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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Open-Source Alternatives To Microsoft Windows Operating Systems And Applications: "Just Say No To Microsoft" Book Review


If you are looking for reasons, information, and facts supporting the use of alternative operating systems and application to the standard Microsoft set, this new book by Tony Bove may indeed provide some valuable information.

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Educational and academic institutions and increasingly governments, in many parts of the world, have started to adopt or seriously consider alternative operating systems and applications as the solution to ever-increasing IT costs, maintenance and technical support issues generated by the standard use of Microsoft OS and applications products.

And while I can't deny that the use and adoption of Microsoft alternatives, is generally perceived as a step-back by average non-technical users, typically worried about issues of interoperability, ability to exchange files, and a limited software choice, I also recognize that such alternatives may provide greater security and reliability (depending of whose research data you read), greater support for open-standards and, especially for medium to large sized organizations, great financial savings when buying and upgrading such software.

Personally, I would prefer that a larger number of operating systems had significant number of users and market clout, while providing full interoperability and support for the others. I think that such a scenario would positively benefit the users while creating a healthier competition in the marketplace.

So the issue is not as simple and clear-cut as the two opposing sides would want us to believe, and therefore it is still best to approach such issues by asking, questioning and checking what others, asking the same questions before us, have had to say.

One, among many other valuable views, is the one brought forward by Tony Bove in his new book covering such possible alternatives to the Microsoft operating universe. Ben Rothke, a senior IT security consultant, and author of Computer Security 20 Things Every Employee Should Know, has an excellent, non-partisan review of this new book. Here it is:

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Photo credit: (c) Microsoft

"Load up a computer today with a basic set of applications software, and there will be a de facto Microsoft tax on that computer.

Add roughly $100 for the Windows XP operating system and $350 for Microsoft Office, and you have a significant initial financial outlay.

If one would use an open-source operating system and a set of open-source office applications, the cost savings would be enormous.

That is why the option of open-source is so financially compelling to the both the consumer and organizations that have thousands of computersù; and why open-source is such a threat to companies such as Microsoft.

The idea of saving money and never having to worry about a blue screen of death is the proverbial win/win scenario.



With that, Just Say No to Microsoft: How to Ditch Microsoft and Why It's Not as Hard as You Think would seemingly be a most valuable book in helping consumers and corporations rid themselves of the Microsoft tax.

Unfortunately, the book spends far too much time slurring Microsoft and Bill Gates.

The books main charges are that Microsoft has been far too predatory and that Bill Gates is not the technical genius that he is made out to be.

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Photo credit: (c) Microsoft

Microsoft's questionable business tactics are not without ethical lapses, but it must noted that Microsoft is simply one in a long line of companies that have used their size and deep pockets to quash the competition. Microsoft is not alone and joins companies such as American Airlines, Ford and General Motors, Wal-Mart and more that have engaged in practices that while good for their stockholders, have not been good for the competition.

Bove is correct that Microsoft's practices over the years have discouraged innovation and stunted competition.

But then again, that is true of Ford, GM and other such companies. The innovations of Ford and GM for example have been mostly superficial, without any significant improvement into crucial issues such as gas mileage and more.

Two of the companies that Microsoft has been accused of destroying are Novell and WordPerfect. Yet much of the blame for the demise of these two companies goes to their management that did not know how to properly market their products nor deal with a competitor such as Microsoft.

This is not meant to imply that Microsoft is blameless, rather that Novell and WordPerfect had plenty of opportunities to fend off Microsoft, yet did not rise to the challenge.

Aside from the pervasive anti-Microsoft tone and style and the book, Just Say No to Microsoft: How to Ditch Microsoft and Why It's Not as Hard as You Think provides a good starting point for those that are looking for a cheaper and safer alternative to Microsoft products.

Chapter 1 start with an overview of the history of Microsoft and how it grew to be the largest software company in the world.

In chapter 2, All You Need is a Mac, Bove feels that the quickest route to Microsoft freedom is by purchasing a Macintosh. While a Mac is not necessarily cheaper than a Wintel system, the Mac OS X is considerably more resilient against attacks. In addition, the concern of malware such as viruses and spyware are much less of an issue on a Mac.

Chapter 3 deals with what worries Microsoft the most - Linux. Bove notes that large companies that deal with thousands of end-user desktops are discovering the advantage of migrating to Linux in a big way.

Chapters 4 and 5 deal with Microsoft Word and Excel. Word documents have become the de facto standard for document exchange and are what has locked many people into staying with Microsoft Word.

Excel has a similar power in being the de facto spreadsheet.

Most people think that the only alternative to Word is WordPerfect and simply don't know about OpenOffice Writer and Calc or other open source alternatives. The two chapters show how it is possible to effectively collaborate on documents without having to use Word.

While the book does not get into every open source alternative to a Microsoft product, Bove's web site has a comprehensive list of open source alternatives to Windows products.

Chapter 4 concludes with a look at the technical and practical problems with PowerPoint. Bove notes that the corrupting power of PowerPoint is so strong that otherwise normally articulate speakers turn into zombies mumbling the bullet points that appear on the slides behind them. It is not clear though how Impress, the open-source alternative to PowerPoint is necessarily better from a presentation perspective.

The next few chapters deal with Outlook, the application that has launched countless viruses and worms, and also detail other network-based problems with Microsoft protocols and applications. Issues such as the never ending cycle of Microsoft patches are also discussed.

Chapter 10 provides a ten-step program (fashioned after the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program) to free the reader from their Microsoft addition. While the steps are brief and effective, it would have been better had there been more technical details on how to migrate out of a Microsoft environment.

For the person with thousands of documents and files in various Microsoft formats, it is not as effortless as to simply copy your old files onto a USB drive and move it to the new open-source based host.

The book contains four parts, and there are four cartoons at the begging of each part that Bove wrote. The cartoons are quite funny in their own right and Bove should also consider a career as a cartoonist.

Ned Ludd said that the machine was the enemy, and Tony Bove feels the same way about Microsoft.

For evidence, check out his campaign to stop the spread of Word documents.

The only negative aspect to the book is that there are far too many negative stories of Microsoft's predatory practices. A few stories would be adequate, but there is no point in belaboring the issue in a book that is meant to be more technical and practical, as opposed to political.

For many people who don't know better, they expect that a blue screen of death and monthly patching is part of a standard computing environment.

Just Say No to Microsoft: How to Ditch Microsoft and Why It's Not as Hard as You Think is an interesting read that will open the eyes of those users to a cheaper, more secure and robust open-source solution."



Just Say No to Microsoft: How to Ditch Microsoft and Why It's Not as Hard as You Think
by Tony Bove - No Starch Press

Book review by Ben Rothke.
Mr Rothke is a New York-based Senior Security Consultant with ThruPoint, a leading provider of consulting services. At ThruPoint, he advises CIO's and CISO's on issues of information risk management, strategic security governance, regulations, security policies & best practices, and security technologies & operations. Mr Rothke is the author of Computer Security 20 Things Every Employee Should Know, a technical book already available in multiple languages. Mr Rothke writes review of technical books and also writes about 8-10 articles a year on subjects dealing with information security, privacy, management and other contemporary issues. Here is a list of all the articles that he has written.


More reviews of the book reviewed above can be found here.

Ben Rothke -
Reference: Slashdot [ Read more ]
 
 
 
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posted by Robin Good on Tuesday, December 27 2005, updated on Monday, April 10 2006


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