With all the hype about Microsoft's new Vista operating system--forecast to save the PC manufacturers from the doldrums of flat sales in the west and limited growth in developing countries--I took a moment to think about why the whole wide world have become such suckers. When Windows XP came out, were you that impressed? Was there any "Wow, this is so much better than Windows 98!" Has Microsoft Office improved since 1997? Have you enjoyed the endless security flaws and "critical updates" that you have to download, only later to discover that they cause more problems than they solve?
The answer is no.
So why then does everybody keep upgrading? The only reason there is a compulsion to upgrade is that classic teen justification: everybody else is doing it. I remember the day that was driven home to me, when I first faced compatibility issues with Office 97 and whatever version I'd been using. Fortunately, I was in Asia and able to pick up a pirated copy of the new stuff for less than $10. I had no qualms about it, despite all the propaganda telling me that piracy will kill babies in America and so forth. How could I? When it's so obvious that Microsoft has gone from exploiting its monopoly to kill its competitors to exploiting its monopoly to drive new sales--at highly inflated prices?
Soon, I hope, Google's model of online-based, pay as you go software will put an end to Microsoft's monopolistic practices. But the new system may not go far enough to make software free. And I'll say it now: If you are paying for software of any kind, you are an idiot. I know you won't believe me. You'll swear up and down that Windows and the expensive software that comes with it is imperative for your business/social life becasue you have to be compatible with all the other fools out there in cyberspace. You'll wax eloquent about how easy to use Windows is, with its plug and play functionality and other bells and whistles. And when I say the next word in this sentence--Linux--you'll roll your eyes and stop reading and say to yourself "Oh it's another one of those open source techie types."
That's right folks, six months ago I converted to Linux in the form of the easy to use "ubuntu" version. This is how I did it. I went onto the web using my Windows-based machine and downloaded the free software, burnt it onto a CD following the instructions available on the web site, wiped my laptop clean of Windows (it had crashed anyway so I'd just replaced the hard drive and was ready to restore all my old files), stuck the CD in the drive and fired it up. It took about 30 minutes to get ubuntu running as the operating system, with all the built-in hardware running normally except the wireless LAN card. No matter, I used a LAN cable to stay connected to the web and waited for ubuntu to run its automatic update software--as easy to use as Windows, or easier. Within 15 minutes more I was up and running.
That's right: 45 minutes and I was free of the Microsoft prison of pay and pay until we make things so difficult you have to buy a new PC altogther. I got OpenOffice, which is compatible with MSOffice and lets you set it up so it saves your files as Word, Powerpoint, Excel etc formats, for zero dollars. I got Firefox for zero dollars. I got a clone of Adobe Acrobat for zero dollars. I got a CD/DVD burner and media player for zero dollars. And on and on. When I needed software to read downloaded comic books, that was also free. All of these programs were as easy to use and as cool-looking as any of the software I've ever purchased, adn the ubuntu operating environment itself acted almost exactly like Windows. The only trouble I've ever had is with a few recalcitrant Indian web sites that (in very slavelike fashion) continue to work only with Internet Explorer and not Firefox--the most frustrating of these being the site of low-cost airline Air Deccan.
So I say, before you buy that pirated copy of Vista--I'd NEVER admit the possibility that you'll actually pay full price, when the Nehru Place distribution is so much more convenient--download a copy of ubuntu and install it on your machine. If you like, you can even partition your disk so that one portion can run on Windows when you so choose. See if it's really as hard to use as everybody says but the opensource advocates--I know, I know, they sound like they've been drinking the Kool Aid. See how much fun it is to pick up software from home, without the irritating trip to Nehru Place, for free instead of for Rs. 100-200 here and there.
I, for one, will never buy another piece of software again. Especially not Vista.