Technology

Will Microsoft’s strong anti-piracy stance drive people to Linux?

Microsoft is due to release its new Vista operating system late this year or early next. Will this new operating system be as successful as Microsoft’s other offerings?

Microsoft’s own greed could end Windows’ reign as the leading desktop operating system. To combat piracy, Microsoft first introduced activation with Windows XP. Activation was supposed to ensure that a copy of XP could only be used on one PC. Hackers easily created versions of Windows that bypassed activation. Then, in the fall of 2004, Microsoft introduced “Windows Genuine Advantage.” This program was created to allow Microsoft to check individual PCs to see if they are running genuine XP or a pirated version of XP. At first it was voluntary. Then last summer, Microsoft made it mandatory to download any free software from Microsoft. Now it is even necessary to get XP security patches. If your PC fails the test and you have a counterfeit installation disc that looks genuine (including the holographic emblem similar to that on real copies of Windows), Microsoft will send you a genuine disc for free in exchange for the counterfeit disc. Otherwise, to make your Windows genuine, you must buy genuine Windows XP or take advantage of any deals Microsoft wants to offer you.

With the advent of the “Windows Genuine Advantage” campaign, Microsoft has become the epitome of the typical greedy “corporate foreigner.” As Linux distributions get better and better, Microsoft needs to be careful about how it treats its users. They seem to think that their software is so good that people would rather pay than switch.

Microsoft licensing always stipulated that to be legal you had to buy a license for the Windows or DOS operating system for every PC you owned. But from the early days of DOS to Windows 2000, someone bought an operating system and passed it on to family, friends, and neighbors. So a second edition of Windows 98 ended up on ten or more PCs.

Linux, on the other hand, allows you to legally install it on every computer you own. So putting Linux on ten or more PCs is not only legal but desirable as a way of advertising the operating system. But Windows users have been doing the same thing all these years. They have been advertising Windows by passing it around. It wasn’t legal or condoned by Microsoft, but Windows piracy was a form of advertising that actually helped promote Windows and ensure its growth. As you can see, all this rampant piracy didn’t stop Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates from becoming one of the richest men in the world.

There is another thing to consider when you think about operating system hacking. If you’re a corporation with thousands of computers, you get a special offer on Windows licenses. If you’re a big PC manufacturer like Hewlett-Packard, you get a discount on OEM versions of Windows. But if you run a small computer store and build five clone PCs a month, you’d have to pay the typical single-user price for genuine Windows. (For XP, that’s about a hundred dollars for the Home Edition and a hundred and fifty dollars for the Professional Edition.) the playing field Such piracy can be considered to be really a “working class discount”.

There are several Linux distributions that are as good or even better than anything Microsoft has to offer. But people will still cling to Windows because they don’t really want to learn anything new and switching to Linux would require a bit of a learning curve. Microsoft has likely already made deals with PC vendors to install its Vista on virtually every major PC brand in the US as soon as it’s released. To be fair to everyone, all PCs should come without an operating system. When someone orders the PC, they also order the operating system and the store installs it. Imagine if people were given a choice: “Fedora Core 4 Linux: Free” or “Windows Vista Professional: $200.00”. I wonder if they would still choose Windows.

Microsoft could make Windows the operating system for the next hundred years. All they have to do is make Vista free when it comes out. Like Linux, the free version would have no support or warranty. They don’t even have to make it open source (reveal their internal code); just do it for free. They could still make money by creating a highly secure, highly modified, and fully compatible corporate version of Vista, and selling it to large companies that can afford it. This is what Linux companies like Redhat and Novell do. If Vista were free, pirates would stop making money, Microsoft would save millions by eliminating the “Orwellian” tracking required to determine if Windows is genuine, and Linux would no longer be much of a threat. Unfortunately, corporate foreigners tend not to look beyond the dollar sign.

Microsoft will probably join the “Windows Genuine Advantage” program and try to undo all hacking attempts. Although hackers will be able to bypass whatever code Microsoft comes up with, they will eventually get annoyed messing with the behemoth Corporate Alien. So pirated copies of Vista will become hard to come by. This will put an end to the advertising profits derived from the rampant piracy that Microsoft enjoyed in recent years. Windows Vista will start to lose market share and in 10 years a major Linux distribution will be the leading desktop operating system. If Linux succeeds, Microsoft Office will also be replaced by Open Office, and Microsoft’s stranglehold on PC software will finally be broken.

If he likes Microsoft and wants to keep it in power, encourage him to freely give away his Vista operating system. At the very least, suggest that they stop using the annoying “Windows Genuine Advantage” program.

If you want to accelerate the fall of Microsoft. Don’t hack, hack, or buy Windows, especially its new incarnation, Vista. Learn to work with your favorite Linux distribution. You can download Linux distributions for free. Even with broadband, this can take a long time. You can buy any Linux distribution for almost the cost it takes to make the discs at http://osdisc.com. When you buy your next computer, make sure your operating system is loaded with genuine Linux. The more Linux becomes established, the more people will create bigger and better software for it. In a very short time you will get the “Genuine Linux Advantage”.