Um, no, software shouldn’t have kill switches or time bombs in it

So,  ZDNet is advocating that Microsoft use a kill switch to render existing Windows XP computers non-functional. Then he relented and said maybe an expiration date would be sufficient.

John C Dvorak is attacking the idea, with good reason. Dvorak is right.

ZDNet author Zack Whittaker asks why Windows XP is so popular.

It appears I’m considerably older than Mr. Whittaker, and Mr. Whittaker doesn’t have much conscious memory of previous versions of Windows.

Windows XP is popular because it was the first version of Windows that worked really well for everything. Granted, Windows 2000 was extremely good, but for home use it didn’t always deliver. Previous versions were a bad joke.

I don’t think Mr. Whittaker is old enough to remember this, but Windows NT 4.0 promised “never reboot again!” I remember it splashed across the cover of PC/Computing magazine back in 1996. The promise was a joke. A software bug pretty much forced you to reboot every 90 days, but that was actually a big improvement over Windows 95. I counted myself lucky if Windows 95 could get through a week without a reboot. If I actually tried to use Windows 3.1, I could run it for about four hours before it crashed and required a reboot. Nobody who’d ever experienced a real computer before (read: Amiga) could stand it.

Windows XP will run undisturbed for six months or more if you don’t install patches. It’s almost Unix-like. I had a problem with Windows XP once. I let it report the problem to Microsoft, just to see what would happen, and you know what? It told me what device driver caused the crash and told me to replace it because the manufacturer no longer supported it. Guess what? I did that, and haven’t had another crash since. Astounding!

I have to admit that Windows 7 looks nice. It’s interesting. I want it. But without a 64-bit Libreoffice to run on it, and without a 64-bit Firefox with a 64-bit Flash plugin to run on it, there’s minimal benefit to moving. They may come next year. In the meantime, XP works. Why mess with something that works?

But beyond that, this is a serious consumer rights issue. If I pay for a piece of software, what right does Microsoft have to come along five or six or ten years later and say, “We know you paid for that, but it’s been too long, so we’re taking that away from you?”

General Electric doesn’t reach into my living room and destroy the TV, which must be more than 10 years old. Whirlpool doesn’t reach in and destroy my dryer, which must be at least 25 years old. They’re old and outmoded, but they do the job. Badly, in the case of my dryer, but they get it done.  I get to decide when they’re not doing a good enough job anymore and it’s time to replace them.

I still have two computers running Windows 2000 kicking around. One of the systems doesn’t have a prayer of running XP, so I never upgraded it. The other gets the job done as it is, so I never bothered to upgrade it. I use it a couple of hours a week, and it’s just not worth spending all weekend reinstalling everything.

There are people out there running systems much older than that, whether it’s because they already know how to use it and don’t want to retrain, or because there’s software that won’t run on anything else.

I think Dvorak nails it. ZDNet has authors who make their living selling books that show you how to use Microsoft’s new change-for-change’s-sake software every couple of years. If those pesky XP hipsters would just get with the times, they’d buy more books, and the ZDNet pundits would make more money.

Odds are, if Microsoft ever tried such a thing, that would be the last straw that saw the majority of us switching to Mac OS X or Linux. Not that a Microsoft lackey would ever consider that a possibility.

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2 thoughts on “Um, no, software shouldn’t have kill switches or time bombs in it

  • November 10, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Dvorak is so often wrong that when he’s right, it’s kind of frightening to find yourself in agreement with him, but he IS right.

    I’ve never liked the change for change’s sake mentality. And I’ve never liked MS bashing for the bashing alone. MS isn’t the only company that updates their software. Beat them up when they deserve it, sure, but mostly they build a pretty good OS that runs on an amazingly diverse amount of hardware. Apple and the Linuxen all update yearly or even more often without a whimper from their fans, or derision from their detractors.

    And the last Ubuntu upgrade was a right pain for me (they put the close button WHERE?), and a lot of others. And when does the support end? Gasp! MS would be crucified if they tried to kill off an old OS with

    I recently retired my second to last XP box. The house is now Win7 64 bit on three computers (one of which dual boots Ubuntu 10.10), one on Vista Ultimate 32 bit (which isn’t nearly as bad as the press reports), and a lone laptop that is still XP as I’ve never used the free upgrade to Vista. My last W2K box went over a year ago.

  • November 10, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Ah, man … don’t make me go off before I’ve finished my first cup of coffee!

    We should dub 2010 (although it started in 2009) “The Year of the Killswitch”. I sold my Kindle shortly after the “remotely removing a book from people’s Kindle” debacle, and I’m still pissed at Sony for removing the OtherOS option from my PS3, a feature that is PRINTED ON THE SIDE OF THE BOX. In just the last week, when Microsoft’s “remote kill switch” in Windows 7 mobile was pointed out, their first response was to say, “Hey, Apple does it too!” At this point, it’s obvious that the technology for “them” to affect “our” devices post-purchase probably exists in every Internet-capable device. And with no laws governing this, “we” (as consumers) are at the mercy of corporations if we wish to continue using these devices.

    About a year ago I bought a laptop that came loaded with Windows 7. XP drivers for the built-in camera and touch pad simply don’t exist, so that’s when I officially began using Wndows 7. Other than the fact that they moved a bunch of things around (it’s a sad day when you have to resort to Google to figure out how to change your desktop wallpaper), I like it. I’m running 64 bit. It’s hard to judge any performance gain without reloading it with W7 32-bit and doing some testing. I have two or three apps that no longer work in 64-bit — FolderSize is one, something I’ve grown to depend on. Suck.

    I think Microsoft should do what they always do — slowly phase out support, and then let people run what they want to run. I understand where they’re coming from, just not the solution that’s being suggested. Leaving XP out there forever is a bad idea if patches aren’t being developed. Liken it to a car — you are certainly allowed to drive an older car, chances are it has no warranty, and the dealership isn’t required to carry parts for it forever.

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