Mast Kalandar

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Sun, 22 Apr 2007

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Saying "No" to Windows Vista


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I tried to start a discussion in the IMSc Computer Committee regarding if and when we should purchase Windows Vista given the problems with it that are documented by Bruce Schneier and Peter Gutman. The exchange went as follows.

First mail

I want this to be discussed by the CC. I realise that I may be too late as we may have already bought some Vista licenses :-) Some of these points are already under the general guidelines for purchases that I had raised for discussion earlier.

There are a number of reasons (some are given below) why the CC needs to take a decision not to buy Windows Vista unless some following conditions are met.

  1. The user must make a specific request for Vista (providing justification as usual). At such a point a single license per request should be purchased.
  2. The user must pick the hardware. In case the hardware turns out to have problems with Vista then upgrades for this reason will not be permitted. (See B below for an explanation).
  3. We should reject pre-installed Vista machines.
  4. Office machines currently work fine with XP and we should not upgrade them until MicroSoft stops supporting XP. At that point we can re-examine the situation.
  5. We should not buy Vista licenses or upgrades for existing Windows machines.

Here are some of the reasons:

  1. One reason why people have asked for Windows in the past is to support Office/Powerpoint. This is currently well-supported by one of the following options:
    1. Windows 95/98/XP (for which we have an adequate number of licenses).
    2. Macintosh machines with MicroSoft Office installed.
    3. Sun's StarOffice or OpenOffice.
  2. The other reason why people people have asked for Windows is its support for various multimedia codecs that are proprietary. Options like those above exist, but more importantly, there is growing evidence that Vista actually deliberately degrades multimedia output. If we are to use Free and Open Source tools like "VLC" or "Mplayer" anyway, then there is no logic to buy Vista to do so.

  3. Another reason is that branded machines come with Vista pre-installed. However:
    1. A number of branded manufacturers like Dell, Lenovo and HP claim that they do offer machines without an O/S pre-installed. We should take them up on their claim.
    2. We can still insist that we want only an older version of Windows if at all. The manufacterers are required to comply.
  4. Given that most users manage to do all their work with the GNU/Linux machines provided, the only reason to purchase Vista would be if one of our users has special needs.

First response

Unfortunately, our "resident supporter of proprietary software" did not react kindly to the above suggestions.

I don't' see any reason to have a discussion on this. Its a waste of time of the committee members which can be used for more productive activities.

and

But please, we all have other work -- let us not waste time on a meeting to discuss ideological obsessions.

Erupting flamewar

It was not possible to let that pass.

As far as I can recall I made no points of an ideological, moral or ethical nature.

As regards the bad points of Vista you may read recent articles by Bruce Schneier and Peter Gutman. (Google them or ask me for links.)

Peter Gutmann and Bruce Schneier are not ideologues but well respected experts in cryptology and security---precisely the areas where Vista claims to be stronger than XP.

Since the primary purpose of the CC is to make decisions on computer related purchases based on technical know-how it would be best if we were well informed on the technical aspects.

It is certainly not the job of the computer committee to pursue the latest or most talked about hardware or software that is available on the market.

I am not asking other committee members to quit or make decisions along my point of view. I merely asking the CC members to spend some time reading and informing themselves. We could the formulate some proposal if we think it is necessary.

A flame of my own

This fuel+oxygen combination was added as a footnote to the above mail!

For long I have heard that my criticism of proprietary software and hardware is ideological; including being faced with absurd questions like "How much is Debian/FSF/GNU paying you?" (said jokingly but without humour).

Now it is certainly true that I do have an ideological bias, however, I have never made arguments to the computer committee from that that viewpoint---I have always tried to argue from a purely practical perspective.

In the past these arguments have basically been centred around "You can do this with free software---we just have to work at it a little and a bit differently." In the case at hand the situation requires a more drastic remedy since the proprietary software is actively installing "back-doors" (not just Windows :-)) that cause the computer to function less efficiently than it could just because the software vendor is suspicious of "software piracy"; the bad trend that started with the "calling-home" feature of XP has just become worse. Which is why I feel that a more clear-cut decision is called for.

Continuing response

I missed some points in the previous mail.

The reasons given for not using Vista are far too weak and unsubstantiated to be taken seriously.

Considering that Windows costs us a considerable amount of money (Rs. 6000/- at the time of installation plus the cost of updating virus protection periodically at roughly Rs. 500/- per seat per year), I think we need to justify the purchase of Windows rather than the other way around.

(Quality of music output - hardly the primary purpose of the desktops - is a laughable reason).

If I recall correctly, the first thing that most people ask for after their desktop is installed is for "RealPlayer", "Acroread" and "Flash". So multimedia on the desktop is important for our users; it won't help for us to brush this under the carpet.1

I see no reason why we should not have machines with Vista if indeed they are needed.

I too see no reason to deny a user who needs Vista. All I am requesting the CC to resolve is that such purchases be based on prior justification from the concerned user.

In the past we have often taken the position that instead of one license we buy five. With Vista, I feel that this would not be wise.


  1. I find it amusing that the very argument used against free software for the desktop in the past---its weakness in the realm of multimedia, is now not available when the target is Windows.


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