Spoutin' Off: Save the wired world. Boycott Microsoft!
By Michael Rau
April 3 2006
Gee - thanks, Microsoft. I'd planned to write about something else in this column, but since my recent scrutiny of your products and behavior, you've managed to shove yourselves back into the forefront of tech news. I'd be remiss not to reflect on these developments.
First, Microsoft announced it would delay release of the mainstream version of the new Vista operating system until the first quarter of 2007. This was immediately followed by a similar announcement regarding the next version of MS Office.
I suppose that, having already taken a shot at MS for the amount of time it's taken them to get an advanced operating system to market, I should say that, if the program isn't ready, it's better that they hold up the release and get it right. After all, hundreds of millions of computer users worldwide are counting on them, and not just their customers.
The very nature of Microsoft's market dominance dictates that even those of us who want nothing to do with them are profoundly affected by the quality of operation of their products. Virtually every security hole that exists on the Internet is targeted toward flaws in Microsoft products.
Will Vista plug the holes? I doubt it - and not because Microsoft can't, but rather because they won't. The very elements of Microsoft code that create the holes are also the elements that make Microsoft applications work quite well with each other, but not so much with third-party applications. Microsoft's 30-year-old obsession with controlling the wired world will always lead them down this path.
And right on cue, MS demonstrates its true colors again. The next item of news revealed two major security flaws in Internet Explorer. Now, of course, this is nothing new, but what makes this incident stand out is Microsoft's apparent indifference to the flaw.
Back in January, I highlighted the efforts of a software engineer named Ilfak Guilfanov, who successfully created and distributed a patch for another major flaw in IE. This was prompted by a similar lack of concern from Microsoft that wasn't shared by customers. Finally, having been shamed into action, MS issued an official patch ahead of its intended release date.
In the case of the newest flaw, two different IT security firms have released patches to this vulnerability a full two weeks before Microsoft will get around to putting out one of its own.
Considering the fact that Internet monitoring firms have already identified at least several hundred attempts to exploit this most recently discovered flaw, wouldn't you think the people responsible for the flaw would demonstrate a bit more concern about their customers' interests?
Perhaps MS doesn't have time because of two separate legal challenges it's facing, both of which also made news over the course of the last few days.
The first of these is a patent-infringement suit filed over technology related to ActiveX controls (which, ironically, are the source of many of the security problems with Internet Explorer). The news was that MS was releasing a patch to try to circumvent the technological issue that instigated the lawsuit and which a judge ordered them to correct almost three years ago. (Microsoft is appealing the court's ruling.)
The other lawsuit is actually old and rather well-known. It's the European Union's long-running anti-trust litigation against Microsoft's attempts at monopolization. In Europe, Microsoft flat-out lost this suit, and the story was about its "optimism" as negotiations continue to determine just how far Microsoft will have to go to un-bundle applications and improve interoperability with third-party software.
As a result of this legal action (in contrast to the U.S. government's fawning acquiescence to Bill Gates and company over the same issue), Windows and other MS applications will be sold in a markedly different, consumer-friendly form in Europe than here in the Colonies.
Immediately after my last column admonishing Microsoft over business practices and products, I received glowing defenses of MS via e-mail. Why?
How can anyone defend these guys? How can anyone continue to choose MS products over superior alternatives? Why do so many people continue to feed this beast?
I have no particular desire to see Microsoft put out of business. But when you consider the size of the company, the collective experience of the staff and the talent available, I believe it's unconscionable that this global technological giant refuses to compete by simply creating better products. You could never convince me that they're not capable of doing so.
So why don't they? Man, that's as simple as two plus two. It's our fault. Microsoft doesn't care about producing superior products because we as consumers don't force them to do so.
I continue to advocate, in the strongest terms possible, that the market force Microsoft to be competitive through quality of product. You can contribute by turning to any of the wonderful alternatives to MS products that are readily available.
Help save the wired world! Boycott Microsoft!
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, visit http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
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