Book: Just Say No to Microsoft: How to Ditch Microsoft and Why It’s Not as Hard as You Think
Author: Tony Bove
Publisher: No Starch Press
Publication Date: September 2005
Info: xivi + 248
$24.95 – paperback
$29.95 PDF and paperback
Microsoft may be the largest supplier of operating systems and productivity software on the planet, but that doesn’t make it universally popular. Many computer users simply cannot imagine computing a world without Microsoft. I know any number of people with Windows PCs who believe that Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows are one and the same thing. Microsoft defines, and often limits, their entire computing experience. Things like security loopholes, viruses, and flaky driver software are all part of using a computer, like servicing an automobile or painting a house.
Tony Bove is a man with a mission: to free these people from what he perceives to be the Microsoft monopoly. His book, Just say no to Microsoft, is essentially an introduction to all the different alternatives to Microsoft products. The book’s subtitle, How to ditch Microsoft and why it’s not as hard as you think, reveals his manifesto even more clearly. For the majority of PC users, the very idea of switching to another operating system, or giving up Microsoft Office or Explorer, is enough to bring them out in a cold sweat. However, as Bove makes very clear in his book, while there are issues to consider, making the switch can increase your productivity and save you money. Financial Talk
There are four parts to the book, the first of which leads the reader through the history of Microsoft, focusing particularly on the development of DOS, Windows, and the Office suite of applications. There are also good sections on the prime alternatives to Microsoft, as far as home and office users go, Linux and the Macintosh. I am not altogether sure that the Mac chapter actually adds anything profound to the Windows versus Macintosh argument; its focus is firmly on the operating system and on the iLife programs. For many potential switchers, the deal-breakers are not so much what the Mac comes with, but what it lacks. Among the key arguments PC advocates like to use in their favour are the greater availability of software titles and the lower cost of peripherals such as printers. Bove simply doesn’t address these issues at all.
The Linux chapter is perhaps a more interesting read, if for no other reason than Linux is a more complex beast than the Mac. It’s also the operating system most strongly associated with Internet-based businesses, such as Amazon and Google. On the other hand, Bove has a tough job convincing the average, barely-competent PC user that Linux is simple enough for them to use, and I am not altogether sure that he tries. Certainly, Bove makes the case that Linux is a mature product that works well, but as with the Mac chapter, it feels unbalanced. I can’t help but feel some of the unpleasant surprises associated with Linux, like the search for driver software for things like printers, and the occasional need to tackle the command line interface, are essentially ignored. To be fair, Bove covers productivity software such as the Open Office word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation programs in considerable depth later on in the book.
The second part of the book focuses on the alternatives to Microsoft Office and the Windows Media Player. Whatever my criticisms of the earlier parts of the book, here Bove really does his homework. These are helpful, constructive chapters filled to the brim with tips on exchanging data between Microsoft applications and those of other developers, as well as giving the reader good, solid reasons for making the switch and offering some alternatives as link building services.
Nowhere does he handle this more competently than when discussing Excel, which, as he neatly observes, is for many people the equivalent of driving a Mack tuck for a trip to the grocery store. It’s also an application that isn’t especially easy to use. The surprise to many people will be how many alternatives there are out there, both open source and commercial. Back in the mid-90s, I did most of the work for my PhD using the word processor and spreadsheet modules of ClarisWorks, a program Bove oddly enough doesn’t mention.
Microsoft Word and PowerPoint come in for the Bove detox treatment, though both these programs can be difficult to avoid given how ubiquitous they are. As a freelance writer, I’m perfectly aware that most publishers treat a Word document as a standard, and expect all their contractors to supply documents in that format. Likewise, many are the conferences that I’ve spoken at where I’ve been asked to supply a PowerPoint file on a CD or Zip disk. Be that as it may, there are alternatives, and Bove makes the case for them. He rounds of this particular segment with an appeal for less PowerPoint-type presenting, something I couldn’t agree with more. The best presentations are invariably those with the fewest visual aids; as I’ve written elsewhere on AppleLust, can you imagine Churchill or Lincoln using PowerPoint?
Part three of the book tackles what is probably Microsoft’s biggest weakness, security. Whether it’s macro viruses in Word documents, spyware in the operating system, or the spiraling costs of utility software to keep your data safe, even the most hardened Microsoft Windows loyalists will admit that security is something that cannot be taken for granted. Unless, that is, you’re using a Mac or Linux machine. As Bove explains, only part of this is because virus-writers and other malefactors just don’t target computers running Linux or OS X all that much. Better design is important, too. Even if you’re sticking with the Windows operating system, ditching Outlook and Explorer will go a long way towards making your computer a lot more secure, and there obviously macro viruses are only an issue if you’re using Word or Excel.
The final part of the book is the full 12-step program for Microsoft detoxification. I like this approach; it’s probably a very fair way to view our choice of computer operating system and productivity software as along the lines of alcohol or drug addiction. The choices we think we made weren’t necessarily choices at all, but were the consequences of one or two choices made way back at the start. Bove is a little more realistic about the practicalities here than at the start when he was reviewing the Mac and Linux operating systems. Even so, this relatively lightweight segment wouldn’t substitute for something like O’Reilly’s useful Switching to the Mac book.
Being a long-time Mac user, Bove’s book is pretty much preaching to the converted. It’s hard for me to argue his basic point, that Microsoft Windows isn’t the best operating system out there. After all, I have never owned a Windows-based PC and don’t have any plans to. While I’m slightly less convinced by his arguments with regard to Microsoft Office, the alternatives he puts forward are certainly serviceable, even preferable. Bove shows how you can make the switch, and how, once you’re using the alternatives, you can carry on collaborating with those who are still using Office. More generally, his book contains lots of ammunition here for Microsoft-bashers, as well as plenty of advice for anyone thinking about making the switch. It’s a partisan piece of advocacy, rather than a balanced review, but that doesn’t really diminish the book’s value in any way. In short, an entertaining and useful read, and definitely something for Mac advocates everywhere to share with their PC-using pals.