Thursday, March 23, 2006

Vanishing Vistas

Monstra mihi pecuniam – this should be the Microsoft motto!

According to newspaper reports, Microsoft will not release the latest version of its new Windows operating system until January 2007, after previously saying it hoped to release the software later this year. Windows Vista is Microsoft's first major update of its flagship operating system since Windows XP was released in late 2001.

Let's be fair. Bill Gates is not an easy person to warm to. He does not come across as a personable chap. Mostly, I suspect, because he has more money than a Middle Eastern oil sheik. And, people being as they are, it's more comforting to imagine that he is heartless, miserly, arm-twisting pilloch. However, how he came by all this loot is actually quite an interesting story. Back in the early 70's he was a nerd. A big nerd. A seriously big nerd. Maybe he's better now? Serious wealth may improve people. I'm ready to volunteer for an experiment to test this. Call me. Any time! I digress. Bill, whilst still at school - and later at university – dabbled in the computer business – writing programs for early computers and honing his skills in the business world. He has been monumentally successful. That much is not in doubt.

Not a lot of people know this (as Michael Caine might say) – but the foundation of his “empire” came about almost by accident. Way back in the 70's, IBM made just about the first PC, and they were not at all sure what to do with it. So, as the apocryphal story goes, Bill convinced them to let him write the DOS (disk operating system) for the first IBM PC's. His real genius was in realising that other manufacturers would need a DOS as well, and he already had one. By hook or crook he managed to convince IBM that the DOS he wrote for them (PC-DOS) didn't really belong to them. Nice one, Bill. Therefore, he could legitimately sell it (MS-DOS) to others. And he did. By the bucketful! Soon Microsoft branched out into commercial application software like Microsoft Word 1. Yes, that's Word 1 – and I remember it. Also Windows version 1.1 – it was revolutionary. It was also a long, long time ago.

Bill has made Microsoft one of he best known and most successful companies ever. He must have done, and still be doing something right. Vast numbers of PC's use Microsoft operating systems. And they all pay. Most people have some Microsoft application software as well – and, being honest citizens, they pay for that as well. As computer hardware comes down in price, the software still costs (by comparison) a lot. Some many hundreds of pounds flows into the Microsoft coffers per computer and, wait for it, most of it is unnecessary. There are lots of alternatives and they are mostly free.

I admit this may seem strange. Why would anyone wish to produce software for free? I suspect most of these people are real serious geeks, but so what? Geeks have rights too! Fact is they write software for nothing – and most of it is much better than Microsoft's – and (here comes the key point) much safer. Because most of the world is locked into Microsoft software, the hackers and virus-makers only write stuff to infiltrate MS products. Choose an open source alternative and you have a much better chance of being missed off the hackers' target list.

Leaving aside the operating system alternatives like Linux, you can still find excellent software that works in Windows and costs nothing. All you have to do is look and do a bit of downloading. So, why don't more people or (this is more to the point) companies use open source software? They could save lots. I mean millions! What about schools, hospitals and government departments? Millions to be saved, and it's all our money. Prejudice or stupidity – all the other possible explanations have to with sinister conspiracy theories. Let's not go there.

Instead, just log on to and see what's on offer. You might be surprised and, after all, Bill can afford to lose a few customers. The big boys will, no doubt, continue to use Microsoft products so they can pass the costs on to the consumer and “feel” they must have a superior product for no other reason than they paid for it. There's naught queerer than folk.

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