Windows Genuine Advantage Make Me Rethink Open Source

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 07/06/2006

This latest post is a message both about Microsoft’s mishandling of the Microsoft Genuine Advantage program and a about search engines and Wikipedia. The little yellow shield pops up to notify me that there’s updates ready to install. But I read the title “Windows Genuine Advantage Notification KB905474”. Now, there’s a euphemism if I ever heard one! A more honest name would be “Genuine Windows Validator”. They’re turning a check for genuine Windows into a genuine advantage. Now, I’m in the PR field now, and totally understand the need to turn a negative into a positive, but given the ever-present suspicion of Microsoft, even the appearance of impropriety should be avoided.

The AutoUpdater tool offers up a link to the WhyValidate page that further endeavors to position it as a positive. But instead of following the link, what are most people included to do? Google it! And when they do, what do they find? Wikipedia! This is a wonderful example of a term that was recently invented, and for the lack of anything else specifically targeting the term (other than Microsoft), the inevitable Wikipedia entry ascends by default to the top of the search results. And on that page, the searcher finds the “unbiased agenda” of Open Source loving, Microsoft hating Wikipedians worldwide.

True, the entries are wrapped in a very nice veneer of objectivity. But you can tell the anti-Microsoft crowd is totally gleeful in their opportunity to pretend like they’re driving another nail into the coffin. It’s only the second section where the article authors delve into Microsoft’s campaign to squash attempts to circumvent WGA technology.

So, what’s the point of my post? For the first time in a very long while, I’m siding with the Microsoft haters. Now, I’m about as big a fan as it gets. As much as Microsoft tries to corral you along and keep you dependent on their software, it is relatively cheap, it does have support, and it is constantly being advanced. Only very recently have the Open Source alternatives matured to a point where they’re even a viable alternative. After being a bleeding edge Amiga user for many years, and getting nowhere, today, I will choose the mainstream tools as my “core” tools any day. The alternative is taking stuff that should require no thought, and making it the subject of constant focus and having to deal with “gotcha’s”. I’m tired of the gotcha’s and have found the least of them by sticking with Microsoft. Everything just works. And yes, it really does cost relatively little compared to the benefit its providing.

Windows Genuine Advantage simply makes me stop and think. It puts me in this strange place between auto-downloading the WGA “update” and allowing it to install on my machine. I’m trusting, but not that trusting. When I see something named with a euphemism that’s so clearly insulting my intelligence, I have to wonder.

What if my trust in Microsoft isn’t merited? What if Open Source really is as good today as everyone is saying? Is Debian really as full-featured as they all say? Is Ubuntu really as suitable for people used to Windows as they say? Will Wine really let me run my Windows software on Linux? Aren’t there ready-made VMWare Linux appliances that let you try it out Linux pretty easily? How good is Star Office, really? And for that matter, from a Web development point of view, isn’t it time I started working more regularly on LAMP just to have the option?

Yes, being a Microsoft drone for all these years has felt like a vacation after my Amiga days. The Amiga was a great passion, but so too was it a great chore. You had to accept that you couldn’t run all the popular software. The software you had was generally a little rougher around the edges. As the state of the rest of the industry advanced, you had to be happy where you were. Sure, it had its benefits, but the liabilities associated with an alternative computing platform is what has mostly kept me off of the Mac for all these years, and Linux as of recently.

But something is different now. There’s a groundswell. The fringes are starting to feel like the mainstream. Exactly what OS you’re running is starting to fade into the background as mobile phones become more PC-like. The MIT Media Lab inspired $100 laptop is due sometime next year, and certainly won’t choose Windows. Devices are dividing and splitting into every possible form factor and virtualizing. I look forward to my first quad processor dual core server, and if I want to run it as eight virtualized PCs under a hypervisor, that’s my prerogative. Having to deal with nasty details like software licenses becomes a burden. It’s almost the equivalent of physical product fulfillment for a product that can be delivered instantly and virtually. Why would you bother? Just remove a little more friction.

The biggest danger of this Open Source panacea that still lurks in the back of my mind is that nothing’s really free, and at some point, you’re beholden to a vendor. For years now, that’s been the “gotcha” with Java. It sounds like an Open Source cure-all, but in the end, you’re beholden to Sun. And to maintain the advantages Java had to offer, Sun had to tightly regulate it, to the point of suing Microsoft and winning. But now, even Java is making signs that it’s going to go Open Source, and probably ruining all the security advantages that came with it.

And then there’s the trend of companies buying Open Source companies. Who knows if it’s true, but in February this year, Builder.com reported that Oracle tried to take over MySQL. What happens if you go the Open Source route, invest your time, money (yes–money), heart and soul into one approach only to have it disappear underneath of you in one year? Where are the assurances? Where is the healthy, motivated company that is obliged to keep their product on the market and with the times?

This is a whole line of reasoning that I have been deferring for as long as possible. As long as Microsoft was “good enough,” I could justify steering clear of the alternative choices that, for better or for worse, give me that old Amiga feeling. So here I am typing away in MS Word looking at the little yellow shield in the task bar, asking myself, do I trust Microsoft that much? So, I ask Google. And the voices that respond are the Wikipedians.