Thursday, April 06, 2006

Book Review: Just Say No To Microsoft

I wanted to love Tony Bove’s book Just Say No To Microsoft, I really did. Despite focusing on Microsoft products in my career right now, despite running a .NET developers group, there’s plenty about Microsoft I don’t much like. The list is lengthy and I won’t go into details here; suffice it to say I've used plenty of solid alternatives to Microsoft’s products in the past and am always open to others.

Unfortunately, Bove’s hyperbole and polemics get in the way of his attempts to showcase many of Microsoft’s nasty business practices and troublesome software. Likewise, his discussion of moving away from Microsoft’s operating systems and applications is often blatantly one-sided and ignores issues with alternatives.

For example, in the first part of the book Bove has a number of clear examples of Microsoft’s bullying business behavior such as PC manufacturers being forced to pay Microsoft royalties for every system they shipped, regardless of whether or not Microsoft operating systems were installed on it. However, for each example like this there are handfuls of unsubstantiated claims of price fixing, coercion, and any number of other unsavory practices.

These unsubstantiated claims left me wondering if Bove was hyping things or just didn’t have time or resources to follow up. I avoid anything written by Ann Coulter or Al Franken for this same reason: don’t toss out such flamebait without backing it up. Give me the facts and history behind such allegations so that I can make up my own mind rather than assimilate into some Borg-like conspiracy theory collective.

I also found his overviews of Microsoft alternatives a bit simplistic and in some cases, flat out wrong. In Chapter 2: All You Need Is a Mac, he asserts “The iPod steers clear of the digital rights management technology in subscription services.” Either he’s taking a sophist’s approach to this argument, or I’m very wrong in my understanding of what’s happening with the cuts I buy via my iTunes. DRM is very much in use on those files, preventing me from listening to my music elsewhere in an unaltered form without resorting to the terrific JHymn software to scrub out that DRM.

I think he also plays up bugs in Microsoft’s software while downplaying or ignoring issues in alternatives. For example, Bove plays up browser alternatives such as Firefox for their security – but Firefox has had a number of security vulnerabilities discovered since its 1.0 release. Again, give me an honest comparison of things and let me make up my own mind.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of great stuff in this book. His quick overviews of the various OpenOffice components are dandy, and he does point out problems with these alternatives. One example he shows is problems in OOo Writer when trying to deal with some of Microsoft Word’s more “esoteric” features such as STYLEREF and cross-references.

Additionally, Bove’s got a great section on the asinine, dangerous ActiveX crapware that causes so many security issues. He’s also got an interesting 12-step plan to rid oneself of Microsoft products.

Overall it’s a very interesting read. I just wish he would have throttled down the tone, and been a bit more fair in his discussion of alternatives. That would have done a lot more to win me over to his viewpoint -- and I was not far away from it to start with.

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