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20191021 Pushing out the pushers.

Nigel Morris-Cotterill

Microsoft is pushing hard, and I use the term "pushing" deliberately. It has turned the world into addicts for the product only it sells and it makes withdrawal difficult and, even, frightening. MS is also providing purported advice while, well, pushing and using fear as its tool. Today, my PC (along with millions of others I assume) woke with a splash screen telling me Windows 7 will soon be orphaned. It invites "learn more." But all addictions can be beaten...

"After 10 years, support for Windows 7 is coming to an end on 14 January 2020. We know change can be difficult, so we are here to help you with recommendations for what to do next and to answer questions about end of support."

It's not really "recommendations", though. It's an ultimatum.

"When Windows 7 reaches end of support on 14 January 2020, your computer will still function but Microsoft will no longer provide the following:

Technical support for any issues

Software updates

Security updates or fixes."

That's what Microsoft has done several times previously. Across the developing world where by far the most dominant operating system was, at one time, Windows 95 (a highly stable and reliable OS that was suited to the tech in widespread use), Microsoft left the most vulnerable with an unpatched, insecure system so that it could sell XP, a system that many IT people will remember was regarded as an IT risk because of its "phone home" capabilities. Across the financial sector, amongst other things, Windows 2000 remained in widespread use for the simple reason that it did what is necessary for business (which is a remarkably narrow IT skillset) and was robust and reliable. Many financial institutions expressed considerable concern over XP's access to their PCs and, at least initially, said, in effect, "no, we're not going to allow those on our systems because we don't know exactly what it's doing".

Then both Windows 98 and Windows 2000, operating systems that customers liked, were abandoned.

Microsoft will not permit others to maintain those operating systems. Indeed, several years ago when an Indian IT student found a flaw in the OS, he reverse engineered it, fixed it and sent the fix to Microsoft. They threatened him with legal action, reports at the time said.

Windows 7 is a much liked operating system, even though it has the phone home features (which are now so commonplace that it's almost impossible to use a PC or mobile device without them - and there is still no clear idea of what information such services collect and transmit). Microsoft has had a bad run. First there was the Windows Vista chaos: it was so awful that MS essentially rewrote chunks of it, took out some of the more rubbish parts and called the replacement Windows 7. And with that they really did get it right, albeit by stealing many of the clothes of the then current generation of Linux (not that Apple hadn't previously done the same). Then there was the Windows 8 mess with an OS that was so rubbish that many users, forced to buy it with a new PC, uninstalled it and installed Windows 7. Microsoft's response was to discontinue all channel sales of Windows 7 making it all but impossible to buy and install a legal copy.

Even worse was the moribund Windows 9. That was such a disaster that Microsoft didn't even finish it. They went straight onto Windows 10.

Windows 10 is designed for devices that the vast majority of businesses don't use, such as touchscreens. The idea was to provide a more or less common interface across desktop, mobile and tablet. Microsoft hoped that it would take away the bad taste of the utter failure of its flagship Windows Mobile and the disastrous foray into mobile phones via Nokia which, eventually, it bought. It also hoped that Windows 10 would overcome the scepticism over another failed product, the original "Surface" tablet which no amount of produce endorsement on American prime time TV programmes had managed to raise interest in. One Windows 10 user told me recently that she dreaded turning her PC on in the mornings because she had no idea what it had unilaterally decided to change overnight. She wished she could go back to W7.

The cosy relationship between, in particular, chip and motherboard manufacturers and Microsoft has never been investigated by competition authorities. It should be. There is a dominant position if ever there was one. The EU investigated Microsoft but only insofar as it was bundling services within the OS which provided inertia so users didn't buy rival products.

But the churning of hardware is the lifeblood of many tech companies. Again, for the vast majority of business users, the latest, fastest, tech is absolutely unnecessary. In concert with hardware manufacturers, Microsoft drives on, pushing not only operating systems out of date but also perfectly serviceable hardware. The effect on the budgets of businesses and the environment is outrageous.

So what does Microsoft say on its page that isn't giving advice but is pushing its own agenda? It says this:

"While you could continue to use your PC running Windows 7, without continued software and security updates, it will be at greater risk for viruses and malware. Going forward, the best way for you to stay secure is on Windows 10. And the best way to experience Windows 10 is on a new PC. While it is possible to install Windows 10 on your older device, it is not recommended."

Well, actually, that's simply not true. First, if you want security, then Windows is probably not the way to go. A hardened Linux OS will be better. And it will do everything that the vast majority of office workers use on a daily basis with no or voluntary cost. Moreover, most Linux distros, as they are called, will run on old tech for the simple reason that they are not designed with fashion in mind. When we converted all of our office PCs (save three) to Linux more than a decade ago, we had interns asking if we would put it onto their laptops in place of Windows before they left. There was, quite simply, no reason for the dominance of Microsoft.

Of course Microsoft doesn't want you to know that. I've used Suse Linux for years (and Windows 7 which I actually like and which I do need for some applications). These days, the old PC that serves as a back-up device, runs Mint. Over the past few weeks, though, I had to reinstall Windows 7 because it started to play up and none of the official fixes worked. Reinstalling has been a painful process - even Windows Update isn't working reliably now - a common feature when Microsoft wants to "encourage" users to buy the newer product.

We are probably never going to get to the state where governments compel software companies to keep their products safe. So it's up to us.

Within the next few weeks, my primary PC will become dual boot with PureOS, a hardened Linux distribution. Then, when Microsoft leaves me exposed, Windows will no longer access the internet so I can continue to use the software I have without risk. And I won't have to replace a perfectly good (and highly specified) PC.

It's the only sensible thing to do - for me, my wallet and the planet.

Read about more secure Linux options here: https://www.ubuntupit.com/15-most-secure-linux-distros-for-privacy-and-security-concern-users/
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