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Badvista: We hardly knew ye (January 9, 2009)

Translations: French, Arabic

On December 15, 2006, the FSF launched its campaign to advocate for the freedom of computer users, opposing adoption of Microsoft Windows Vista and promoting free -- as in freedom -- software alternatives. Two years later, the campaign has nearly 7,000 registered supporters, the name Vista is synonymous in the public eye with failure, and we are declaring victory.

Like Olympic marathon winner Joan Benoit Samuelson, we look at victory as "milestones on a very long highway". We have not yet convinced all Windows users or even all Vista users to switch to a fully free operating system like gNewSense. There is still much work to be done and there are many milestones to reach. But the BadVista campaign was launched to achieve specific goals, and as we bring it to a close we should recognize and celebrate what the campaign and everyone who supported it has achieved.

First, we successfully provided an entry point for those interested in Vista to learn about free software alternatives. Prospective Vista users searching for "windows vista" on all popular search engines saw and still see on the first page of results. Microsoft's attempt to create pressure on users to change from prior versions of Windows to Vista created an opportunity for us to suggest that if users were going to take the trouble to change their operating system -- something inertia often works against -- then they should switch to GNU/Linux instead. In this way, we were successful in transforming Microsoft's unprecedented marketing blitz into a moment introducing many new people to free software. Evidence of this can be seen at Free Software Free Society, a statement published by our campaign against Vista that was signed by not only over 1,600 individuals but also non-software organizations like the Green Party, Friends of the Earth International, People & Planet, New Internationalist, and Legambiente.

Second, we helped expose the restrictions Vista imposes on its users. Our Vista Watch section collected over 250 news stories describing Vista's new Digital Restrictions Management system as well as security holes and other problems with Vista that stemmed from its being proprietary software. In addition to aggregating such stories, we served as an information resource for reporters writing about Vista, giving straight answers about its restrictions that they couldn't get from Microsoft. Our campaign actions, including street protests in New York's Times Square and near Boston's Fenway Park, helped keep these concerns in the news and counter the propaganda distributed to people attending Microsoft events. Our organized labeling efforts on Amazon ensured that anyone considering purchasing a copy of Vista there would see information about its restrictions.

Now, two years later, it is apparent that Vista has missed its window for widespread adoption. Individuals, governments, corporations, universities and organizations have largely taken a pass or even abandoned Microsoft entirely. Recent numbers, for example, indicate only a 6% adoption rate by businesses. The fact that Microsoft has both repeatedly extended XP cutoff deadlines and is already promising a public beta of Windows 7 for release in early 2009 is further strong evidence of Vista's failure. In places where Vista was adopted, the reason was often coercive support contracts imposed by Microsoft -- it's going to take time for people to extricate themselves from those agreements and it is part of our long-term work to help them do so.

Thank you to all of you for making this campaign a success. We are retiring the web site and ending the campaign in order to devote more effort and resources to new campaigns that will help us reach the next set of milestones on the road toward a world in which all users can safely choose free software. Buoyed by this success, we will need all of you to continue lending your energy and creativity to this new work as together we counter the encroachments of all proprietary software on our freedoms. has both advanced this cause and shown us all what we can achieve in the future.

A version of this article by John Sullivan appeared in the Fall 2008 Free Software Foundation Bulletin.