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Rants Come, Rants Go

Week of July 28, 2005

Some things stay the same.


There haven't been a lot of rants here in a long while. Rants come, rants go. The rants section of this site dates back perhaps seven or eight years; in one fell swoop it was removed in the spring of the year 2000 but restored a month later by popular demand. People wrote to say they wanted it back - they learned a lot by it.

But it's been years since there's been something to teach about Microsoft. The verdict's been in since the Millennium: Microsoft suck and big time. They managed to get market hegemony before the Web Revolution and kitchen users became accustomed to the crashes and hangs (and often blamed their hardware and not Microsoft).

No one working in a professional capacity ever took Microsoft seriously. IBM yes - Microsoft no. Just comparing their MS-DOS to Unix left programmers depressed. And Microsoft had their own source code licence to Unix all along, so they could have made MS-DOS better - but they didn't bother.

Windows dates back to December 1985 - no one took that seriously either. There were a few that tried it but they got rid of it. Microsoft used hard sell for years and still no one bought it. When Intel memory management improved, it finally came along. It was 16-bit, it hung and it crashed - but it was a success. Yet it still wasn't something to take seriously.

Microsoft Online

It would take a full five years for the full impact of having Microsoft online to hit. From 1995 to 2000 things were relatively quiet. Microsoft products weren't any worse than before, but the import of what they were doing hadn't really hit home. Melissa was a precursor in the late 1990s, but it wasn't until the Love Bug in the New Millennium that the world woke up - and by then it was too late.

Two years later in 2002 the authors of this site migrated as others had before them. This site isn't even maintained by Windows boxes anymore and hasn't been for years - who would be so foolish as to ever again connect to the Internet with a Microsoft product? Attack probes hit at the rate of several per minute - in the off hours. Come online in the wrong IP block and your entire CPU goes to repelling infected Microsoft boxes out there intent on infecting you too.

Spam with a payload, social engineering; trojans sneaking in with software downloads; files written (and overwritten) anywhere; IRC zombie armies; identity theft; worms and viruses and more worms and viruses - and the blame for all of this can be placed firmly at the feet of Microsoft.

Fundamentally Different

Unix and Windows are fundamentally two different systems. Unix was developed in a laboratory without a thought for profit or market share and by people selflessly devoted to the art. Windows isn't developed - it's positioned. If security were as big a concern with Microsoft as it is with customers, Microsoft could have eliminated all your concerns ten years ago.

Microsoft have what may be the oldest port of Unix to the PC in existence: it's called Xenix and it's based on Microsoft's very own source code licence to AT&T Unix - the 'original' Unix.

If Microsoft were really concerned about your safety, they could have used Xenix all along. If they were both concerned and smart, they would have understood why it's so important to have multiuser machines running in the Internetted world. And if this were the case, you'd have been running Unix all along - just like Apple users run Unix today - and been no wiser for it. Only a lot safer.

But Windows is not the product of a selfless research team: it's an attempt to strangle a market. And despite the incredibly cruddy track record Microsoft have today (try to find another company in any field who've screwed up as bad) they still won't give it up.

Virtual Machines

They have technology to run 'old Windows' inside a new one: they bought it up years ago from a company called Connectix. They could run old MS-DOS and Windows programs inside a virtual machine and you'd be protected online, just as Linux users run VMWare today with Windows inside it, fully protected.

Unix users, no matter the brand, rarely if ever need (or even bother installing) antivirus software, antispyware software, or third party spam filters. They don't need to because they're not vulnerable. Their operating system isn't crapping all over them and springing holes like a shipwrecked dingy.

And if you were to really need a Windows program, you'd put it inside a virtual machine where it couldn't touch the hardware, couldn't crash or hang more than its own virtual machine, and where it couldn't touch the Internet or be touched by it.

And Microsoft could give you all this today - and could have given it to you ten years ago. At least. And you'd have been none the wiser. You would have still clicked on your menu bars and push buttons and combo boxes and you would have thought life was groovy.

And we probably would never have got the proliferation of malware we have today because there would have been nothing to attack.

Collaboration

People still visit this site regularly, although it's a mystery how anyone could see any hope for a Microsoft product. The software available at this site is something to be truly proud of; the platform it runs on is a total waste of space. If this site has been known for one thing, it's been an almost brutal honesty - and attempting to let people hang onto hopes they shouldn't have would be dishonest.

Microsoft were never any good because they never wanted to be, and they'll never be any good because they're still Microsoft. They try to push a commercial schlock on a market that's dependent on solid science, not gimmicks or doodads.

The technology of Unix - the technology of the Internet and everything about it - is an intense collaboration amongst some of the brightest minds of our time from places like CERN, Lawrence Livermore, MIT, NASA, Los Alamos - and literally thousands of institutions of higher learning.

And they all work for the common 'code base' of Unix - 'open source'. Linus continues to manage his Unix kernel; Gnome and KDE continue to provide 'desktops'. Inventions like traceroute from Van Jacobsen, the software of Industrial Light & Magic, the World Wide Web itself from Tim Berners-Lee: these are all products of research that have gone into the public domain, into the world of Unix, and continue to make that world strong.

Flirtation

The world of academia experienced a brief flirtation with Microsoft from 1995 to 2000. Microsoft know today they're screwed: the research going on with NT in the 1990s is over and done with - the brains of the industry have long since learned (the hard way) that Microsoft were little more than a bad joke. They're back working with Unix again, back where they started. Give it a few years and you'll see the effects on your kitchen table.

Microsoft are desperate and will do all they can to keep the lock-in, to keep their corporate customers from abandoning them. They're fairly good at understanding what businesses want, what the day to day needs are. They're incredibly hopeless when it comes to providing a secure basic system, but they do understand how companies work. They'll concentrate on this angle in the years to come, as there are so few others out there competing on the same terms: open source geeks don't exactly have sales teams and remove IBM from the picture and you still have a monopoly the US DOJ would prosecute.

But Microsoft would rather move their corporate headquarters to Argentina before they give in and abandon Windows as it is today and give you the secure Windows they could have given you years ago. They will not do this because to do this would be to relinquish their stranglehold on the market.

With open source tools and open standards they have no way of keeping the competition out and controlling the behaviour of whatever third party vendors they condescend to let in.

Protection Racket

Nothing much has changed since the verdict in Washington. Microsoft see their zillion dollar fines and class action settlements as just another incidental cost of doing business. They've never been stopped by ethics or legislation before, and they refuse to be stopped now.

And come 2006 they'll attack you again with a new total lock-in media centre computer designed from the get-go to nullify your fair use rights, and then later that same year (or so they say) they will have the end-all operating system - Vista. Which will save you - once again - from Microsoft.

'Hey yous guys! How ya doin'? Hey us guys here we been noticin' lots of vandalism type stuff in yous guys neighbourhood! Hey like shop windows gettin' busted 'n' corner stores gettin' blowed up! Terrible things! And us guys, we told yous guys a long time ago us guys could protect you! But yous guys yous didn't wanna pay us guys, did ya? So ya see what happens?'

What are the woes Vista promises to alleviate? Precisely: some things stay the same.

Are they improvements over Unix use, based on complaints from Apple users, poking at holes in a Linux environment? No: they are woes brought on - and solely brought on - by previous products from Microsoft.

How many times have you heard promises like that before? How many more times are you going to listen?

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