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Why I Don't Use Microsoft Software: No Need & No Trust

by , 10:00 AM EDT, July 9th, 2002

...doubt is the whetstone of understanding...

John Dos Passos

Remember back in elementary school, when you wrote those "Why I _____" essays? This is that essay

The fact is simple. I don't need Microsoft, and I say this sincerely. In my day-to-day computing needs, the only Microsoft product I use is Entourage. It "unexpectedly quits" on me on a daily basis, and as soon as I return to the States, I'll be making a switch to Eudora, or possibly back to Mail, pending its update in Jaguar.

My common applications include Adium, Mozilla 1.0, iTunes, and BBEdit. I haven't used Internet Explorer since I discovered the small utility called Browser Wars that allowed me to choose (first) OmniWeb and then Mozilla as my default browser. I don't use Word, because I don't need the bells and whistles. BBEdit can cover my word processing needs for writing articles for TMO, or essays for graduate school applications. I have a copy of AppleWorks here somewhere too...

There is a topic in the TMO forums, posing the question: "Should Microsoft continue to support the Macintosh platform?" My answer is a definite "yes." That answer isn't for myself though. My brother needs it, as a lot of his school work requires Excel to be compatible with assignments. Many Mac users need Microsoft Office. This is a fact. The Mac Business Unit over at Microsoft has done a bang-up job with Office v.X. It's solid, and much better looking than their Windows offering. (Yes, aesthetics count for something.)

Why don't I use MS products on a daily basis? I don't need to. It just isn't necessary. More pressing than a question of need is the basic idea behind every good relationship--trust. I don't trust them. I have doubts that they have the best interests of the customer in mind. I am cognizant that we live in a society that is propelled by big business, and we have recently seen big business come crashing down around our ears (Enron, Tyco, WorldCom).

How do I make a difference?

I own a Mac. I make a conscious choice to own a computer running a non-Microsoft OS. I don't trust their OS or their components. The recent fluff-up about the Windows Media Player patch EULA just drives my point home. (The updated patch is necessary to stop three security exploits, and affects users of Microsoft Windows Media Player 6.4, 7.1 or Windows Media Player for Windows XP.) Text of the new EULA includes:

Digital Rights Management (Security). You agree that in order to protect the integrity of content and software protected by digital rights management ("Secure Content"), Microsoft may provide security related updates to the OS Components that will be automatically downloaded onto your computer. These security related updates may disable your ability to copy and/or play Secure Content and use other software on your computer. If we provide such a security update, we will use reasonable efforts to post notices on a web [sic] site explaining the update.

What this means is that MS now has the right to install what they like on your PC (if you are running Windows), when they like, and can potentially control what you view/listen to. They have the right to limit your use of third party software (QuickTime, winamp, RealPlayer, et al). The phrase "reasonable efforts" to post notices of these updates sounds a lot like "very little effort" to me. They're giving themselves the right to not tell you what they install, should they feel like being secretive.

I can barely see through the irony to type this. They want you to be more secure by giving them control over your computer and, if they continue in this direction, your computing habits. I'm just going to skip commenting on the silly idea that Microsoft, propagator of virii and worms, is the new bulwark of security.

Microsoft's latest idea is that of Palladium (defined by the American Heritage Dictionary 4th ed. as "a safeguard, especially one viewed as a guarantee of the integrity of social institutions"). What is Microsoft's Palladium? It sounds grand. From a 26 June 2002 article in The Register:

...Palladium is a hardware and software combination that will supposedly seal information from attackers, block viruses and worms, eliminate spam, and allow users to control their personal information even after it leaves their computer. It will also implement Digital Rights Management (DRM) for movies and music to allow users to exercise 'fair use' rights of such products. Palladium will essentially create a proprietary computing environment where Microsoft is the trusted gatekeeper, guard, watchstander, and ruler of all it surveys, thus turning the majority of computing users into unwilling corporate serfs and subjects of the Redmond Regime.

Palladium is shaping up to be just another tool in the war on all those things that are "bad" for you, but of course, you don't have to update to Palladium. Except that you might have to. The reasons are twofold. First, Microsoft has recruited Intel and AMD to help build the foundation of this technology into their chips. Second, Microsoft has just officially announced the demise of Win2k as applied to OEMs. Support will terminate in nine months. This makes me think that people who defer updating to Palladium (supposing that it comes to pass) will eventually be forced to update. Not overtly forced, of course, but if MS stops supporting whatever it is that Palladium replaces, and you want to "keep up" with technology (be it Office, Media Player, MSN Messenger, or Internet Explorer), you'll be forced to get Palladium. They don't tell you that you have to switch, they just eventually make it impossible for you to do the things you want (and need) without accepting their terms.

An article on C|Net, published yesterday, tells us of Microsoft's plan to collaborate with security-software maker Arcot Systems. Arcot Systems creates and maintains online payment systems for businesses that use Verified by Visa.

Visa has a program, called Verified by Visa, that allows banks that issue Visa credit cards to authenticate online purchases. Arcot has captured the brunt of Visa's business with its systems, so the deal gives Microsoft access to most banks using the authentication systems, Litan said. MasterCard is currently testing a similar online authentication program, which Arcot's products also support.
Under both those programs, when computer users want to make a purchase online, a window pops up asking Passport users for their name and password, said Arcot CEO Ram Varadarajan. Besides verifying identity through Passport, Varadarajan said, credit card issuers have other options, such as banks' own username and password systems as well as smart cards.

I don't have Passport. I don't want Passport. Does this mean soon I won't be able to shop online? Will I have to get an American Express card in order to avoid this system? This is Visa and Microsoft stepping into my wallet, and limiting my ability to shop online. That sound you hear is my right as a security-conscious e-consumer swirling away.

Which brings us back to Microsoft on the Mac. The most recent update to Internet Explorer was released this week. I haven't installed it, mostly because I don't use it. (Having to quit all running applications to install is also ridiculous, but that's another editorial.) I did download and read the EULA. Seriously. I wanted to see if they were going to limit users on the Mac side as well. It looked pretty "normal" to me. I still didn't install it.

Not having Microsoft all over my machine hasn't hurt my computing. I'd like to think of myself as a "power user," but I think everyone could get along just fine with a little less MS lurking around on their machine. I think everyone should be aware of the plans that Microsoft is laying out for us all, Windows and Mac users alike. Passport as a guarantee that I'm going to pay? Hold on, I'm going to go buy a fox to guard my henhouse. Oh, but I can't buy the fox online because I can't "validate" my credit card.

Who is being protected here?

I don't hate Microsoft. I'm afraid of them.

Many thanks to TMO Cultural Editor Raena Armitage for her (unknowing) research help.

Darla Sasaki is a long time Mac enthusiast, who fondly recalls playing Karateka on her Apple IIc. She currently lives in Japan, where she "works" as an English teacher, but mostly dinks around on her Mac. She cultivated her fine sense of paranoia by obsessively watching The X-Files. She enjoys movies, literature, fine wine, and long walks on the beach with her boyfriend. While she fervently hopes for world peace, she realizes a more realistic goal would be a career writing cheesy personal ads for online dating services.

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