaign aimed at educating all kinds of users about Vista. "If they have a PC and a pulse, they're going to know about Windows Vista," Allchin told me. "It's a very innovative blitz aimed at gaining recognition. It will be bigger than \[the marketing campaign for\] Windows 95. The industry is bigger now." That's just good old-fashioned competition.

My advice to the FSF is simple. If you think the open-source community has more to offer than Microsoft, state your case, but keep the FUD to yourselves. The market has matured, and that sort of nonsense is no longer interesting.

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