I'd like to run Linux, but...

My apologies for not writing much lately; there are a few things I would like to talk about from some recent usability studies we did, but I first need to find out if I can talk about them or not. I'm not worried about getting permission to give away "secret" information of upcoming products -- Microsoft trusts its employees enough to not need such bureaucracy -- but rather I am making sure that it would not violate our privacy policy or any other agreements that participants sign to when they come into Microsoft to do studies.

It's funny; I personally don't care much about privacy issues -- I hate filling out forms and would love it if there was some Universal ID that I could brandish at anyone who wanted to know my name, address, etc. -- but many of our customers care deeply about privacy (and many governments of the countries they live in have strict laws about privacy), so it's everyone's job to be concerned about such things. Of course we also have privacy specialists who do nothing but work on privacy, but everyone needs to be aware of it. Just like security. But I digress.

And I'll digress just a little bit more to say that I hope everyone is having a good mid-winter holiday season (or mid-summer holiday season, if you're in the Southern Hemisphere). For me, the best thing about "Christmas" is that almost everyone has time off work, so it's usually the time I go back home to Australia since I know I will be able to catch up with all my friends. A good friend said the best thing about "Christmas" was that it was the one time you could be nice to everyone in your family without anybody being suspicious and thinking that you were expecting something in return. What's the best thing about this time of year for you? This year I left purchasing my tickets too late, so rather than pay US $5,000 for a flight back home, I've been shuttling people back and forth from the airport and looking after a friend's cats. I was also honoured to be invited to have Christmas dinner with my Little Brother's family, which was a lot of fun -- my family is very small, and I'd never actually been to a "big" extended family gathering before; I'd only seen such things in the movies.

But back to the subject at hand.

One thing that always gets me is when I see people (usually on Slashdot :-) ) saying things like "I really want to run Linux, but it doesn't run <insert app here> so I can't."

What?

This basically translates to "I want to run some system software that is designed to run other software packages, but it doesn't run the software package I want to use." Clearly, such a statement makes no sense: the purpose of the OS is to run applications. If it can't run the applications you want to use, it is no good to you. It's as simple as that.

What the person is really saying is "I like certain aspects of Linux (probably the 'free as in beer' or the 'I can pretend I'm an 31337 h4x0r' aspects) but it falls short in other areas so I feel like complaining." Well kiddo, life isn't fair and it was never meant to be easy. I'd like to eat ice cream that didn't make me fat, but it's not going to happen any time soon.

Yes, it's a simple matter of semantics versus pragmatics, but it annoys me nonetheless. Face it: If you're about to open your mouth (or put finger to keyboard) to utter those words, STOP for a moment and realise that Linux (or MacOS or BSD or even Windows) just doesn't meet your needs, and move on with your life. Better yet, if you really care deeply about it (rather than just wanting to jack up your Karma), start building a clone of <insert app here> with your own blood, sweat, and tears, and then give it away to the rest of the community that has been complaining along with you. Or lobby the vendor of <insert app here> to build and support a version that works for you. The world will be a better place.

Or, decide that <insert app here> really isn't that much of a deal-breaker for you, and make the switch. This happens a lot to us with Windows and Office -- as hard as we try to keep compatibility with older versions, sometimes it's just too darn hard. Sooner or later the benefit that someone gets from moving to the latest version of Windows or Office or Linux or whatever might outweigh the costs, but it's a very tough trade-off to make. Say you really want IRM (contrary to "popular belief," some customers actually want this stuff. It's not just about Microsoft shoving lock-in-ware down the customers' unsuspecting throats, you know... geez!) but Office 2003 breaks some of your Office 97 VBA code. What do you do? Well, you do a cost / benefit analysis and see which one wins.

Just stop whinging!

(I make it sound like I don't care about customers, and the pain we put them through when we break stuff. I do care, as does everyone else here at Microsoft. But it's just not possible to add features and fix bugs without breaking the odd thing here or there. We definitely need to try harder and do a better job of making sure the obvious things don't break on upgrades, but at the end of the day these things will happen -- especially when developers go out of their way to do funky things. And besides, this is a rant, so there!)

I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that my parents still run Windows 98 and my father writes code with VB 6 (code based on MySQL that he plans to open source, no less :-) ). I bought them a copy of Windows XP Home and Visual Studio .NET, but XP didn't work with their scanner (a $50 item these days!) so they went back to Windows 98 (and VS won't install on that OS). Only now is my father talking about getting a new PC onto which he will hopefully install VS, although of course now I'll have to get him a newer copy of VS .NET 2003.

I'm not sure what the purpose of this was ;-). I'm just sick of people complaining about not being able to switch from Windows when it's clearly the case that Windows is the only platform that meets their needs. It's ironic: I'm essentially saying "I want to read a web site dedicated to mindless anti-Microsoft rants, but I don't want to read the rants any more," which is exactly the kind of thing I'm accusing the ranters of doing.

Oh well. I'm off to feed the cats now.