Originally Published: Monday, 2 July 2001 Author: Michael Jennings
Published to: opinion_articles/opinion Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Closed Source Software is Like a Sausage

Michael Jennings writes to Linux.com to respond to a leaked memo from Microsoft warning managers against open source software. Jenning's point-by-point rebuttal is some interesting reading, and also makes many of the memo's points look, well, silly. As if that wasn't enough Jennings also links to one of our favorite emails: Microsoft Support vrs The Psychic Friends Network.

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The article below responds to a paper by Microsoft that criticizes Linux. Microsoft's criticism is discussed in Linux Today: Microsoft Germany Article Regarding Linux Disadvantages.

Answering Microsoft's Criticism of Linux

Lack of Technical Support -- Microsoft has a large technical support department, but my experience and that of many others with whom I've talked is that Microsoft cannot answer difficult questions. I know someone who headed the system administration at the headquarters of a $300,000,000 a year company, and he found MS technical support useless. They didn't know why SQL Server was failing, and they could not discover the reason.

In my extensive experience with Microsoft, since the days before PCs existed and we had the CP/M OS, Microsoft has only answered one question correctly. That was a question about a C compiler problem.

Obviously, part of the reason my friends and I don't get help from Microsoft is that we don't call to ask easy questions. No doubt Microsoft provides help to many of its customers who are novices.

I have called Microsoft technical support about operating system problems many times, and they have never been able to solve the problems, although once a technical support representative and I worked out a solution together, after four difficult hours.

Once about four years ago I talked to a friendly Microsoft technical support representative. He was very knowledgeable. I had a written list of questions about Windows. He was able to give me no answers. He just laughed at some of them and said he wouldn't know how to begin finding the solution. He did, however, provide me with some very useful information concerning problems I wasn't currently having. I remember this representative so clearly because I called expecting the usual Microsoft roughness, and he was friendly.

I liked the article published by the Boston Mac User's Group (BMUG) titled: Microsoft Technical Support vs. The Psychic Friends Network: Which Provides Better Support for Microsoft Products?

Look at the problems mentioned in the BMUG article. They seem to me to have a typical quality to them. To me it seems that many of the most difficult problems with Microsoft products are ones that come from programmers who just don't care about doing a good job.

Neither Microsoft Technical Support nor The Psychic Friends Network were able to answer any of the questions, but the BMUG article says: "... the Psychic Friends Network has a distinct edge over Microsoft in the areas of courtesy, response time, and cost of support..." I liked this article because it is the only one I've read which exactly mirrors my experience with Microsoft.

I think I would find the BMUG article more humorous if it weren't about such a painful subject.

Microsoft's Flawed Business Model -- The Microsoft business model is extremely flawed because it is heavily influenced by conflict of interest. It is in Microsoft's financial interest never to deliver a good operating system, just as it is in the financial interests of any proprietary company to lock customers into repeated purchases. If they deliver a good operating system that will be the last operating system most of its customers will buy.

Microsoft's Abusiveness -- Microsoft has a history of being abusive. The U.S. Justice Department court case pending against Microsoft found that Microsoft was extremely abusive. This document is titled Court's Findings of Fact. What surprised me about the 207 pages of descriptions of abuses was that it didn't mention the abuses that I thought were most important. The U.S. Justice Department mostly focused on Microsoft's mistreatment of large companies. But Microsoft's mistreatment of small users is more destructive, in my opinion.

No one, apparently, has gathered all the abuses in one place. If that were done, we would have an important way to show why Open Source/GNU is better.

Abusiveness is one of the biggest reasons to stay away from Microsoft. Stay away from habitual abusers if you don't want to be abused. Even if Microsoft technical support could answer my questions, I don't like their arrogant manner. I don't want to have to accept abuse to get something I want.

Contrast Microsoft's abusiveness with the friendliness of the Open Source/GNU community. One Sunday about 8 AM, I sent an e-mail message to an important person in the community, requesting information for an article I was writing. I was surprised to get a complete answer less than three hours later. If it is possible that you have a problem people in the Open Source/GNU community cannot answer, but they will usually be extremely friendly while they are discussing it.

Closed source software is like sausage. -- Closed source software is like sausage. You don't know what's in it. If you did know what was in it, maybe you wouldn't want it. Has the U.S. government forced Microsoft to put back doors into its software, so that the U.s. can more easily spy? You don't know and you may never know.

Disclaimer Nonsense -- The Microsoft document gives importance to Red Hat's 10-Q disclaimer. But look at Microsoft's disclaimer at the end of the article. It is much more sweeping: MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, AS TO THE INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT. Basically, this disclaimer says that Microsoft does not have to be honest.

Microsoft Windows encourages playing. -- A huge problem with Microsoft's operating systems in a retail environment is that there are large numbers of minimum wage workers who like to play with the OS. Sometimes I have arrived to do system maintenance and found that the mouse pointer has become a spider. Sometimes I have found systems that have been re-configured to allow exploits. Microsoft Windows 2000 may have a lot of security features, but it has no defense against someone who knows the passwords. If you know retail environments, you know that there will be times that the passwords are compromised. It is much better to have an OS that does not look familiar and does not invite playing.

Here is a typical scenario. Joe and John are night shift workers at a fast food restaurant. Joe is senior at 23. He makes $8.50 per hour. John is 19 and makes $7.65 per hour. They often find themselves bored when business is slow.

One night they find that the store manager has left his desk open. In his desk they find a list of passwords.

Joe and John have both had computers since the early years of high school. They decide to try to load a game one of them has at home. But Windows 2000 doesn't work well with some games. The game doesn't run, but they leave the system in an unstable state, jeopardizing the business.

Retail hardware is very standard and conservative. In a retail environment, you want a fixed solution. You buy the hardware and software, and the two work together as a unit until you buy new hardware and software. Once you make it work, chances are there will be no need for big changes. In a retail environment, you try to buy very standard hardware.

Usually this hardware interacts in a manner that is well behind the frontiers of technology. For example, receipt printers use very standard interfaces. Yes, Microsoft has more drivers, but in a retail environment you won't need to support the latest game.

Microsoft receives little effective criticism. -- People who write comments on Slashdot, for example, often complain about Microsoft. But, since the complaints are usually brief and not well documented, the aggregate result is that Microsoft receives little effective criticism.

Michael Jennings
Futurepower Computer Systems
E-Mail: Futurepower@MailAndNews.com
Futurepower is a registered trademark.
Copyright 2001 by Michael Jennings.

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