The rantings of a beautiful mind

On life, society, and computer technology.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I live in the Fortress of Solitude. I drive the Silver Beast. My obsession is justice. I used to be a Windows software developer. I retired in 2000 when my stock options helped me achieve financial security.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Alternatives to Windows

Windows may be the world's most popular desktop Operating System, but are there good reasons to switch to an alternative platform? The answer is a resounding Yes!

First, Windows is extremely vulnerable to security problems such as viruses, spyware, break-ins and hacker-controlled "zombies." Because Windows is so ubiquitous, hackers and virus writers always target Windows as their first, and usually only, destination.

Second, Windows can be terribly expensive if you wish to remain to legal. While many people use illegal copies of Windows software (including Microsoft Office), for those who are more ethically minded the costs can rapidly mount up. For example, in Canada,

Windows XP Professional costs $400.
Upgrading to Windows XP Professional costs $250.
Microsoft Office 2003 Standard Edition costs $490.
Upgrading to Microsoft Office 2003 Standard Edition costs $290.


And since Microsoft releases updated versions of their software about once every three years, resulting in major new feature additions, bug fixes and substantial changes to the core software (including file formats), if you choose to upgrade, the continuing costs over a long period of time can be prohibitive.

Third, Microsoft's antipiracy and copy protection scheme is a tremendous nuisance. In particular, if you want to install your software on more than one PC in your home (I have three PCs in my home), you can't do it, not without having a separate license for each PC (which, again, can be prohibitively expensive). Copy protection is also very inconvenient, sometimes creating usability problems.

Fourth, in my experience Windows suffers from issues of system degradation. For reasons that I cannot identify, Windows performance becomes erratic as time wears on, exhibiting odd behaviours and mysterious slowdowns. And this has nothing to do with viruses and malware! Read this blog article for more information.

I find that every couple of years I have to wipe the hard disk clean and reinstall Windows from scratch. I've done this on two of my three PCs, and I've done this on a friend's computer on two occasions.

(Microsoft may argue that these machines have been infected with viruses. Even assuming that it is true, it only points to my first major reason for avoiding Windows!)

Fifth, because Windows and Office are proprietary software and they're only updated about once every three years, if there are any bugs that you want fixed, you have to wait until the next update (and pay for it!). That's assuming the bugs will be fixed - there are no guarantees. And three years can be a LONG time.

As you can see, Windows has many downsides. While it does have upsides as well, such as familiarity, breadth of available applications, and support for the latest, bleeding edge hardware, for most people these are not worth the headaches that I've listed above. For example, most people use only a very limited selection of applications. This includes email, websurfing, office suite, and multimedia. Such applications are readily available on other platforms.

The only exception that I'd mention is in the area of video games. If you are heavily into PC video games, than Windows is really your only platform.

Next time, we'll discuss available alternatives to using Windows...


Blogger Darkest Knight said...

Here's a very good example of the annoying and irritating crap associated with Microsoft's copy protection scheme:

After Cringester Issac D. replaced a failed motherboard on one of his client’s eMachines PCs, Windows XP demanded a new registration key. When he called Microsoft they said, Sorry, not our problem, call eMachines. But eMachines said, Sorry, the new motherboard means it’s no longer an eMachine, can’t help you. So his client dropped another $199 for a new copy of XP. Company spokesfolk say if his client had let eMachines do the repairs, he could have avoided paying for a new OS. Still, desktop Linux is looking more attractive every day.

- InfoWorld

Consider the Apple Mac, as well.

2:24 PM  

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