Saying No to Microsoft
It is a rivalry that has been going on for years. Look at any product review that allows comments and you will see the bias. So who is this rivalry between? It is between Microsoft and the rest of the world. It is probably one of the most passionate competitions. For a writer that writes product reviews it can also be a nightmare because no matter how objective he thinks he is, he will always be accused of being a secret spokesman for one of the companies, either Microsoft or Apple. He will simply be accused of being anti Microsoft if he reviews or comments on open source software such as the Linux operating system.
For myself, I will admit that I am also caught up in this competition and I will admit that I am not on the side of Microsoft. However, I am not extremely passionate about it. I simply want a choice. I prefer a Mac but it doesn’t mean I won’t use a Windows machine. As I write this article I am writing it on a Windows XP notebook.
There is a book that will continue to fuel this competition and yes, it is biased against Microsoft but I enjoyed it because, as I just mentioned, it does offer a choice. The book is "Just Say No To Microsoft" by Tony Bove. It is full of information about all of the alternatives to Microsoft products, everything from operating systems, word processors, to media software. The book has an interesting format where the author highlights any Microsoft information or trivia in grey capsules dispersed throughout. I found these sections so interesting that I tended to jump ahead just to read them. Overall this is a general outline of what is in Tony Bove’s book:
Comparison of Each Operating System
The author provides general information about the three most popular operating systems available to the consumer. He goes into the history of Microsoft from 1980 to the present (book publication date 2005). He shows the alternatives of Mac OS X, and Linux and presents the strengths of each including their best applications.
Alternatives to Microsoft Products
The author presents the alternatives to the doc format of Microsoft Word stating that businesses and individuals can liberate themselves, that Microsoft’s format doesn’t have to be the world’s format. Alternatives are; rich text format RTF, portable document format PDF, hypertext markup language HTML, or even plain ASCII text. The obvious alternatives to Word are Wordperfect and the free open source OpenOffice. I do have both of these products and I do like them. OpenOffice is very nice, not only because it is free, but because there are versions for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. The author also points out another word processor that I was completely unaware of. It is another free one called AbiWord. Not only are there versions of AbiWord that will run on Windows, OS X, and Linux, but there are versions that will run on BeOS and QNX as well. The final alternative is the Mac only iWorks.
Then there are the alternatives to Powerpoint and Excel. Again, the only real alternatives to these products is OpenOffice and iWorks. The author does present an interesting alternative to Powerpoint and its limited linear presentation of information by simply using HTML which would allow the presenter a more rich non linear way of conveying information.
The general media players, video and music, have their alternatives which is a little more obvious such as Quicktime, iTunes, and RealPlayer. I didn’t realize though, the number of different players for Linux, such as Grip, XMMS, Mp3blaster, Xine, VideoLan, or Mplayer. The author even presents other media players other than Windows Media Player that will run on Windows.
Finally, the author does give some good advice if you still want to use Microsoft products. Most of it involves presenting all of the different formats and configurations that are present in their software. He shows how to configure your software so that you do not get locked into Microsoft’s proprietary formats.
Networking and Email
Here, the author attacks Microsoft for the amount of viruses, spyware, and adware that have attacked Windows, Outlook, and Explorer. He presents the alternatives which are quite a few. I can’t believe the incredible number of email clients available for Linux. The browser alternatives are the now popular Firefox and Apple’s Safari and the less well known Opera. The author does make the rather pointed remark that to avoid viruses altogether, you must simply give up Windows and move to another OS.
Your Computer Life
The author gives a multiple step process to liberate you from Microsoft. There is a lot of reference information here. There is good background information about how Microsoft manipulates the press and this is one point that I have to agree with the author about. For example, I remember the constant comparison in the press between Vista and OS X Tiger despite the fact that Tiger was already a released product and Vista was more than a year away from release. How can you make this comparison?
Overall, this is an interesting book and for the Microsoft hater it is a delight. For anyone that is pro Microsoft they probably won’t care for it, but if you are open minded take a look anyway. It does provide interesting historical background information on Microsoft.
My Own View
After reading this book and my own experience using Microsoft products, this is what have I come to realize about the company. Below are my views:
One thing I have learned is that it is hard to change corporate culture, even after many years. Even after a company files for bankruptcy and a good part of the management is swept away, somehow enough people remain to keep the culture going. I have seen this first hand, where I have worked for a company before and after a bankruptcy and have noticed no change in how business is done.
In the book “The Microsoft File” by Wendy Goldman Rohm, the author details the history of the company and its predatory marketing and pricing tactics that was meant to simply eliminate the competition. Some of the companies or products that have fallen have been the browser Netscape, the operating systems AmigaOS, BeOS, and Digital Research DOS.
Even though Microsoft lost the antitrust suit brought by the government and its predatory tactics are now gone, remnants of this culture still remain.
What remains is the following:
- Questionable quality
- Incredible marketing ability
- A me too attitude to new products
For Microsoft, "the third time is the charm". I have heard this statement or variations of it and it is shocking. Companies have gotten themselves into trouble if they don't execute their products correctly the first time but somehow we let Microsoft fumble along until it finally gets it right on a later iteration. In the case of their operating system it took them over fifteen years until they finally came up with a stable version which was Windows 7. Yes, I know XP is considered a great version but out of the box it wasn't. I had XP with service pack 1 and at the time I had dial up which prevented me from downloading service pack 2. Without SP2, my version of XP was horrible.
Someone can claim that other companies or organizations that have developed operating systems have had the same problems, but this is not entirely true. While other companies were adding features to improve their products, Microsoft was always working just to improve stability. For example, I was one of the first to buy an Amiga computer when it first came out and even though it had a gawdy interface, no networking or internet ability, it still was rock solid stable.
Below are some of Microsoft's missteps:
- Windows 95
- Windows ME
- Windows Vista
- Windows 8
- Window PDA (iPaq)
- MSN Wrist Watch
- Internet Search
Microsoft went through many versions of its search engine until it finally settled on Bing. When I first used it, I found it returning results that had no relation to what I was actually searching for. However, about a year later, when I tried it again, I found its search results vastly improved. I was willing to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt until I heard from a fellow coworker that Bing was piggybacking off of Google. When I did a search I found a lot of evidence that this was true, Bing is copying Google!
Finally, the xbox is probably one of the exceptions for Microsoft but in their attempt to beat Sony to market, they pushed them out the door before they were ready. In defense of Microsoft, they did repair, at no cost to the consumer, the initial consoles that were defective, but up to 60 percent of the first consoles failed and that to me is unacceptable.
Incredible Marketing Ability
If you ask anyone who markets their products the best, the answer most likely would be Apple, that is, if you are considering only tech companies. However, I contend that Microsoft is vastly better at marketing their products than Apple is. Apple did not get where it is today until it introduced the iPhone. It was simply a game changer for them. I remember seeing the intro online. Everyone was silent at first as their jaws dropped. No one expected such a phone that could do so many things so well. But before that, most of Apple's product introductions were met with skepticism. I remember when Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod. Many people thought it was a stupid product, they wanted a new Newton PDA instead. A few years later the same response took place when Steve introduced the Mac mini, because everyone wanted a low cost tower computer that they could configure.
This is what scares me about Microsoft, because even I can fall victim to their advertising and the word of mouth that they spread. A good example is Metro or Windows 8. I was willing to admit that they probably had Apple and everyone else beat (Linux, etc.), that they finally produced an innovative and quality product. But this doesn't actually seem to be the case, now that the product is in the market. There is a lot of rumbling that this could be one of the worst products from a usability standpoint that Microsoft has ever produced. I have already seen a few hubs pointing this out, even stating that this could end Microsoft's dominance on the desktop.
I myself, thought that the tile interface was horrible and was dismayed that most people thought it was great. But the excitement was the result of Microsoft's ability to get this message across so well. They were so good at it that now Apple's iOS7 is going to eliminate the three dimensional look to their icons as a result. Looking at iOS7, it looks so cartoonish. I want to see lots of color and I want to see icons in three dimensions because that is how our brains are wired.
A Me Too Attitude to New Products
On my last contracting position, I was called in to fix problems with a large Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. It was being used by upper management to track issues for the company product. The pivot tables that were used to produce the graphs didn't exactly match the data. Yes, data had been entered wrong in some cases, but the biggest problem was Excel itself. Blank spaces was one of them. Why are blank spaces after an entry ignored in the data but are present in the pivot table sheet? You can't believe what a problem this is and I don't ever see Microsoft correcting this. I have tried Apple's version of Excel and Apple had a simple solution. It simply prevented you from putting a space after an entry in a cell in the data. If Apple could implement such a simple fix, why can't Microsoft do the same? The same goes with pasting data (in a sorted list). You can mess up your data depending if you use source or destination formatting. This should not be happening.
The point I am trying to make is, that despite how slick Microsoft makes Office look, there are still serious problems deep within it. If they would concentrate all their efforts only on Office and Windows, we probably would be blessed with two quality products, but instead, Microsoft wants to follow everyone else. Whatever new product another company comes up with, they want to make it too. They should follow Apple's motto of building only a few products and doing it very well.
Soon, There Could Be a Final Answer to Microsoft
Avoiding Microsoft is probably impossible for most people since converting to operating systems such as Linux is not viable. We are simply too wired into their products to make such a disruptive change. Even a lot of the Macs that are sold, customers want Microsoft Office on them.
However, when it comes to operating systems, there may be an alternative better than Linux. There is an open source organization that has been working on a new operating system for some time. It is called ReactOS. They have struggled in the past but recently they have gotten funding from Google and understandably so. This isn't a new version of Linux, this is a full open source implementation of Windows! It is in alpha right now but a beta version is expected soon. You can download and try the alpha version if you want to.
Soon, we might have the best solution of them all, a Windows clone!
- ReactOS Project
ReactOS® is a free, modern operating system based on the design of Windows® XP/2003. Written completely from scratch, it aims to follow the Windows® architecture designed by Microsoft® from the hardware level right through to the application level.
- OpenOffice.org - The Free and Open Productivity Suite
OpenOffice.org: The Free, Open Source Office Suite