defenestrate: v- to throw out of a window

Technically, I'm not throwing anything out of a window, but trying to throw out Windows.  I am writing this using OpenOffice on my computer which now boots Ubuntu by default. Why does a man who has been a Windows application developer for 15 years make this sort of a leap? As with many of the more questionable quests I've undertaken, mostly to see if I can. That, and frustration with the direction I see Windows taking in the future. Windows is becoming ever more burdensome to maintain, install, upgrade, and even use. At the same time Linux is getting easier and gaining support.

Many things have contributed to this decision, though the turning point may have been this Christmas. I went on a computer building and upgrading spree. In the last few months I have built four completely new systems, transferred an old one, and salvaged another from the parts of several.

First, I built myself a new desktop system. I aim for the “sweet spot” on the price / performance curve, which I consider to be slightly better performance than a mass-market computer and comfortably cheaper. I used the hard drive out of my old desktop (it was a recent upgrade) and plugged it in to the new system. I turned it on and it booted right up – to a screen that demanded my product key. Windows detected system change and wanted to make sure I wasn't stealing it by copying it to many new systems. I suppose that is reasonable, but I couldn't get to my … anything. I have “ways,” but I decided to try what the blue screen suggested and call Microsoft.

I called Microsoft support late on a Sunday evening and after a few minutes of phone trees I talked to a live person. She was pleasant and polite, asking the perfunctory question “are you using this license on any other machine?” I explained that my old computer died (because I took out its hard drive) and that I was not using that license on any other machine (which is true). I read a Very Long Series of numbers and digits and put in her replied Very Long Series of numbers and digits into some boxes. It worked. I have to say that I was impressed with the service, but I did wonder what database I had been checked in to, and what tally they kept of my activity. I also did not relish the thought of trying to do that several more times for the computers I was building for Mom or the system for my brother.

I hereby confess that the machines I built for them are using Windows keys of questionable origin. I set the systems up with an old MSDN license I have that does not track activations (Microsoft no longer does this even for developers). My confession is tempered by the fact that there are no more Windows machines in use because of this than when I started. I kept the certificates with the product keys should the need to prove it ever arise. The last straw was when I heard that my aunt purchased a retail copy of Windows because her computer was acting up and she thought she had to do a reinstall! I have purchased many Windows licenses over the years, including a Vista license I can't use because the computer I bought it on died stone dead shortly after the warranty expired. That's alright, I didn't really want Vista anyway.

Microsoft is not being unreasonable. I think Microsoft is right when they say that their biggest competitor is pirated copies of their own software. Perhaps it is arguable that the operating system is part of the computer and not a separate piece of software that I own independently which happens to be installed for convenience. That argument has never held up when Microsoft has tried to claim it. Nevertheless, their software still behaves as if changes to the system are piracy.

At work, we built five investigational medical devices that used Windows XP as the operating system. We purchased five OEM licenses to install on the machines. One of the systems came back with some issues and we took out the hard drive to analyze and archive it. When I tried to reinstall Windows on the same machine with a new hard drive, it failed because the OEM license had already been used. I am tired of the hassle.

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