Should We Trash Windows Vista – or BadVista?

The world and their dog seems to be talking about Windows 7 at the moment. Ironically, in part that's because it's proving almost impossible to download the beta that has just been released: you can't help feeling that Microsoft has let this happen on purpose just to create a little demand. But while everyone is looking forward, I want to look back, at Windows Vista – more specifically, to the FSF's BadVista campaign.

As the site explains:

On December 15, 2006, the FSF launched its campaign to advocate for the freedom of computer users, opposing adoption of Microsoft Windows Vista and promoting free -- as in freedom -- software alternatives.

Two years later, BadVista is shutting up shop – for the best possible reason:

the campaign has nearly 7,000 registered supporters, the name Vista is synonymous in the public eye with failure, and we are declaring victory.

Something to rejoice about, you might think. But not everyone agrees. Over on Twitter (where you can follow me at @glynmoody if you're so inclined), there were some interesting comments to the effect that BadVista's declaration of victory was in poor taste and rather childish, and that it would actually damage the free software movement by giving an impression of pettiness.

Given the fact that Windows Vista is, without doubt, one of Microsoft's most high-profile damp squibs – remember, this is the central product for the whole company, heir to Windows 95 and Windows XP – I think it is important to evaluate in what way BadVista may have contributed to the debate. If it's a useful approach, then it might be applied elsewhere; if not, then it's important not to repeat its mistakes.

The BadVista site makes some claims about what the campaign has done:

First, we successfully provided an entry point for those interested in Vista to learn about free software alternatives. Prospective Vista users searching for "windows vista" on all popular search engines saw and still see on the first page of results.

The latter is an objective fact, so we can certainly concede that point. The first is also probably true, though it's harder to gauge how much impact that “entry point” has had on the general public.

But I'm not so sure about the next section:

Microsoft's attempt to create pressure on users to change from prior versions of Windows to Vista created an opportunity for us to suggest that if users were going to take the trouble to change their operating system -- something inertia often works against -- then they should switch to GNU/Linux instead. In this way, we were successful in transforming Microsoft's unprecedented marketing blitz into a moment introducing many new people to free software.

I frankly doubt that many people were introduced to new software through the magic combination of Microsoft's actions and this site. Moving from Windows XP to GNU/Linux is a big step, and most people have clearly preferred to stick with XP for the moment (which is why Microsoft had to extend the cut-off date for its availability several times.) Any increased market share for GNU/Linux is more likely down to the success of the ultraportable/netbook form-factor, which was created using free software, and still uses GNU/Linux to offer the lowest-price models.

The BadVista site goes on:

we helped expose the restrictions Vista imposes on its users. Our Vista Watch section collected over 250 news stories describing Vista's new Digital Restrictions Management system as well as security holes and other problems with Vista that stemmed from its being proprietary software. In addition to aggregating such stories, we served as an information resource for reporters writing about Vista, giving straight answers about its restrictions that they couldn't get from Microsoft.

This is an important point. One of the striking things about Microsoft Vista is how widespread across the media the view is that it has failed. Aggregating stories about its shortcomings and lack of uptake creates a kind of informational momentum that is hard to resist. It's also true that once reporters start to smell blood, they will look for (a) factual corroboration and (b) contrasting comments. BadVista has usefully provided both, feeding the growing body of evidence back into the journalistic machine to fuel further reporting – a classic positive feedback loop.

As to the accusation of Schadenfreude, FSF activists can perhaps be forgiven a little triumphalism. Not so much because victories are rare in this sphere – they are becoming commoner by the day; rather it's a matter of giving Microsoft a taste of its own unpleasant marketing medicine. It has consistently been arrogant and dismissive towards free software, and being able to rub its face in the failure of Vista must be sweet for those who have worked hard to help make that happen.

That said, I think it would have been better to have forgone this easy pleasure. Had the FSF post avoided facile declarations of “victory”, or vague claims about introducing people to GNU/Linux through this campaign, and concentrated instead on the very real achievements – in the media sphere, for example - people would probably have been even more impressed. Better to emphasise the superiority of free software and its supporters by rising above Microsoft and its tactics.

Against that background, and with the appearance of Vista's successor, now would be a useful time to ponder how such campaigns should be waged in the future. Is this focus on negativity a useful way to go about things? If so, should the FSF be preparing a BadOffice site, or BadWindows 7 site, or are their better targets? If not, might it be more effective to adopt a more subtle approach, creating targeted resources for journalists so that they can present the other side? Any views?

Glyn Moody writes about free software at opendotdotdot.


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An Important Document to Study in this Context.

Anonymous's picture

Free Software is basically at war with Microsoft - and in war, it is necessary to know your enemy. The following document provides some insight into the mind of the enemy, and should be borne in mind when considering strategies to use against him:

Of course, the aim is to provide the best software. But we are at war - and we shouldn't forget that.

Wonderful Linux + Firefox

El Perro Loco's picture

This post may seem a bit off-topic here, but please bear with me and read on.

I am an insanely voracious Web surfer. No, I am not psychologically imbalanced or anything of the sort. I have a reason to do as much Web surfing as I do. All in all, I keep *dozens* of Firefox windows and tabs open at the same time. I have to.

One of these days I had an awful lot of such windows and tabs open, and something caused Firefox to crash. It simply disappeared from my screen (running Ubuntu 8.04 and Firefox 3.0).

I was p#ed off, and thought I had lost one day's worth of work.

Then I put myself together and, resigned to the situation, opened Firefox again.

I was greeted with a message that read something like "Firefox shut down unexpectedly. Would you like your previous pages to be loaded again?" Utterly surprised, I clicked on the "Yes" button and, before my eyes, Firefox reloaded all the pages, with the same windows and tabs. Basically, everything that had been there before the crash was back - "alive" again. I had lost nothing!

I was amazed. Good software is good software. It does not need marketing hype to be good. It is like leading by example. Once you see it working you realize how bad that "other" crap is.

So, finally, my points:

1) Some posters here have said that "Windows (Vista or 7) ain't that bad", and "Yes, I use it and like it (Windows)". Well, I'd like to see Windows + Exploder do what I just described Linux + Firefox doing. Had I been using Windows and other Windows software, I would had been left with a frozen or crashed machine and lost many, many hours of work. So, when it comes to stability and getting work done, Windows is no match to *nix-based installations. It's just easier to eat candy (and get instant satisfaction, and cavities and diabetes later) than go with a healthy diet to live longer and better.

2) Still, it is not necessary to go the "Mission Accomplished" way. It is better to work hard, be reliable and dependable, show concrete results, be open and trustworthy. That does it.

OK. Flame on.

I'll be the one to break it

Anonymous's picture

I'll be the one to break it to you: Firefox does the exact same thing in Windows.

Fantastic Firefox

El Perro Loco's picture

So, even *in spite of* Windows? Boy, Firefox is still better than I thought! :-)

*Yawn* That's the best

Anonymous's picture

*Yawn* That's the best retort you could come up with? You thought Firefox was a "Linux" application? It is an open source project heavily funded by Google, which is the only reason it has caught on as it has.

Who is Anonymous?

El Perro Loco's picture

To the witty poster that calls himself Anonymous (you could at least have called yourself La-Z-Boy, right, moron?):

1) You must love reading my posts to call me to the fight like that. Grow up. Before you yawned at me, I yawned at you, but you seem to be too dumb to have noticed it. Irony is lost on some people.

2) If you assumed that I was saying that Firefox is a Linux-only application, then you have a loooooot to learn. If I have to spell the entire story "ab ovo" for you to understand my post, you are a lost cause and I am not going to waste my time on you. Not worth it. You have to learn and grow up first.

3) Who cares who is funding Firefox? (It is also heavily funded by *users*, BTW). It is open-source, it is honest, it works, it is a good product, you can mess around and play around with it, you can tweak it, you can learn from it, you can have fun with it, and it is waaaaaaaay safer than Internet Exploder - which, like 'goblin' says in another post, is backed by the biggest pile (good word, here) of money in the industry.

4) Last but not least: you seem to be the kind of person who likes to bring it down to the personal level. Before I get sucked in the stupid game of personal attacks and name calling, I'll stop answering/replying/retorting (to) you. Go to your corner, face the wall, think very hard, and don't leave until you start developing a mind.

Before you get into name

Anonymous's picture

Before you get into name calling, after saying "moron?" You are obviously uneducated and lack basic social skills. You are just another typical keyboard warrior, internet tough guy. I'll leave you to the solace of your parent's basement where you can type all the maniacal diatribes you like.

As opposed to...

goblin's picture

As opposed to what? IE? You know that IE is backed by the biggest pile of money in the industry, right?

Vista vs. Windows 7

Fria's picture

I downloaded Windows 7 beta over the weekend and gave it a spin on the same computer I've been running Vista. In all honesty, I can't tell the difference aside from a few cosmetic changes. I would say it's 98.5% the same. What that means to me is that it's good, it's very good. But I will stick to Vista because it's also very good. In fact, I kind of like the slightly different Vista toolbar a wee bit better.

I was always confounded by those people who said they tried Vista and thought it was horrible. My guess is most hadn't and were going by the opinion of a friend of a friend of a friend. But now that Windows 7 is receiving rave reviews, it baffles me even more. In my opinion, if you have Vista, there's no need to trash it or upgrade.

A rare factual comment in a

linuxjnl's picture

A rare factual comment in a Linux forum! You are exactly right; a majority of the people who claim Vista "sucks" have never used it. They go by what their Linux-using friends say and by what they see in the Mac commercials.

It's also very tiring to read all these claims of the BSOD in the Linux forums. Unless you are still using Windows 98 or maybe pre-sp2 XP, there are no blue screens going on. If you are getting all these blue screens in Vista then you yourself have done something to screw up your machine.

Nonsensical FUD is not going to advance the Linux "cause". That itself is the problem; normal people don't want to join a cause or a movement. They want their computer to work.

BSODs and OOPSes

nixkalo's picture

Vista SP1 (preinstalled by my company IT)
No "strange" software, just Office 2007 (also preinstalled)
Started a document, went to lunch, found a BSOD when returned.

OTOH, I also have found kernel oops sometimes on my debian systems.

Maybe it's me?

Read more carefully, I said

Anonymous's picture

Read more carefully, I said "pre SP2"

Read more carefully, you say

Vkor's picture

Read more carefully, you say "pre-sp2 XP", he says "Vista SP1."

I've used Vista Business edition for about 2 months, no BSODs, but I've found the filesystem permission politics a lot tricky, and sometimes it's not easy to figure out how to install new software, like run as admin and modify some system folder writing permissions, it wasn't user friendly. (

And once again: what are the security advantages of "Run as admin", without prompting for password? It simply creates the bad habit -- "It doesn't work? Then try running it as admin!" Not a good thing to do.

My Mistake

linuxjnl's picture

My mistake, he did indeed say Vista SP1. Sorry nixkalo.


Ken Holmes's picture

There are users who love Vista. However, those are the adventurous ones who don't mind change. Many users became familiar with the Windows XP interface. In fact, XP allows users to return to the classic interface that was more like W2K and even like Windows 9x. The interface on Vista requires some reorientation. Many users didn't feel comfortable with the interface, regardless of Vistas charming attributes.

Sophomoric behavior

Ken Holmes's picture

Perhaps the BadVista campaign was not the best idea. Personally, I am not against negativity. Rather, it matters how things are presented and how things are interpreted. Of course, the message received is as important as the message sent. In a universe of subjective thought the two are not always the same. If BadVista has caused a problem for FOSS it is because the subjectively too many people prefer Microsoft's sophomoric behavior. Let's "get the facts". I, for one, still have a copy of the full page ad Microsoft took out in a German magazine, the one that showed four fantasy creatures, all of which were supposed to be the evolution of Linux. Linux has evolved, not enough to overcome the subjective bonding many have with Microsoft, but enough to piss off Microsoft and Microsoft schills. I mean, "Windows 7 will crush Linux". No doubt Window 7 is supposed to crush the spirit of Linux and FOSS developers to the point they sink into morbid states of depression and give up completely. Windows 7 is the weapon to end all resistance and annihilate the enemy. My point is that there are other variables at work. Consider the battered wife or abused child that defends the abuser and devilifies anyone who expresses otherwise.

No more negativity PLEASE

Panic's picture

No more negativity campaigns.. It makes the opensource movement look bad!

It didn't work for Hillary, it didn't work for mccain and it won't work for the FSF.

GNU/Linux can stand proud on it's own without stuff like the badvista campaign spattering it's image.


Mike S's picture

These days I take every opportunity to turn people away from Microsoft and to Linux.

My own transition to Linux took place over the last 18 months, both for home and for work, entailing a lot of research on the subject. Along the way I encountered every opinion under the sun with regards to operating systems.

Until today I'd never heard of BadVista. Did they really get the amount of publicity that they claim? I doubt this publicity benefits the Linux community anyway.

Who cares?

goblin's picture

Why are you guys discussing something as irrelevant as Windows Vista and Windows 7? Is Linux dead or something?

To the general public, Linux

linuxjnl's picture

To the general public, Linux and its ~0.94% market share for all of its 50,000 distros combined does not exist. You can tell yourself that Windows is "irrelevant" if you want to, but it's what everyone in the world uses.

Proving my point

goblin's picture

And dude, you prove my point by sneaking around here on Linux Journal, instead of spreading your "wisdom" at a Windows site...


linuxjnl's picture


I don't know how I'm

linuxjnl's picture

I don't know how I'm "sneaking". I have a Linux Journal subscription and use Linux and Windows. I know you can't fathom that someone can use an OS without joining a crusade.


goblin's picture

What crusade? The aggression comes from you, I'm merely amused by your posts :-)

Keep up the good work!

Aggression? "Dude", I think

Anonymous's picture

Aggression? "Dude", I think you need to step away from these forums a bit and stop taking things so personally. :-D


goblin's picture

Please have a look at the user linuxjnl's posting history. You'll see what I mean. This guy is not here for the good discussions about Linux, he's here to troll.

And what's with the "dude" thing? Do you prefer "comrad", or maybe "bro'"? You don't expect me to address this troll as "linuxjnl" ~ "Linux Journal" do you? I hope it's obvious he took that name to cover his lack of credibility...

"Dude" :-)

Which market?

goblin's picture

Which market are you referring to? Embedded? Mobile? Phone? Server?
Can you back up your claim with statistics?


linuxjnl's picture


Ignoring the future

goblin's picture

OK, so you need to ignore embedded, server, mobile, etc. markets in order to come up with a figure, that you can't even back with an actual, independent, trustworthy report on market share?

Are you for real, or are you just trying to make Linux critics look bad?


goblin's picture

Double posting...

Here is a serious question:

anonymous's picture

Here is a serious question:

Why is it not possible to use/support Linux and to also be honest about its shortcomings? I've been using Linux for a couple years, and dual-boot Ubuntu and Windows on both of my machines. There are aspects of Linux that are better than Windows (Package management, lack of viruses/malware). There are however, aspects Linux that are in dire need of fixing (the sound situation, video drivers).

Any time I, or anyone else, point these things out, we are accused of "working for Microsoft (oops, I mean Micro$oft)", "spreaking FUD", not understanding Open Source, never having used Linux, etc.

It is a very petty thing...

Minouris's picture

...And proof, once again, that the biggest enemy to free software is not Microsoft, but the free software community- the ones that continue to give the rest of the world the impression that free software supporters are a bunch of vindictive zealots every bit as rigid and inflexible as the people they claim to be snatching back "freedom" from- in short, the likes of Stallman and co aren't interested in our freedom to make choices- they're interested in us being free to do what they say, think what they tell us, and attempt to make us force an OS on our friends and family that, frankly, they'll have very little use for and find strange and unfamiliar.

Let's not try and force our views and our software on the public until it's ready for the public to use, eh? We need usability experts and good PR people, not a bunch of guys with an overinflated sense of superiority and entitlement gloating.

You think that 7,000 zealots

anonymous's picture

You think that 7,000 zealots accomplished something? Most normal people have never even heard of the FSF (how did their crazy Apple Store harassment go, by the way?)

Linux with all 18,000 of its "distros" equal ~0.94% market share. Improve Linux rather than crying about Windows.

Stallman on an aircraft carrier?

theillien's picture

Will that be image most remembered of the campaign? A banner behind him stating "Mission Accomplished"?

I think it should also be pointed out that most of the negative views of Vista can likely be attributed to two things. First, their failure to deliver on time. I lost track of how many times we were told when Vista would ship and subsequently got pushed back. Second, it had hiccups out of the gate which were quite frustrating.

When I bought my laptop it came with Vista and yes, it had problems. Annoying problems. Then came a slew of patches which were a huge step toward a better running OS. Since then my laptop has been stable and, for the most part fast. There are still a few annoyances but nothing that gets in the way of using the system. In fact, for the first time ever, I have gone two years without reinstalling Windows. I'm not a big Microsoft fan but I can't argue with that kind of performance.

Besides shooting itself in the foot Microsoft was also dinged by outside forces such as the I'm a Mac commercials and probably to some degree However, in all fairness and putting aside the fact that it is Windows, Vista has received some unfair press in my opinion.

Tact and diplomacy

El Perro Loco's picture

I am an absolute supporter of FSF.

However, I still say: lose graciously, win graciously.

Yeah, that was childish...

Don't Like Negative Campaigns

waparmley's picture

I find negative campaigns off putting. I am in general agreement with the comments (below) by Mike Roberts.

We might better spend our efforts in making reasoned responses and corrections to articles such as this recent one in the NYT:

Nice to have the exposure, but I find references to "the often quirky software" and comments such as "updates to Linux can send ripples of problems through the system, causing something as basic as a computer’s display or sound system to malfunction" to be unreasonable.

Nice to have the exposure,

Anonymous's picture

Nice to have the exposure, but I find references to "the often quirky software" and comments such as "updates to Linux can send ripples of problems through the system, causing something as basic as a computer’s display or sound system to malfunction" to be unreasonable.

So spreading FUD about Vista is fine, but when someone points out the truth about Linux, that's "unreasonable"?

Nice to have the exposure,

Anonymous's picture

Nice to have the exposure, but I find references to "the often quirky software" and comments such as "updates to Linux can send ripples of problems through the system, causing something as basic as a computer’s display or sound system to malfunction" to be unreasonable.

So spreading FUD about Vista is fine, but when someone points out the truth about Linux, that's "unreasonable"?

To borrow from Doc Searls'

Mike Roberts's picture

To borrow from Doc Searls' recent post, "Screw popularity. Just make yourself useful". Linux is obviously useful and will continue to be so as long as the community spends its time working to make it better and not bashing the alternatives. I've always been drawn more towards products that show me what they offer as opposed to showing what they think are failures of their competition. Like others making a living in this business, I can and prefer to do the comparisons myself. I'm sure they have tallied the clicks they got via BadVista but I have to wonder how many folks were turned off by it and clicked elsewhere.

Mike Roberts is a bewildered Linux Journal Reader Advisory Panelist.

As far as I'm concerned, the

Josh's picture

As far as I'm concerned, the FSF can take their childish campaigns elsewhere (and, on your way out, take that lame "GNU/Linux" term with you). Microsoft is anti-consumer and many people know that, but that is not a good enough reason to switch operating systems. If the free software nuts spent half as much time improving Linux and the user experience as they do talking down to us about what should and shouldn't be free, more people would switch.

Windows 7 already crashing

Bill Smith's picture


Glyn Moody's picture

I'm just wondering how things can be built on/improved.


Peter's picture

Words often evoke emotional responses so taking care to choose constructive ones is important. Perhaps "success" would have been a more effective descriptor than "victory". The FSF and its campaigns are typically a class act - factual, honest, and worthwhile for computer users to pay attention to. If this triumphalism is the worst we ever see, then that simply reinforces the fact.

Full disclosure: I'm a FSF supporter but didn't work on the BadVista campaign.