Boycott Vista and Office

Over at CNN Money, Business 2.0 Magazine writer Owen Thomas discusses the hype concerning Vista and the excessive amount of time and money spent on its development. The conclusion?

So here's a modest proposal: Boycott Vista. Keep your old Windows XP PC around. Don't buy a new one. That's the only way we have to let Microsoft know Vista is an overhyped, late, and pointless update to XP - a perfectly fine operating system.

I think this suggestion is knowingly unrealistic, but it does raise another issue. Isn't it about time writing teachers boycott MS Office?

Don't be a lemming. Consider the consequences of spending your own or your institution's money just to have those one or two "must have" features that you did fine without 5 or 10 years ago. Don't contribute to and perpetuate the millions of dollars spent on MS Office each year. After all, are there any difference between MS Office and OpenOffice really worth the Microsoft tax most of our society pays when it comes to word processing?

And let's not forget the significant principles regarding knowledge sharing and strategies for collaboration behind open source development. It always amazes me that predominantly liberal higher education privileges capitalistic proprietary development of software and knowledge over open source. Think about the values you endorse when purchasing Microsoft Office instead of using OpenOffice. Microsoft may no longer regularly be described as Evil as it once was during antitrust legislation only a few years back, but that doesn't mean that writing teachers shouldn't join the good guys :-)

Topics: 

Comments

W00t! I'm definitely in agreement with you, Charlie. However, I have a slightly different take on it.

For the short-term, at least, I think the best "stand to take" (aka the best hill to die on) is to insist that every state computer on campus have as many FOSS alternatives to proprietary software as possible. If they have Microsoft Word, they should also have Open Office, and so on for all the other proprietary warez. Students and faculty using these machines should *always* have a choice to use FOSS if they so desire. Unfortunately, the tendency seems to be to provide only the Microsoft products, so people get no chance to see the other stuff.

I recently noticed a form going around about what software the faculty wanted on the computers. Almost as an experiment, I put down "Firefox on all computers" and that has seem to happen (I assume I wasn't the only one). Now, I can use Firefox in my classes and notice many students using it when I walk through the labs. This might be a case of a student sitting in a lab using IE, and another asking, "What the heck are you doing using IE? Use Firefox!" It's a few clicks to freedom that way.

All this said, I think you have to present a more compelling argument to most people to use FOSS than simply "It's free" or the old GNU Manifesto. That only works on folks with ideals. To reach the masses, you have to actually have a product that's perceived as superior. There's really no doubt in my mind why Firefox has triumphed whereas OO and GIMP have not. Compare Microsoft PowerPoint to OpenOffice Impress, for instance. No one can seriously claim the latter is an equivalent. It's slow, prone to crashes, and not nearly as slick.

And again it's easy to see why. The only really nice FOSS programs are those designed by and for programmers. The further you get from a C++ compiler and the like, the worst the software is going to look when compared to the commercial equivalent.

What Microsoft does have is the best programmers in the world working with the best development tools in the world. Their only real competition is with themselves (to wit, a boycott of Vista in favor of XP?) Meanwhile, what does Sun have? OO? As in, OOOOOoooh, you can't afford the good stuff. Something has to be done. I just don't know what. I do know, though, that you can't just expect people to live without highly useful features just for the sake of a good conscience.

Check out Barton's gaming blog at Armchair Arcade.

"If they have Microsoft Word, they should also have Open Office, and so on for all the other proprietary warez."

Ah, yes. I've only been at GVSU for less than a month, and I have already gotten OpenOffice and GIMP added to our campus computer labs. But this an insitutional strategy. I'm talking to writing teachers here in this post.

Besides--and I'm not denying that people need more exposure--it's not so much about which is the superior product as to why these different open source software packages are not in use. It's more user computer literacy skills (OO may be an equivalent, but it is different), legacy files, IT support, institutional MS lovefests, and the typical do whatever everyone else does.

"Compare Microsoft PowerPoint to OpenOffice Impress, for instance. No one can seriously claim the latter is an equivalent. It's slow, prone to crashes, and not nearly as slick."

As you know, I've been using OO for a few years now and never use MS Office:

* OO doesn't seem slow to me; perhaps PowerPoint or Word is slightly faster, but I don't use it. The only way you know the difference is if you are still using MS Office.

* Prone to crashes? It doesn't crash on me with the presentations I have created. Sometimes it might have a problem with an MS PowerPoint. That's only because MS uses proprietary standards and doesn't share the file formats. So that is definitely not OO's fault.

* Slick??? It does the job for me, and will do the job to create and display most PP presentations I have seen. Moreover, for every feature you can show me that MS has, I can show you something different that OO does better.

"What Microsoft does have is the best programmers in the world working with the best development tools in the world."

You must have missed that large sucking sound in the IT industry in the last couple of years. Google has the best and brightest now. Moreover, there are many, many developers who would probably argue with you about MS having the best tools. Even some of the computer science students I have taught in my technical writing classes have commented on how much better 'Nix enviroments are for coders.

So stop defending the fact that you still use Word, Matt ;-)

-----
Charlie | cyberdash