Thursday, March 23, 2006

Why Skip Vista?

I’ve been a Microsoft MCSE for almost a decade and a fan since I first bought stock in 1987 (if only I had kept it!). I’ve been a beta tester since Windows 95 but I plan to skip the next version of the Windows Operating System called Vista. Here’s why.

First, this is not a new operating system, but yet another rehash of Windows 2000 like XP, Media Center Addition, etc. The core stuff is still basically Win2k. OK, a lot has changed since 2000 and the progressive improvements have added up to a truly useful, relatively secure, hardware and user friendly OS. But it doesn’t do anything new for me that I can’t do in Windows 2000. I have a DVD burner, scanner, pen drives, and can run any software out there except high end games. If you want to digitally record TV get Media Center Edition now for less.

Windows 2000 or XP run great on my 512 MB of RAM, 2.4 GHz AMD CPU, and built-in 128-bit 64 MB shared video card. That won’t cut it for the new Vista (Aero) desktop. So I’d still get an XP desktop. There are few other new features. IE 7 is available for XP so that’s no reason to upgrade. Personally, I’ve tried tabbed browsing and don’t find it any more useful than separate windows that minimize to a taskbar list in XP. Except for XP’s built-in pop-up blocker, IE 6 in Windows 2000 (free download) works just as well on the most complex web pages. Few web pages use pop ups anymore anyway but you can always add a free popup blocker. More useful in IE7 is the phishing protection. That has also been available as a Third Party download for years. Spoof Stick for IE adds an address line that shows the true root domain you’ve reached. That’s about it for significant new features.

If you aren’t running XP SP2, you will really notice an improved user experience and a huge demand for system resources. Like all new Windows operating systems this one will be a memory and resource hog. Each new version since Windows ME has doubled the need for system resources. This one goes beyond requiring a new Intel CPU & motherboard, requiring a game class video card as well. Why spend an extra $600 or more for extra hardware just to run Vista? I think Microsoft realized they may be sitting on a huge flop and decided to wait until the new file system is ready so they could point to some really new feature to help justify the huge hardware expense. Pricing will have to start at $200 for this OS to break even considering the years of development invested. Wholesale prices may even double to PC makers who will have to sell these expensive new systems to users accustomed to ever cheaper, faster PC’s. Vista will be a huge step backward in the price/performance race.

If only Linux had a comparable desktop there would be a wholesale switch away from Microsoft. But I don’t see that happening. SuSe Enterprise 10.0 is the closest competition and they have no comparable Directory Services to enforce policies, distribute software and manage patches. Perhaps one day Novell will add these features, but not anytime soon. Home users will be the first to switch to Linux and save hundreds on their next PC. Notebook users will come next as the major [Asian] hardware makers included Linux drivers for future hardware and offer the OS with free Open Office as a way to keep costs down. End users will make the minor transition to save five hundred bucks and remain compatible with previous versions of MS Office, the established business standard. Microsoft’s next version of Office will have a different, proprietary file format that governments and big companies are likely to reject.

Most importantly, the next version of Windows will not be secure from snooping by Microsoft (MSN), the government (with MS provided encryption keys), and the movie and music industry to which Microsoft has sold out on digital rights management. Everything on your Vista PC must be licensed and registered over the Internet or it won’t work and you may even be reported as a criminal. Big Brother has arrived via Microsoft Digital Rights Management. Nothing connected to your next PC and no Internet activity will be exempt from profiteering and scrutiny by big business and big government.

DRM takes the personal out of computing. It was a great 25 years, but the rich and powerful are taking back control of digital information and communication. Hang onto your VCR. It is the last content medium you can still control without paying a fee. Even radio will be a pay service soon even as the number of commercials continues to increase. We are doomed to be controlled like cattle by powerful forces that run today’s global economy. The next Internet will be tightly controlled and fully monitored. Enjoy free movement, the free Internet and free software like Linux and Open Office while they last.


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