An Honest Windows 7 Review

I just read this excellent review of the Windows 7 Professional [sic] edition by Ramon Cahenzli. It’s really well written, especially as I assume English is not his native language, detailed, funny and very poignant.

I wish I’d written it. But then that would mean I’d have to buy Windows which isn’t something I really want or need to do.

Here’s a couple of quotes but do go and read it when you have a few minutes spare. You’ll remember why we use Ubuntu and other Free and Open Source software.

The Windows boot manager still believes that only one system needs to be installed on a machine. It flat out replaces any existing bootloader with itself, and then only displays Microsoft operating systems for booting…

… Windows Update wanted to install a few urgent updates. It downloaded the files and tried to install once. The installs all failed. It didn’t tell me why. The system log only showed “an error occurred while installing…”. I retried and one install went through, the other failed. After another try, all installs went OK and the system wanted a reboot…

…I don’t know how, but Microsoft managed to break ASCII text files. That’s an achievement.

On the new Windows 7 UI…

It’s like a room with 1960s spherical chairs (with orange cushions) placed around a 2008 Ikea living room table, on an 80s synthetic flokati rug

I must say I’d forgotten about all the reboots that you have to on Windows. Surely they could have fixed that by now?

My conviction that Windows is pants remains even with their new version. About the same release time a far better, more secure and more modern operating system will be released: Ubuntu 9.10. It will be free and available from here.

Don’t waste your money on Windows; seriously.

Don’t waste your money…

As a piece of software given to a human being, Windows 7 is a trap. It is full of non-free software, and you cannot follow your natural instinct to share and pass it on to your neighbor, otherwise you act against the law (and the license). By purchasing and using the system, you surrender much of your freedom and are under the control of a single company.

Google Chrome OS

This could be pretty big.

Google announced, in their own rather subtle way – via a blog post – their new Google Chrome OS. It’s quite exciting simply because it is from Google and what the objective of the OS is:

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

For us Freedom lovers there’s good new too:

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010…

… We have a lot of work to do, and we’re definitely going to need a lot of help from the open source community to accomplish this vision. We’re excited for what’s to come and we hope you are too. Stay tuned for more updates in the fall and have a great summer.

Techcrunch had a great headline on this announcement: Google Drops A Nuclear Bomb On Microsoft. And It’s Made of Chrome.

Here’s a quick thought that that headline inspired…

If Google are ultimately as successful in the OS space as they have been in the on-line space, then I can see some major investigations and calls from such places as Redmond for Google to be split into smaller entities. In a somewhat ironic repeat of what happened to AT&T back in the 70s.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my mind. Even though Google claim to “do no evil” a monopoly is a monopoly is a monopoly. This is early days and clearly we aren’t anywhere near there yet but they are growing fast and becoming even more ubiquitous than AT&T; which was essentially only a USA monopoly.

I’d love to hear other thoughts on this:

Do you care what happens?
Do you think it is too early in the morning and I should stay in bed rather than talk drivel?
Do you think Google Chrome OS is a non-entity?

On the ‘Open Source, Open Standards and Re-Use: UK Government Action Plan’

As anyone interested in the politics and wider adoption of FOSS will know by now, the UK Government recently released an updated policy statement regarding “Open Source and Open Standards”. I made a brief comment on it when the news broke, but have now had more time to consider the document in more depth.

Firstly, It’s quite minor but nevertheless a shame that the pdf document was issued using Arial and Times New Roman embedded fonts that are not available on a free license. This leads me nicely to my second general point.

Why is there no mention of “Free Software“? There is a distinction between Open Source and Free software that, for some at least, is extremely important.

Anyway, having now read the pdf policy document in full, I want to air my thoughts on it.

After the preamble and introduction, in ‘The Way Forward’ we read this:

The Government considers that in order to deliver its key objectives a programme of positive action is now needed to ensure that there is an effective „level playing field‟ between open source and proprietary software and to realise the potential contribution open source software can make to wider aims of re-use and open standards. This programme needs to consist both of a more detailed statement of policies and of practical actions by government and its suppliers.

Notice how this is discussing a programme to generate policy statements and actions. I actually reckon this is really good stuff but am a little concerned about the fact there aren’t any demonstrable programmes or actions already created. In other words, it looks like we’ll have to wait for the bureaucrats to get their ink flowing before anything “real” happens. There are some actions at the end of the document, and although they are worthy in themselves they are rather broad and easy to spend years developing. Small, precise, tactical actions are what is required IMHO.

The objectives of the “programme” itself are pretty darn good from what I can tell. They read like a manifesto from RMS himself…

1. ensure that the Government adopts open standards and uses these to communicate with the citizens and businesses that have adopted open source solutions.

Nice – can I send documents to my MP or local council in ODF today then? (see toward the end of this piece) I don’t use any proprietary software in my business nor home (apart from my wife’s PC that is shortly to become Free too).

2. ensure that open source solutions are considered properly and, where they deliver best value for money (taking into account other advantages, such as re-use and flexibility) are selected for Government business solutions.

Once you do really take into account “re-use” it gets pretty hard to see how proprietary software represents value for money [“Sure Mr. Brown, just buy one copy of Office 2010 and re-use it across the country!”]. I look forward to seeing some detail here and the procurement guidlines for “properly” considering open source solutions.

5. ensure that there are no procedural barriers to the adoption of open source products within government, paying particular regard to the different business models and supply chain relationships involved.

Nice. Good objective.

The next section (6) is called “Policy” and stipulates the policy in broad but laudable terms:

(1) The Government will actively and fairly consider open source solutions alongside proprietary ones in making procurement decisions,

(2) Procurement decisions will be made on the basis on the best value for money solution to the business requirement, taking account of total lifetime cost of ownership of the solution, including exit and transition costs, after ensuring that solutions fulfil minimum and essential capability, security, scalability, transferability, support and manageability requirements.

(3) The Government will expect those putting forward IT solutions to develop where necessary a suitable mix of open source and proprietary products to ensure that the best possible overall solution can be considered.

(4) Where there is no significant overall cost difference between open and non-open source products, open source will be selected on the basis of its additional inherent flexibility.

These first policy item is sort of a catch-all but is quite vague and unmeasurable. I really want to see how they intend to implement, monitor and correct the bad procurement decisions.

The second and third points are indeed measurable and quite clear in their demands which is great.

The forth sounds very promising but again I’d want to know the detail; how the overall cost of the procurement can really be measured when you are comparing apples and oranges. This is a very difficult one to get right and the commercial vendors have many years of practice at coming up with exceptionally (ahem) creative pricing.

The Policy then goes onto non-open source software guidance:

Non-Open Source Software

(5) The Government will, wherever possible, avoid becoming locked in to proprietary software. In particular it will take exit, rebid and rebuild costs into account in procurement decisions and will require those proposing proprietary software to specify how exit would be achieved.

(6) Where non open source products need to be purchased, Government will expect licences to be available for all public sector use and for licences already purchased to be transferable within the public sector without further cost or limitation. The Government will where appropriate seek pan-government agreements with software suppliers which ensure that government is treated as a single entity for the purposes of volume discounts and transferability of licences.

Nice: “The Government will, wherever possible, avoid becoming locked in to proprietary software.” A fine objective if ever I read one.

I’m not sure about number 6 though. I guess it depends largely on existing contracts as to the flexibility they have with their current licenses but this must be sending shivers through Redmond right now.

Open Standards didn’t get much coverage. I guess it says what it must but open standards are one of the reasons we have FOSS today. The IETF who gave us amongst others RFC 793 and 791 (without which the Internet wouldn’t exist) and the W3C who protect and publish the open specifications for the world wide web are light-years ahead of the ISO as we have seen recently with the OOXML debacle. At least this part of the policy will be very easy to monitor. Send your Doctor, MP or Councillor an ODF document for example.

For IT and digital standards, the ISO is becoming totally redundant. Thinking back to when I was a lad, we had X.25, X.400, X.500, the ISO 7 layer reference model OSI and a ludicrously complex network management protocol known as CMIP. In their full specifications, these are all virtually obsolete now although some have been used in a cut-down form for modern standards like LDAP for example. But the reality is the ISO/ITU (CCITT) take too long, and try to be too clever. So Mr Brown and Mr. Watson, please do be careful – there are standards, and then there are standards…

The “Re-use” section gets really interesting and shows quite a good understanding of what FOSS is all about. But how on earth do they expect to achieve this

… look to secure full rights to bespoke software code or customisations of commercial off the shelf products it procures, so as to enable straightforward re-use elsewhere in the public sector.

without paying an arm and a leg for it. Can you imagine Larry or Steve agreeing to giving “full rights” (whatever that means) without a blank cheque? I can’t. In the same paragraph the following sentence is a really excellent policy:

Where appropriate, general purpose software developed for government will be released on an open source basis.

In the US public sector they have, for some time I believe, had a policy that basically means stuff created by and on-behalf of the public belongs to the public and is in the public domain. When I read stuff like this from what is the most draconian Government we have had in generations I am somewhat sceptical and really wonder how much actual input Number 10 and the policy makers have had in this document. The state that wants to restrict the citizen’s liberty whilst protecting the state itself so judiciously doesn’t feel like the same state that will write open source software. Time will tell on this one.

In the final section “Action Plan” there are 10 actions presented for the Government. These actions cover producing published guidance on procurement which will include words like:

a standard form of words for Statements of Requirements to state positively that the Government’s policy is to consider open source solutions on their merits according to total lifetime cost of ownership.


The CIO Council and the OGC, working with industry and drawing on best practice from other countries, will institute a programme of education and capability-building for the Government IT and Procurement professions on the skills needed to evaluate and make the best use of open source solutions . The aim will be to raise the level of awareness, skills and confidence in the professions in the different licensing, support, commercial and cost models associated with open source solutions.

Which is very interesting to an Open Source Consulting Business like my own 😉

As is the following which I feel is particularly strongly worded compared with the rest of the document:

Government Departments will challenge their suppliers to demonstrate that they have capability in open source and that open source products have been actively considered in whole or as part of the business solution which they are proposing. Where no overall open source solution is available suppliers will be expected to have considered the use of open source products within the overall solution to optimise the cost of ownership. Particular scrutiny will be directed where mature open source products exist and have already been used elsewhere in government. Suppliers putting forward non-open source products will be asked to provide evidence that they have carefully considered open source alternatives and to explain why they have been rejected.

Well, well, well:

The Government will specify requirements by reference to open standards and require compliance with open standards in solutions where feasible. It will support the use of Open Document Format (ISO/IEC 26300:2006) as well as emerging open versions of previously proprietary standards (eg ISO 19005-1:2005 (“PDF”) and ISO/IEC 29500 (“Office Open XML formats”). It will work to ensure that government information is available in open formats, and it will make this a required standard for government websites.

Can I say that again… “The Government will support the use of ODF” and a lovely phrase for OOXML “open versions of previously proprietary standards”. That’s possibly the kindest description of the worst specification ever written. Kudos for the clear mandate for ODF.

The last action is probably the most important of the lot:

Government will communicate this policy and its associated actions widely and will expand it as necessary. It will engage with the Open Source community and actively encourage projects that might, in due course, develop into „Government Class‟ products. It will keep the policy and progress on the actions under review, and report on progress publicly.

Firstly, I want to see how this policy is going to be communicated to the huge oil tanker called the UK Government. Secondly, it is spot on to want to engage with the FOSS Community but they will have to put in place some mechanisms, resources, on-line locations etc. where this engagement can take place. And the Government will have to learn very fast that for FOSS to work, the community has to collaborate in all directions and its members must give as much, if not more, than they take to get real benefit. It’s a bit like love… The more you give, the more you get back.

My biggest concern with this is the executive. Over the last 10 years or so their insistence on draconian lawmaking and interference in our liberty does make me sceptical about the commitment from the top dogs and hence the drive to pull this off. But, I will support this effort in whatever way I can until that scepticism is either proved wrong or right.

To conclude this rather long post then, I think this could be a huge and historical turning point in the health of FOSS here in the UK and I am very excited about the tone and sentiment behind this policy document. The authors (Our Government) have started to roll a very large ball down a very long slope. If the current Government do not take this seriously, or should the administration change and turn away, then the ball will roll out of control. If they do what they say and keep close to the community then I honestly believe there could a very bright future ahead of us.

The Economics of Free: For Free

Remember the short piece I posted about the Radio 4 programme “In Business” a couple of weeks ago? Well, very kindly, the programme’s editor has provided me with a transcript of programme to

please use as you wish, but it has not been checked for accuracy. Good luck.

I have just read and listened again and didn’t find anything glaring although I did fix one rather amusing typo: “Linux Colonel” to “Linux Kernel”. It was sent to me as a Microsoft .doc file. I opened it in and exported it as a PDF so it should be readable by virtually everyone.

This programme does provide some excellent answers to the types of questions we repeatedly get asked in our day-to-day business:

  • “How do they/you make money from Open Source”
  • “Why should you/they give it away?”

So for those of you who get asked these sorts of questions and would like some non-technobable answers from a rather reputable source to use, the transcript can be downloaded in it’s entirety, for free, from our website here. On that page, there is also a link to the BBC’s permanent archive so the podcast can be retrieved too. As an interesting titbit, in his email with me, the editor said that about 600k people download the programme every month!

And just to whet your appetite, here is quite a nice quote from Chris Anderson – the editor of Wired

… Microsoft’s financial success is about taking a product whose underlying economics are zero, the marginal costs of reproducing software is zero, and charging $300 for it. You know incredible net profit margins. Unfortunately, economics always wins. People recognised that the underlying economics of distributing software were zero and so they were like okay, so Microsoft is getting monopoly profits because they are in fact a monopoly. What we need to do is break the monopoly. Not, as it turns out, by regulation and regulator, but instead the marketplace broke the monopoly.

If you are involved in any way with the promotion of FOSS and/or CC then this really is well worth listening too and or reading,

And although the editor didn’t provide any specific license conditions with the document, I plan to repsect the BBC’s copyright, and provide suitable attribution when and where we use snippets etc; something like this perhaps.

Power to the People! [on Mozilla’s Firefox EULA]

Is anyone reading this old enough to remember that line from the BBC TV Sitcom “Citizen Smith“? I think I have just seen it in action.

In just a couple of short days there has been a massive expression of discontent with the imposition of an EULA on Ubuntu‘s users of the Mozilla Firefox web browser. And it seems that the voice of the community is being listened to:

We’ve come to understand that anything EULA-like is disturbing, even if the content is FLOSS based.  So we’re eliminating that.

Mitchell Baker, the chairman of the Mozilla Foundation,  has just posted an update on her blog “The Lizard Wrangler”. The main thrust of her comments make it sound like Mozilla has listened carefully to the concerns so fervently expressed. Although the proof will be in the pudding so to speak:

We still feel that something about the web services integrated into the browser is needed; these services can be turned off and not interrupt the flow of using the browser. We also want to tell people about the FLOSS license — as a notice, not as as EULA or use restriction.  Again, this won’t block the flow or provide the unwelcoming feeling that one comment to my previous post described so eloquently.

Apart from a few rather vitriolic comments towards individuals, the majority of the comments made on “that bug report” (which will probably become quite infamous in it’s own right and get it’s own page on Wikipedia) were lucid and expressed a deep concern about the direction this might lead FOSS in general. A snowball effect of pop-ups and EULAs appearing for Free Software applications would be our a nightmare for the FOSS movement and lead to many people simply saying “so what’s the difference between this an Windows then?”. The snowball that is FOSS would probably melt rather spectacularly.

A user’s ability to choose to install a product from a massive software library without being told how they must use it is one of the great and liberating freedoms of using FOSS. Take that away and you are simply creating a carbon copy of the proprietary software experience.

If it becomes clear after Mozilla release their updated plans that there is still some requirement for the user to positively acknowledge (or accept) some form of usage restriction, then unfortunately Firefox can no longer be classed as Free Software and undoubtedly removes itself from compliance with Freedom 0 “The freedom to run the program, for any purpose“.

If this transpires to be the case, then I personally think that Ubuntu must move Firefox from the “main” repository and replace their default browser with, either the unbranded (and Free) version of Firefox, or another alternative. Firefox can and almost certainly should still be available, but it surely must be moved to the “multiverse” repository which contains: Software restricted by copyright or legal issues.

If I understand the core problem correctly, it seems to me that the best solution is to, by default, disable the phising detection and other services which require end user consent, and to make the positive user acknowledgement simply part of the process of enabling these features, e.g. when you click the check box to turn on phising protection you must acknowledge the use terms at that stage. Not when you just start browsing the web. And, of course, for Linux users these “protection services” are of little or no benefit anyway.

Just perhaps; Wolfie’s goal of “The Glorious Day” is about to make a comeback…

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