posted by Thom Holwerda on Mon 10th Sep 2007 21:01 UTC
IconIt does not happen every day that news related to computer technology - news we report on every day - makes its way to the headline news programs and newspapers here in my home country, The Netherlands. So when it does, I am usually on the edge of my seat, simply because it offers an interesting glimpse into how 'normal' people perceive our little world. The last few days, however, that casual interest has made way for something else - tooth gnashing irritation.

When computer news reaches our news programs, it are mostly the big events that get covered. When Apple announced its switch to Intel processors, it was all over the news here. The items were a bit short on in-depth information of course, but overall, they were not badly done. The journalists and reporters in question did a good job of making it understandable to the non-geek crowd.

Other events have made the news too - the supposedly huge deal between Google and Sun, for instance. For the rest, many of the computer technology items were security related, and used to deal with the devastating Windows viruses and trojans of yesteryear (it has been relatively quiet on that front lately - luckily). Another event that made the headlines here was the release of Windows Vista early 2007.

The last few days, Windows Vista has again been making the headlines - in a negative way. The biggest Dutch Consumer Rights Organisation, the 'Consumentenbond' (Consumers' Union) did a 4 week investigation into the problems Vista posed to consumers of the new operating system. They collected all the complaints from consumers, and presented their results a few days ago.

In a month's time, the Union received about 4200 consumer complaints about Windows Vista. The complaints centre around two basic problems: application compatibility, and peripheral hardware (mostly printers) compatibility issues. The conclusion [Dutch] drawn by the Consumers' Union is that "Vista is not yet a sufficient replacement for Windows XP". The Union advises consumers to check their applications and hardware thoroughly. In addition, it also advices consumers to look out for alternatives such as Mac OS X and Ubuntu Linux.

Right. So, let me rewind that for a second, and play it back step by step.

  1. The Consumers' Union investigates problems regarding Windows Vista.
  2. They conclude that the problems centre around application and hardware compatibility
  3. They advice consumers to check their current applications/peripherals for compatibility (brilliant!)
  4. In addition, they recommend alternatives like Mac OS X and Ubuntu

Where in this list is the one thing that aggravates me as a slightly more technically inclined user? Exactly - the last recommendation. So, some of your applications may not work, and as a result, you should check out alternative operating systems? Where none of your applications will work?

Believe me, I applaud that alternatives to Windows receive more attention from mainstream media and organisations - I do not work at OSNews for nothing. I want to see a pluralistic software environment, where alternatives like Mac OS X and Ubuntu are just as likely to be found in stores and people's homes as Windows itself. But please, can we achieve that goal via the proper means? By promoting the advantages of such alternatives in a fair and meaningful way?

The Consumers' Union is seen as an authority in this country, and are often quoted by mainstream news outlets. They do a lot of good work, and help consumers well with their differences with companies - however, their recommendations in this particular case are highly misleading, and make no sense at all. People taking the Union's advice to heart will only be bitten in their behinds when they realise the advice is utterly, utterly useless - that it will not solve their compatibility problems at all. The advice can in fact turn people away from alternatives.

The only sane and good advice that can be given to people fearing or already experiencing problems with Vista related to compatibility is to wait and stick with Windows XP for now. I expected the Consumers' Union, or at least our journalists, to realise the same.

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