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December 19, 2006

Free Software Foundation urges against Vista

Free software activist organization Free Software Foundation has launched a new campaign against Microsoft Corp's new Vista operating system, claiming enterprises will save money - and be liberated - by choosing a free OS instead.

By CBR Staff Writer

In addition to furthering its free software agenda, the FSF claims Vista is an upsell masquerading as an upgrade and that its new features are a Trojan Horse to smuggle in even more restrictions on the ownership and control an enterprise has over its computers.

The Boston, Massachusetts-based group, which has about 2,500 paying members, will organize its larger base of supporters into effective and unusual actions as part of the campaign, called Bad Vista. The FSF was behind digital rights management protester demonstrations outside Apple Computer Inc stores in the US this year, and has previously picketed Microsoft events.

FSF executive director Peter Brown declined to disclose just what those actions would be, but said Web-related activities would begin early next year.

During 2007 we want to keep giving you the IT manager and you the CEO reasons to look again at this area of your investment, Brown said.

Microsoft declined to comment on the campaign or the FSF’s assertions, including its claim that Vista has a couple of nasty features that will be bad for businesses.

Brown said Microsoft’s latest version of Word, as part of Office 2007, has a digital rights management mechanism called Information Rights Management that prevents non-Microsoft products from accessing Word documents. It is a use-restriction feature that, under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, makes it illegal for a non-Microsoft program to try to access and copy the Word file, Brown said.

The upshot to enterprise Vista users, according to Brown, is that they will have less freedom in the way they do business – non-Microsoft partners will not be able to access Word documents from their workers. Information Rights Management was also part of Office 2003, but Vista is a DRM platform, Brown said.

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As far as the FSF is concerned, the chief new features of Vista that Microsoft is touting are security and new desktop functionality. The security features, however, include the requirement for users to register on a Microsoft web site to authenticate they have a legitimate copy of the OS, in order to get patches and other OS updates.

If users don’t register, then Microsoft is able to effectively take control of the machine and enable users to only visit Microsoft’ web site, Brown said.

And because the majority of OEM vendors will ship their computers with Vista pre-installed in order to receive pricing discounts from Microsoft this means small and mid-sized companies will be bullied into using the OS, Brown said.

Even if you want to go and run Linux … it will be very difficult to find a PC that doesn’t have Microsoft pre-installed on it, he said. For every computer [OEMs] distribute that doesn’t have a copy of Microsoft’s operating system on, their discount with Microsoft is reduced. There’s a big incentive to sell Microsoft machines.

It would seem this does not apply to large enterprises that have direct-purchase relationships with OEMs and can order non-Microsoft-OS machines.

However, the odds are that if a machine has already been shipped to the US, it already had Vista installed, Brown said. While the supplier may have ripped Vista out, the cost of the OEM having bought the OS license in the first places means a Vista tax has already been levied on the machine, he said.

Chances are, [companies] are paying for Vista tax one way or another, Brown said.

With regard to the newly designed Vista desktop, Brown said the FSF understands it is different enough from previous Windows versions that workers will need to be trained on how to use it. He noted that employee training is often one of the arguments from companies against switching from Windows to a free OS.

Given most enterprises are widely expected to spend at least the next 12 months testing Vista, Brown said it an opportune time for enterprises to consider Microsoft alternatives.

What’s the cost versus opportunity here? What do you get from Vista that is going to make your investment worthwhile? Brown said. Use this as a period to do evaluation of free software. In the long run ask, ‘Will we save money because we won’t be locked into one vendor? That’s the aim of the campaign.

He noted a Vista upgrade license for a legacy desktop was $199. And that new machines running Vista would require 20% additional components to run effectively. Earlier this month, research outfit iSuppli Corp predicted OEMs would need to spend an additional $100 on components to accommodate Vista. And that cost would be passed onto the buyer.

Brown also said companies using free software operating systems, like gNewSense, instead of Vista will have a competitive advantage. Will your competitors have the same cost base as you [if you choose Vista]? he said.

Not everyone is buying into FSF’s campaign. Robert McLaws, president of Interscape Technologies Inc, who runs the Windows-Now site, called Bad Vista one of the most blatantly ridiculous FUD campaigns I’ve ever seen, on his blog.

If you thought the Free Software Foundation was all about the grand ideals of liberating information for the sake of the world, they just made you look like an idiot, McLaws wrote. BadVista.org proves that the FSF is nothing more than a bunch of whiny babies who are still pissed off that Microsoft was aggressive in the ’90s.

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