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This article appeared in print in the December 2006 issue of the FSF Bulletin.
As activists perhaps we imagine ourselves as marginally more self-aware versions of the famous frogs waiting for their soup to boil. We know the evaporation of freedom tends to approach at a slow, deliberate pace, and that those seeking its evaporation hope this recipe will maximize their efficiency while minimizing our objections.
But sometimes, the cooks get greedy. They crank up the temperature because they are late, their guests are waiting on them, and they need things to happen faster. At moments like this, we either jump out of the pot, or we cede a sizable portion of our livable space all at once. We are now facing such a moment with the release and possible adoption of Microsoft Vista, a moment where there could be a massive and sudden reduction in the freedom of computer users.
In March, Microsoft announced a $500 million business marketing campaign, calling it their “largest ever”. Much of this budget will be devoted to promoting Vista. By the time you read this, Vista will likely be shipping to large commercial outfits (though at the time of this writing we are still reluctant to underestimate their capacity for delay). It is scheduled to be available for imposition on individual users at the end of January 2007.
Already for the last several months, technical journalists have been reviewing the release candidate versions of Vista. The success of the free software movement and of campaigns against Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) like DefectiveByDesign.org can be seen in the priority these journalists have been giving in their reviews to criticisms of the new restrictions and limitations imposed by Microsoft.
To seize this moment, the Free Software Foundation has launched BadVista.org, a campaign with a twofold mission of interrogating Vista and spotlighting free software alternatives. The campaign will comprise the organization of supporters into effective and unusual direct actions protesting Microsoft's daylight theft of our freedoms, the aggregation of news stories critical of Vista, and the provision of a user-friendly gateway to free software adoption.
Microsoft Vista is an upsell masquerading as an upgrade. It is an overall downgrade and regression. It is a ruse to compel the further transfer of control over peoples' computers to an external and mysterious certification authority with peculiar standards of “genuine”. It is a ploy to artificially motivate the purchase of expensive, unnecessary hardware.
With this campaign, we will ensure that each time reporters mention Vista, they will be comparing it not to Windows XP or Mac OS/X, but to gNewSense and other free software distributions. By making our criticisms from a place of freedom, we will ensure that comparisons focus on the ethical relationship between user and software — not only on which system has the better graphical transparency or the superior benchmark performance. Our aggregation of all the bad news about Vista will be a valuable resource available for anyone trying to write an honest assessment.
In the past, we have often found that the primary obstacle encountered when asking a friend, family member, or workplace to try a free software operating system is the effort required to change the operating system at all. But over the course of the next several months, this suggestion will look much more reasonable next to the alternative — a painful and complicated Vista downgrade.
In the same vein, it is sometimes difficult for computer users without much technical knowledge to relate concretely to the reasons we in the free software movement are so concerned with the ethics of software distribution. But from the reviews we've seen so far, it is apparent that through its overt shackling of users and its boldly invasive “security” mechanisms, Vista will make our case for us, compellingly.
You can help us expose Microsoft's business marketing campaign as the “largest ever” power grab that it is. Visit BadVista.org and join the ongoing conversation about best practices to promote free software during this critical rollout attempt. Create and participate in direct actions to keep freedom at the head of the Vista debate as it comes to a boil. The movement for free software is not merely a movement against Microsoft, of course. But let's make sure their $500 million soup turns out to be a feast for free software.
Please register, so you can join the conversation and receive alerts and updates.
The official industry release day for Windows Vista was November 30. Vista will be released on users in January 2007 (or so the story goes).
With your help, we will:
- Organize supporters into effective actions protesting Microsoft's daylight theft of our freedoms
- Aggregate news stories cutting through MS Windows Vista marketing propaganda
- Provide a user-friendly gateway to free software adoption
You can help the campaign and stay up-to-date by signing up for the BadVista mailing list. We want to make it as easy as possible for you to get involved, so there are two ways to do this.
The recommended way is to have an account at fsf.org. If you've already set one of those up, maybe by donating in the past as an associate member, or in order to leave comments on the GPLv3 drafts, then you can just go to your mailing settings and check the new box for the BadVista mailing list.
If you don't have an fsf.org account yet, then it's easy to set one up. We're using a single sign-on for everything we do now, so you'll only have to go through this once. It only takes a minute, and most of the information is optional (please just leave any fields you don't like blank instead of telling us your address is 123 asdf St.).
This is a blog, and we want it to be a conversation and a community—once you're registered, you'll be able to leave comments on posts here, and we hope you will. Test it out with a "Hello" at the bottom of this post if you want.
But if you're a wallflower or none of this appeals to you, or if you are a Microsoft employee and don't want us to know that you're keeping tabs on us, then feel free to use this form.
Boston, MA—December 15, 2006—The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today launched BadVista.org, a campaign with a twofold mission of exposing the harms inflicted on computer users by the new Microsoft Windows Vista and promoting free software alternatives that respect users' security and privacy rights.
“Vista is an upsell masquerading as an upgrade. It is an overall regression when you look at the most important aspect of owning and using a computer: your control over what it does. Obviously MS Windows is already proprietary and very restrictive, and well worth rejecting. But the new 'features' in Vista are a Trojan Horse to smuggle in even more restrictions. We'll be focusing attention on detailing how they work, how to resist them, and why people should care”, said FSF program administrator John Sullivan.
The campaign will organize supporters into effective and unusual actions drawing attention to this daylight theft of computer users' rights, aggregate news stories cutting through the Vista marketing propaganda, and provide a user-friendly gateway to the adoption of free software operating systems like gNewSense (http://www.gnewsense.org) and Ututo (http://www.ututo.org).
Peter Brown, executive director of the FSF said, “Whilst Microsoft embarks upon its largest ever product launch, its marketing dollars will be spent in an effort to fool the media and user community about the goals of Vista. Our campaign will ask the important questions. Can you set yourself or your company free? Can you ever be free from Microsoft? As with our campaign against Digital Restrictions Management, we aim to demonstrate that technologists can be social activists, because we know the harm that Vista will cause”.
Among other harms, BadVista.org will focus on the danger posed by Treacherous Computing in Vista. Commonly called Trusted Computing in the industry, it is an attempt to turn computers from machines controlled by their user into machines that monitor their user and refuse to operate in ways that manufacturers don't authorize.
Supporters can sign up to receive more information and participate in the campaign at http://badvista.org.
The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software—particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants— and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software. Their Web site, located at www.fsf.org, is an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support their work can be made at http://donate.fsf.org. They are headquartered in Boston, MA, USA.
Press Contact: For more information about this announcement or to schedule an interview, please contact Peter Brown or John Sullivan at +1-617-542-5942 or <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
(This story is on digg.)
Try a Google search for Windows Vista. You'll find us on the first page, only a few notches below the official Microsoft site.
That's a measure of the amount of attention we received after the December launch. But we're not seeking this attention for its own sake. We want the attention so we can make sure the world knows about the new restrictions and problems that lie beneath the Vista eye candy, and about the benefits of the superior free software alternatives.
We spent the holidays catching up on all the feedback and press we received after the launch. One of the most common questions heard was, “How can I get involved? How can I help?” Here's how:
- Show your support for the campaign by creating an account at fsf.org and subscribing to the BadVista mailing list. If you also enter your geographic information, we'll be able to contact you about campaign actions in your area.
- Suggest news stories. You can help BadVista.org be the most effective first-stop site on the web for Vista news by letting us know about stories we have missed. Send the links to <email@example.com>, or leave them in the comments here.
- Get artistic. With the name Vista, we want this campaign to have a strong visual element. If you have GIMP/Inkscape skills, draw your own "vistas" (maybe taking the pile of discarded computers at the bottom of this page as an inspiration), or campaign logos and promotional materials. Send us the info on how to get the images from you at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Right now we could especially use some web banners that people can post to advertise the campaign, and some smaller images to go along with the blog categories as they develop.
- Send us a blog post. We already have plans to publish the work of many others from the free software community here. If you've written something that fits as a blog post with one or both parts of our mission statement, send it to us at <email@example.com>.
- Send us translations of any of the material you see on the site. We have a framework ready to go for making multilingual content available.
The second most common request we received was for a prominent area on the site listing specifically the reasons people choose free software over Vista. The beginnings of our Vista FAQ will appear shortly. And we want to hear what you think about it—what reasons and examples should we be stressing?
We are working on producing some t-shirts of our own, but in the meantime, an enterprising supporter has independently made a BadVista logo shirt available at cafepress.com.
Note that sales of this shirt do not fund the campaign, but wearing the logo does help.
BadVista shirts are now available! Purchasing them helps support the campaign and the work of the Free Software Foundation. It's also a great way to get the BadVista message out to people who don't spend quite as much time on the Internets as some of us do.
You can now keep up with both of the campaign's mailing lists via gmane.org.