Dissecting the FSF's "Windows 7 Sins"

Dissecting the FSF's "Windows 7 Sins"

Summary: Several Hardware 2.0 regulars have dropped me an email wondering what my take is on the Free Software Foundations "Windows 7 Sins" campaign. Does it make valid points, or is it little more than FUD?


Several Hardware 2.0 regulars have dropped me an email wondering what my take is on the Free Software Foundations "Windows 7 Sins" campaign.

The purpose of the campaign is to show how “proprietary software in general and Microsoft Windows in particular hurt all computer users” and how the new OS commits the seven cardinal sins of “invading privacy, poisoning education, locking users in, abusing standards, leveraging monopolistic behavior, enforcing Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), and threatening user security.”

But how valid are each of the seven "sins" outlined by the FSF, and how many are specific to Microsoft and Windows, and how many apply to commercial or proprietary software in general? Let's take a look at each sin in turn:

1. Poisoning education: Today, most children whose education involves computers are being taught to use one company's product: Microsoft's. Microsoft spends large sums on lobbyists and marketing to corrupt educational departments. An education using the power of computers should be a means to freedom and empowerment, not an avenue for one corporation to instill its monopoly.

A few years ago I might have agreed with the FSF on this one, but I don't think that it's valid any more. Increasingly schools are moving away from Microsoft operating systems and software. Unfortunately for the FSF, the move is towards Apple.

Taking a wider look at the issue, Microsoft isn't the only company offering students deep discounts on software packages in order to "encourage" them to become familiar with the software.

Verdict: No sin here ...

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2. Invading privacy: Microsoft uses software with backward names like Windows Genuine Advantage to inspect the contents of users' hard drives. The licensing agreement users are required to accept before using Windows warns that Microsoft claims the right to do this without warning.

While I don't like anti-piracy mechanisms such as WGA because they usually end up punishing the wrong people, to claim that Microsoft "inspect the contents of users' hard drives" is little more than FUD. Sure, mechanisms such as Windows Activation do pass on information relating to your system, it's of little or no value beyond creating a fingerprint to ID your system amongst a sea of other systems.

Verdict: No sin here ...

3. Monopoly behavior: Nearly every computer purchased has Windows pre-installed -- but not by choice. Microsoft dictates requirements to hardware vendors, who will not offer PCs without Windows installed on them, despite many people asking for them. Even computers available with other operating systems like GNU/Linux pre-installed often had Windows on them first.

This sin starts off strong by pointing out that every computer purchased has Windows pre-installed, but then deviates off into the realm of fantasy and conspiracy theories.

The reason why most PCs have Windows installed on them is down to OEMs and their price-cutting methods. Most OEMs while publicly supporting Linux privately worry about the costs and hassles of handling multiple operating systems. If people want Linux, they need to tell their OEMs.

Verdict: It's a valid point that most PCs have Windows pre-installed, but the sin is down to the OEMs.

4. Lock-in: Microsoft regularly attempts to force updates on its users, by removing support for older versions of Windows and Office, and by inflating hardware requirements. For many people, this means having to throw away working computers just because they don't meet the unnecessary requirements for the new Windows versions.

Lock-in is a valid point, but it's one that almost every commercial or proprietary software vendor is guilty of. The nature of commerce is that companies want you using their products or services over that of the other guy. If you don't like this, then go with FOSS.

Verdict: Sure it's a sin, but to single out Microsoft is disingenious to say the least.

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5. Abusing standards: Microsoft has attempted to block free standardization of document formats, because standards like OpenDocument Format would threaten the control they have now over users via proprietary Word formats. They have engaged in underhanded behavior, including bribing officials, in an attempt to stop such efforts.

This is an important issue, and there's no doubt that Microsoft worked hard to protect its document formats in favor of open formats, but in the end Microsoft lost the battle.

Verdict: Old argument rehashed ...

6. Enforcing Digital Restrictions Management (DRM): With Windows Media Player, Microsoft works in collusion with the big media companies to build restrictions on copying and playing media into their operating system. For example, at the request of NBC, Microsoft was able to prevent Windows users from recording television shows that they have the legal right to record.

Microsoft does drive DRM, but primarily for its own ends (such as for the Zune). While it's true that Microsoft does indeed build DRM into Windows Media Player, if it didn't, people looking to play back DRMed content would have to download a different player (such as is the case for those wanting to play Blu-ray on Windows). Windows is a platform, and for it to able to be a platform for some content, DRM is a necessary evil.

Verdict: If you don't like DRM, refuse to purchase DRMed content.

7. Threatening user security: Windows has a long history of security vulnerabilities, enabling the spread of viruses and allowing remote users to take over people's computers for use in spam-sending botnets. Because the software is secret, all users are dependent on Microsoft to fix these problems -- but Microsoft has its own security interests at heart, not those of its users.

All software has bugs. We have to rely on vendors for patches. And to protect systems from malware we rely on third-party security software. This whole "the software is secret" thing sounds like peddling FUD to me because I come across plenty of open source projects plagued by bugs.

Verdict: Moot point.

Bottom line

I'm really not all that impressed by the FSF's "Windows 7 Sins" campaign. Sure, it's doesn't pull punches, and it doesn't sugar coat some issues, but while some points are valid ad highlight potential problems with commercial or proprietary software in general, it's wrapped up in a lot of FUD and moon-howling.


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Topics: Software, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • Spot on.

    I think you summarised that very well. I wonder how many of these Fortune 500 (-1) companies put the letter straight in the bin where it belongs.
    • huh??

      Already this letter had ripple effects and most of windoze 7 preorders have been cancelled and Linux is being considered.
      Linux Geek
      • Yeah

        I'll buy that when I can see a source...

        And you spelled Windows wrong BTW...
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • I think you misread..

        I said Fortune 500 and not Fortune Cookie.
      • lol

        yup, and the moon is made of green cheese.
      • Windows canceled due to FSF campaign?

        Sorry, I know of a number of firms that laughed when they saw the letter. I also know one that was pissed enough they have put a freeze on Linux deployments.
      • Your ignorance

        is embarrassing. Clearly, companies scrapped all existing infrastructure and went with linux because of a memo. Get your head out of your ass.
      • Where?

        Yeah, riiiight - I'd like to see the statistics to back that up.
      • SAorry wrong andswer

        In actual fact a few questioned eployees of the top 200 of the fortune 500 comanies said they found the letter laughably rediculous and stated that it would be completely ignored, and anyone else with a brain would probably do the same which tells me that in all likelyhood that the rest of the fortune 500 companies will respond the same. Wishing that this type of FUD would have the effect you personally woluld like is just rediculous.
      • Okee fine...

        "...Already this letter had ripple effects and most of windoze 7 preorders have been cancelled and Linux is being considered. "

        I don't think canceling Windows 7 pre-orders for your mother, grandmother and chihuahua *somehow* cuts it as a world-wide consensus.

        It's kinda a *little* odd that you even consider your pet chihuahua in the head-count. Still .. animal rights lobbyists might love your 'gusto' - but face it, you're gettin' into the 'Loonie Tunes' category a bit there.

        But hey, knock yourself dead ..
      • Yeah, right! (nt)

        M Wagner
        • No longer ZD-Net? (nt)

  • FUD campaign indeed. Esp. "sin" #4 is ridiculous.

    I think you are being more than reasonable
    towards FSF.

    <i>4. Lock-in: Microsoft regularly attempts to
    force updates on its users, by removing support
    for older versions of Windows and Office, and
    by inflating hardware requirements. For many
    people, this means having to throw away working
    computers just because they don?t meet the
    unnecessary requirements for the new Windows

    Microsoft has the longest support periods for
    operating systems and software <i>in the entire
    industry</i>. In fact FSF favorites fare rather
    poor in comparison. How old is the oldest
    "supported" (i.e. still receives security
    updates) of, say, MySQL, Ubuntu, OpenOffice?
    • All you need

      is someone with enough knowledge of a program plus access to the source code, and viola, you have support. As long as you pay him of course. All of those programs you mention could have indefinite support from third parties.

      That said, I agree that MS's support schedule is reasonable and now that they publish it for all to see it is quite workable in the vast majority of cases. Therefore this point does not carry much weight. There are a few oddball situations where this could come into play, however if I were to make a list of 7 issues this would not have even made the first cut.
      Michael Kelly
      • not sure

        any version of an OSS is based on other tools, on
        given version. These in turn for an old version
        would certainly be out of the maintenance process.

        For instance, if you have to have maintained a
        software built using an unmaintained version of a
        compiler you will find absolutly no compagny to
        maintain your software, whatever the price you're
        prepared to invest.
      • is love.

        Couldn't resist the pun on your header. I don't think the FOSS support situation really matches the theoretical unlimited well you describe. It's actually quite spotty and erratic. Like it or not, somebody has to make a strategic decision to commit organizational support to a product for support to be adequate, and that usually involves a business decision. Organizational changes or deaths of key players have been highly disruptive to some FOSS projects, e.g. PCLinux. And standards seem to be applied at only the most basic level. If standardization is the key, why are the conventions and structures of the various Linux distros so non-standardized beneath the interface? The various Linux distros seem to be pulling against each other as much as much as against the proprietary establishments. Factionalism is one characteristic of idealistic social movements that FOSS seems to have adopted and will need to rectify if it is to become a major player.
        Lester Young
      • Pay someone for support? That's so commercial !!

        Why do I have to PAY someone to support a FREE software? You wouldn't want to
        pay someone for developing a commercial software, but you would pay someone
        to support a purportedly FREE software? Open Source movement is a smoke
        screen in my view. Most of the big development in OSS is from companies like Red
        Hat, Google, Oracle, IBM, Sun, etc. There is an overwhelming agenda behind OSS,
        and all is not benevolence, world peace, rainbows and unicorns.

        Simply because you open source your software doesn't make it inherently better.
        I'd rather OSS and FOSS developers quit their propaganda and let their products
        speak for themselves. If you say you are against the agenda of commercial
        software is to curtail user freedoms by closed-sourcing their software, then I am
        equally against OSS, FOSS and FSF agenda of trying to question the intelligence of
        people who prefer to use commercial software because it works FOR THEIR
        • Becuause if they had to market on their inovations...

          ...it would be an awfully short list, especially in recent years. The FOSS community has become so damned focused on providing "alternatives" to proprietary software application (or more simply, ripping off the ideas companies have spent a fortune developing and "giving away" for free) - that I can't honestly remember the last true INNOVATION these guys have made! The idea seems to be that if you can't create something new, then distracting the public with a slander campaign should suffice to distract anyone from noticing how pathetic they really are! Just a pity we're not all such fools :D

          NB. @kvkalidindi - you forgot Opera on your list - you remember that browser developer, who [i]only[/i] went open-source when FF nearly wiped it off the face of the Earth... a previously [b]PAID-FOR[/b] browser!
    • RE: FUD campaign indeed. Esp. "sin" #4 is ridiculous.

      In case of Ubuntu and OpenOffice you'll simply get a free brand new version every few years or so. Take it as a "service pack" that will reinstall the entire application, (usually keeping most of the settings) if you want. Practically their support period is indefinite.
      • Exactly.

        You nailed it. The newest 'version' of Free Software is an upgrade of the previous; it includes security updates and whatnot in addition to new features. And it's free.