This blog is a political blog from a left-of-centre perspective. This is not specifically a party political blog, but does have a Lib Dem orientation. Constructive enagement with radical liberals, social democrats / democratic socialists and greens is particularly welcomed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Liberals and Linux, Microsoft and Monopolies

I was under the impression that Liberals were generally supportive of open and competitive markets as an aid to innovation and driving up standards and meeting consumer needs.

Yet, the majority of you no doubt write in support of such, despite (sometimes unwittingly) having paid your levy to Bill Gates in adopting a computer operating system brought to you by a company that hates competition. Microsoft often uses it's domination of the home PC market and it's financial position to either 'extend and embrace' innovative and popular rivals by buying them up, or forcing competitors out by incorporating elements into their operating system for 'free'. Where are WinAmp or Netscape Navigator now ? The bloatware that is Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer dominate the Windows platform in their place. MSN Hotmail ? That too was once an independent webmail operation, before being 'embraced' by Microsoft and being re-branded MSN Hotmail. Microsoft's anti-competitive zeal has few equals.

With it's armies of developers it took what, about 7 years, for Microsoft to introduce Windows Vista to replace XP. The result even more bloatware. Half truths about what was / is a Vista capable PC, lots of flakey drivers at the outset and the same security issues that bedevil all versions of Windows. Would you buy any other product that had so many failings upon purchase ?

Now I should add that I'm no geek. I'm not a great lover of command lines, want my OS to generally work 'out of the box' and installation and updates to be as pain free as possible. I have to say my last PC had Vista pre-installed. It was something I didn't really want or need but it's cost was factored into the PC purchase price - like it or not. It is actually quite hard to buy a PC without MS Windows installed on it.

Having tried on differing machines Ubuntu Linux, Linux Mint, Linpus Linux, Madriva Linux and Fedora Core nearly all, but especially the Ubuntu and it's sister spin-offs, have installed easily, worked well straight out of the box (sometimes initially without proprietary multimedia codecs which can usually be easily added). Adding and updating software, the quality of free (as in cost and in ability to change and adapt) open-source software, the frequent closing of any security loopholes by regular updates, put the Microsoft family of products to shame.

Windows really is the triumph of a private monopoly acting against the needs of the majority of IT users. So why are so many fellow Liberals using Windows and Office from the Microsoft stable? Why are you afraid of open-source alternatives. Why are LD councillors getting their local authorities to sign up to deals with Microsoft ? Why are councils employing an array of IT support professionals ? With re-training and re-thinking of attitudes Linux and other UNIX based alternatives offer a cost-effective solution, without the need of so many professionals to patch-up Microsoft's dismal efforts.

In contrast, with Linux one can refashion a 'distribution' to meet individual needs, be that the look and feel of the OS, or extend functionality in a way that suits you, should you have the time and coding skills. An operating system that, in the case of the leading 'distributions' or varients (like Ubuntu, OpenSUSE Linux, Fedora Core or Linux Mint) upgrades come roughly every six months (not 6 years like some). Programmers frequently fix glitches or issues with speed, rather than the year long wait for a Microsoft 'service pack' to emerge before a new Microsoft OS can begin to offer any kind of stability and online security.

Now, I am not a Linux evangelist per-se. I don't mind paying for quality hardware and software, I love the marriage of design, functionality and ease-of-use that many Apple products have. Mac OS X with it's UNIX underpinnings, stylish user interface, offers all this and a secure online platform You can even put Windows on a Mac system too if you've got essential applications or games only released on that platform that you rally can't do without. However, when my new Mac arrives in the next week or two, I'll still find space on my hard drive to install a version of Linux to sit alongside Mac OS X. I'll use lots of open-source applications. Why go either down the illegal route (via a pirated copy of MS Office) or the expensive route by a high street MS Office purchase, when Open Office will do the same thing, more or less, for free and is cross platform, which is a boon to those whose productive tasks are done across Linux, Mac and MS Windows environments. Need a lightweight but useful word processor ? Use Abiword instead. Need a responsive Media Player ? Try VideoLAN VLC player, it'll play just about every audio-visual format you can chuck at it ! Photoshop too expensive ? Try the GIMP ! Prefer more secure browsing ? Try the infinitely more adaptable Firefox. The list goes on !

Even if you can't let go of the Redmond beast that is Microsoft Windows, seek out the many great open-source applications available often on Linux and Mac, as well as Windows. There really is no need to accept spyware, trojans and virus infection as a 'norm'. You really don't need to download 'hookey' versions of MS Office from dodgy websites offering illegal serials or cracks for commercial products. Be legal and be free in every sense of the word. Liberals should be liberal in their approach to software. Try some of the options suggested, invest some time with those applications mentioned and ideologically you'll be doing the right thing and your bank balance (and maybe moral conscience too) will be in better shape !

Finally, for Lynne Featherstone MP, as IT advisor-in-chief to Nick Clegg, please make sure that the party's own IT structure / communications are multi-platform in orientation.

Semi-rant mode now off.

Anyone want to defend the unlovely crew from Seattle way ?

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Anonymous Tinter said...

Linux is bad for games and so bad for me.

The more general issue is the nature of intellectual property. It is engineered to create monopoly. If we must have a sales tax for registered innovations, one that caused compulsory royalties while still allowing anyone to use it would make far more sense.

Its a sad thing that instead many Liberals, especially in Europe, are working to extend the current system.

1:05 am GMT

Blogger Andy said...

"Linux is bad for games".

Not brilliant, I'd agree, but it's often surprising what will run under Wine these days. I completed Half Life 2 on it, for instance.

2:11 pm GMT

Blogger LibCync said...

Anecdotally, I always thought there was a definite LibDem/Acorn/Dr Who axis amongst those of us of a certain age. I guess you could replace Acorn with linux now.

9:21 am GMT


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