Tuesday, 21 April 2009 20:52

The offensive Microsoft anti-Linux netbook offensive

Ever since the unexpected advent of netbooks – who would have expected low-powered computing to be such a winner – Microsoft has been working to push Linux out. Unlike Vista, Windows 7 will run effectively on a netbook. However, Microsoft have reminded us they’re a proprietary company with the offensive Windows 7 Starter Edition being limited to three apps only. Are they trying to insult us or what?

I don’t need to tell you the history of the netbook; you know that in late 2007 ASUS launched a tiny 7” featherweight laptop with paltry hardware specs. In this day and age of ever-increasing “minimum specs” for successive versions of Windows who’d have expected somebody to come out and say, “Hey, what consumers really want is less power?”

Yet, the original ASUS Eee Linux PC was a massive sales success. So much so it spawned a whole craze with no end of competitors wanting a piece of the pie.

The netbook explosion proved that these days the killer app is mobility, portability and frankly just plain being online anywhere.

Linux had the edge; after all, netbooks were cheap. Sure, not so cheap you’d find them in the impulse purchase shelves at supermarkets while waiting in line at the checkouts but certainly cheap enough that you could justify buying one without too much effort and with little buyer’s remorse later on.

Netbooks were cost-effective enough that they put computing power into the hands of students, the elderly and others who might not otherwise obtain a laptop or desktop computer.

To keep the price down manufacturers obviously used hardware components that were far from the bleeding edge and they used software that added nothing to the total cost. Linux was a natural choice; its zero dollar licensing was a natural fit for netbooks.

Microsoft wasn’t so happy with this situation and made a dramatic u-turn on their efforts to talk up Windows Vista. Suddenly, Windows XP was back in vogue (because there’s no way you’d get Vista to run in any acceptable way on a netbook!) To the chagrin of many system builders Microsoft slashed the price of a Windows XP license for netbooks only to the low, low price of $15 to compete.

The imminent next-gen Windows operating system, Windows 7, is not far away. Some expect it will be released this year. This time around the minimum specs haven’t jumped but in fact Windows 7 has been designed so it will run effectively on such low-end hardware as netbooks.

In fact, Microsoft have even gone so far as to announce that if you’re a netbook user, there is a version of Windows 7 just for you.

And in so doing they have insulted the entire user base in one fell swoop. Here’s what Windows 7: Starter Edition offers you, and personally, I find it somewhat offensive.

Last year Linux advocates were horrified when it was revealed many consumers purchased Linux-based netbooks – because of their price – but then return them because they were unfamiliar with the operating system, knowing only Microsoft Windows.

One sage commentator said these consumers were “dumbasses” and were squandering the netbook experience by rejecting Linux.

It’s these people Microsoft are pitching to with the coming netbook edition of Windows 7. Officially, it’s titled Windows 7: Starter Edition but it may as well be known as the crippled edition.

Yes, that’s right, it’s called “Starter” edition. In a patronising marketing put-down, Microsoft have deemed if you use a netbook you’re not actually a seasoned computer user.

Forget that you might be a hard-core techie who carries a super-light netbook and 3G modem and repairs servers around the world. Forget that you might be a student or business person or hobbyist who has been using computers for many years and bought a netbook for portability.

No, if you buy a netbook there’s no doubt about it: the Redmond marketing machine consider you’re using a toy computer and consequently you need a starter operating system. You know, to get you into this “computer” and “internet” stuff gently, before you graduate onto something more substantial.

To make sure you don’t forget you’re on a starter operating system and try to race ahead too fast Windows 7: Starter Edition will restrict you to just three applications at one time. Try to start a fourth and you get a big negatory.

Can you believe Windows 7: Starter Edition will cost money, too? Fancy that, legions of consumers will line up to buy new Windows-based netbooks, or will make the switch from Windows XP (or even Linux) on an existing netbook to Windows 7 only to find out that Microsoft’s special netbook-specific release locks you down more than Mya Harrison locks down her special beau?

Last year I spoke of my disdain for another Microsoft product – Microsoft Small Business Server, otherwise known as SBS.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not going to try and tell you Bill Gates is the antichrist and Microsoft is the evil empire. Personally, I love SQL Server, but then I’m a database junkie. However, what really upsets me is artificial restriction – and that’s something Microsoft specialises in.

It’s one thing to know I can’t upgrade my 32-bit computer beyond 4GB of RAM because there is a genuine hardware limitation. It’s another to be told you can have a product at a reduced price but it’s really, really going to suck.

So it is with SBS. No (rational) server admin would choose SBS over the full Windows Server line of products if price wasn’t an issue. You’d go with Windows Server, Exchange Server, SQL Server and the others.

Maybe SBS adds a bit of wizard functionality (but if you depend on that then you probably shouldn’t be setting up servers) but there is no technical superiority in SBS. Instead it’s the Windows Server you run when you can’t afford Windows Server.

To make sure you realise you’re paying less Microsoft cripple SBS in many ways. Windows networks with an SBS server have restrictions imposed on them. Your total user count is slashed. Oh, they want you to remember every single day that there’s something better out there and if only you spent more money you could have the real product and not this watered-down piece of tosh.

In the same way, Microsoft wants netbook users to know they’re paying less for the operating system than the “real” product. This is why Windows 7: Starter Edition limits you to a mere, paltry three apps at once.

Do you really want to be told that if you use a netbook you’re a clueless newbie who can’t be trusted to do four things at a time?

Forget it. Pay even less and go with Linux. On April 23rd Ubuntu 9.04 Netbook Remix is released as a free operating system.

It costs nothing to buy, it costs nothing to license. It's totally unrestricted. You can do as much with it as you would on a laptop, a desktop or a server, subject only to your hardware and imagination and not any artificial enforced restriction.

It won’t cost you your productivity, it won’t cost you the ability to run as many programs as you want and need.

It won’t make pithy assumptions about your level of computer expertise and it won’t do everything it can to remind you that the vendor would really prefer you spent more money with them.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.





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