Sunday, August 29, 2010

Microsoft and I

I use very little Microsoft software.  For the last four years, my main machine is a MacBook Pro that only very occasionally runs Windows XP  on a VMWare virtual machine.  Before that, my main machine was a Dell notebook that ran Redhat Linux most of the time, and only very rarely did it boot into MS Windows for special needs such as when I was traveling in Mexico.  Most of my life,  I do not need Microsoft software.

I advise people to stay away from Microsoft.    Here is why:
  • Microsoft Windows purposely leave out or play down the most powerful and most important software, viz a terminal program that lets you control your machine and other servers.     The terminal program that Microsoft operating systems offer used to be called MS-DOS, and is now called cmd.    The MS terminal program does not include a most important suite of programs that allow your PC to communicate with other machines.  I am talking about programs such as ssh, scp and sftp.   To illustrate, a straightforward way to transfer files between a PC and an iPhone would be to use scp.  True, one can install cygwin to turn a Windows PC into a Unix machine.  Or, one can install a ssh client such as PuTTY.  But this begs the question as to why Microsoft chooses not to give users the most fundamentally powerful terminal program, out of box.
  • My guess is that Microsoft believes most users do not need a powerful terminal program.   Instead,  they need a word processor such as Word, a spreadsheet program such as Excel, a personal data manager such as Access, and a presentation tool such as PowerPoint.   I agree these programs can be useful.   But I find no use for Word except when a paper I publish needs to conform to the style set in a Word template.   PowerPoint has been faulted to divert people's attention from essence to trivial and flashy presentation tidbits.  See US military: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint.    I do not ever use PowerPoint even though I give many talks.  My slides are always themselves web pages such as those generated by a Google Docs presentation (Here is an example).  I do not use Access unless a client makes me.  For relational DBMS, my favorite is Postgresql.   I use Excel for very simple jobs. 
  • Microsoft software has caused a lot of grief for the world.  This bullet addresses the problem caused by its client-side computing model.  This means, Microsoft's programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access save user data to the user's PC, instead of a server machine such as in the case of a Google doc.  Many years ago, my teaching assistants would keep the students work record in an Excel spreadsheet.  When I ask for it, they would email me the spreadsheet file.  I would be helpless if my TA was not responding to my requests for the Excel file, or worse if my TA had taken off vacationing in the Himalayas, thinking she had sent me the file which never arrived.  Clearly, client-side based computing makes information sharing and collaboration difficult and problematic.  Nowadays,  my TAs and I share class grades using Google spreadsheets.  I collaborate with coauthors using Google docs.    Microsoft offers similar service in its software SharePoint.  Since I do not use Microsoft software,  I have not found any use of it.   Finally, I like to mention Evernote, which as a note taking software saves user data to both the user's PC and Evernote's servers, all transparently. 
  • Consider the afore-mentioned problems of Microsoft software,  you might think people will have second thoughts about Microsoft.  Here is the frightening fact that boggles the mind: Microsoft owns Taiwan   

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