First understand where I'm coming from. I've been using windows since V1.0 I run a heavily tweaked and minimalist XP with Classic windows and theme. I don't use IE6, Outlook, Outlook Express, Office except in emergencies or to check things. I have AVG, Spybot and Adaware installed but they never find anything. XP pretty much works for me with minimal annoyance. I hardly ever have to reboot. I've never caught a virus or any malware (touches wood) despite having this machine in the DMZ of my router for a long time and hence wide open on the net. And I have loads of software installed because I'm often trying new programs. I have an organised directory structure.

Now somebody I know got a new laptop for himself and his wife from PC World ready for a trip to the far east. It's a pretty ordinary Toshiba with XP Home loaded. They are not the most technical of users and simply couldn't cope with firing it up themselves so they got somebody else in to configure it for them. A few days later I'm in a meeting with them and noticed they didn't have Skype installed which they will need. So they downloaded the latest Skype Beta and tried to install it. The machine hung and refused to reboot without a full power cycle. At that point they said "don't tell my wife, I promised we wouldn't install anything so we could be sure it all worked for the trip."

So I took over and tried to get it working for them. And my mind recoiled in horror. XP used all the yucky defaults with the default "telly-tubbies" theme. The full Norton anti-virus and firewall protection suite was installed. IE had about 5 lines of toolbar. The system was setup with 4 different users. There were loads of useless icons all over the desktop. I go to download the current Skype instead of the beta, save it, and then can't find the setup file. When I go to drive C: the machine throws up one of those helpful dialog boxes that says "accessing drive c may be dangerous" huh? After much messing around with configuring the Norton firewall, a couple of reboots and un-installing and then re-installing Skype, I finally get the whole thing working and stable again.

So what we're left with is an operating system that attempts to hide everything from the user, collapses apparently randomly, tries to be helpful, but actually just makes most of its users feel inadequate. And actually all the MS application software is the same. Did you ever make a change in MS Word only for Word to helpfully reformat half the paragraphs and change all the quotes to "smart quotes"? Can you imagine any other business where a big percentage of the dominant manufacturer's customers feel inadequate because they can't use it? But then you and I are not Microsoft's customers. Their customers are actually Dell, Toshiba, Sony, and Merill Lynch.

So what has this got to do with Longhorn. Well I'm reading more and more about how Intel and Microsoft in conjunction with the hardware manufacturers will be bolting DRM in various forms right in the middle of the OS. I'm reading about how I won't be able to do what I want to do. The only reason I stay with XP is because so much software appears on XP first, Apple later and if you're lucky and Linux hardly at all. But if significant software I want to run is prevented from running, It's finally going to tip me over the edge to switch.

The other side to this is that MS is getting into the classic big software project mentality. Whatever the bug or feature is, it will be fixed in the version that comes out with Longhorn. Because all the software is so intimately tied to the OS, there's come a point where they can no longer ship each individual piece early and often. Everything has to wait for the big release. And that big release therefore ends up being vast and untestable. And late.

Now it looks like I'm going to be due a machine upgrade round about the time of the Longhorn release. And by chance that coincides with when Apple-Intel laptops should be available. So finally I'm being forced into making a choice that I otherwise could have put off for a bit longer. Will I stay with MS for another cycle or is this the time I jump ship? Will all the endless annoyances of windows being added to by another load of DRM and control finally tip me over the edge?

I think I'm not alone in this. A Unix based OS with a pretty face, stable drivers, and easy access to all that OSS feels awfully attractive. Just maybe a Linux distro will be as good as Mac OSX but I kind of doubt it.

So I think this should be a call to arms to Apple and the OSS cadre. You've got 2 years or so to become a completely credible alternative. If you can manage it then you can do us all a favour and blow MS out of the water. Because everyone who currently uses XP is going to be faced with the same choice I am. And that's the perfect moment to say "'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more" and just switch.

Which leaves me with a problem. I've got 2Gb of compressed and encrypted email going back 8 years in an obsolete email reader that I love. I know I don't really need to keep it all and I could just start afresh but it's a big part of my outboard memory. And I've never found an alternative that works as well.

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[ 18-Sep-05 2:58pm ] [ , ]