Looking into the FSF's BadVista campaign

BadVista is the latest in a series of activist campaigns launched by the Free Software Foundation (FSF)in the last eight months. It follows the highly successful Defective By Design campaign against so-called Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies, and an unnamed effort to encourage the activist media to make free software part of their agenda. Released on December 15, the campaign currently takes the form of a blog site coordinated by John Sullivan, a program administrator at the FSF. The site features a logo with its name over a quartered flag reminiscent of the Windows logo, but in black and with what appears to be a skull in one corner. So far, the contents is mostly the announcement of the site, an explanation of its purpose, and a news aggregate about the problems and limitations of Microsoft's Vista operating system.

However, according to Sullivan, these pieces of content are only the beginning. Nor, despite the name, is the campaign about Microsoft-bashing so much as protesting the DRM provisions of Vista and advocating free software as an alternative.

"The reason why we launched the site without the whole campaign already there," says Sullivan, "Is that we wanted the site to be a way to organize people and to get their ideas and voices involved. So we're going to be asking people to send us ideas and their reports on their [anti-Vista] activities."

According to Sullivan, the BadVista campaign had been discussed for several months before the launch. "We knew that the Vista release was coming, and that Microsoft would be making a big deal about it and had invested heavily in a marketing campaign. That made it seem like like a good moment to possibly get some publicity for free software. We had heard some of the things that are coming in Vista, and their pretty disconcerting, so we didn't want the moment to come and go without taking the opportunity to let people know about them."

In warning about Vista's restrictive technologies, BadVista parallels the Defective By Design campaign in some aspects. And, in fact, Sullivan says that BadVista will be "coordinating" its efforts with the other campaign. He explains that he sees BadVista as focusing on the operating side of the issue, and Defective By Design on the consumer device side.

Asked whether the campaign is more focused and combative than other FSF campaigns, Sullivan admits, "It is a little bit. But we did try to make clear that this just isn't about Microsoft. "

Early responses

Although less than a week old, BadVista has received no shortage of feedback. "It got a lot of positive feedback from people who agree with us that this is a big moment," Sullivan says. "We got a lot of requests for more information right away, and people wanting different organizations and resources."

"We also had responses in the other direction, as we always do with any campaign from people who are opposed to the idea of free software or don't understand where we are coming from" Sullivan continues. "But I think overall that it's been quite positive."

If Sullivan is correct, then the campaign is already achieving some of its educational resources. "We had a number of responses from people who were not aware of the extent of the DRM restrictions that are included in Vista. And certainly we had people who weren't familiar with free software or operating systems."

In fact, by tapping into some of the general media discontent about Vista, Sullivan believes that BadVista's launch may have won the FSF more mainstream coverage than it usually manages to get. "For example, we were at the top of the Google search results for Vista for a day because of a Google News item," he notes.

However, response within the free and open source software communities was often more mixed than Sullivan suggests. In the comments to news items on such sites as LWN.net, many posters questioned whether the FSF need to bash Microsoft when so many community members already did so on a regular basis. Others questioned whether the negativity implied by the campaign's name was a desirable tactic. Some contrasted the tactic to the FSF's usual approach to opposition -- as typified, for instance, by its reactions to Linus Torvalds' comments about the revision process for the GNU General Public License -- which has been to ignore the comments in public or to issue a restrained response several days later.

Asked about these reactions, Sullivan says, "I think those opinions will change to a large degree as new features on the site come out. Our mission statement also includes the positive effects of free software adoption, and I think people will be happy to see that. But I don't agree with people who think we shouldn't speak out about things that infringe on the freedoms that we think users should have. I think that [the campaign] is appropriate for the specific moment. I don't know what other place people can point to that is doing what we plan to do."

Future plans

Sullivan was on holiday when he agreed to talk, but, even so, he remains upbeat about plans to expand the campaign. He would like to add a hardware database to BadVista.org, a move that he considers especially appropriate since many people considering Vista have to think about upgrading their equipment anyway, and the requirements of most free operating systems are much lower than Vista's.

However, as though to prove that the goal of the campaign is not simply to attack Microsoft or its new operating system, Sullivan has no plans for any action to mark the general availability of Vista, which is supposed to occur at the end of January. Instead, Sullivan says, "We'll be doing more focus o how we can help with free software installs, and getting together people who are interested in installing free software with people who can help. That way, in January, rather than jumping on the Vista release and going through the problems of upgrading their systems, people can take the time to try free software."

Install fests are also another possibility. Sullivan does not rule out, either, civic actions similar to those used in the Defective By Design campaign, whose orange hazmat suits have become an unofficial trademark of anti-DRM campaigns in major American cities. However, for now, he declines to give any details about such events. "That's something that will happen by surprise," he says.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for the Linux Journal and NewsForge sites.


Bruce Byfield (nanday)


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We think this is an

Home Refurbish Course's picture

We think this is an inspiring article.

yeah...that's right!!!

poncho's picture

i had technical training for some devices and we had to trouble shoot vista with our devices online...it is a niche os and needs more attention. very much for show but not for enthusiastic use...

I can understand

Doug's picture

That Vista is just not as good as linux or windows xp. Vista is a over hyped os that is not user friendly


Xtreme's picture

To me, I think whatever the reasons people have, it all comes down to personal preferences. I understand the voices of both sides though.

Open source

Sasa Juras's picture

I prefer open source but for some specific work windows is a better platform, commonly used by far more users and accepted.

I still do not understand

Johann's picture

I still do not understand the problem that people have with microsoft/windows. I mean, if some people want to pay for there os, it is their choice. I do not support microsoft by using windows, but for me it is not a problem that they make their money with windows.

the same

profesjonalne strony www's picture

I do not support too, btw. linux is the best, and it`s totally free !!!

MS = afraid of consumers understanding and being empowered

Anonymous's picture

Microsoft does fear FOSS because once people are educated to the issues they will move in droves to FOSS. Windows issues such as Licensing, DRM, security issues, privacy, high TCO will drive this inevitability. Regardless of the basis on which these issues are grounded (economic, social, political or ethical), users will see the FOSS choice as the best one.

I like linux and I prefer it

Anonymous's picture

I like linux and I prefer it over windows. And i'm not a Microsoft fan either. But i must say, that i don't like the sound of this particular FSF project. If you have a product (Linux) you should spend your time promoting it and enhancing it and not trying to degrade your competitors product (no matter how truthful it might be).

Reasons to change

Roger Lee's picture

This is all well and good, but I think it misses the point.

ALL the people I know who have changed from Windows to a Linux distribution, of their own volition, have done so because of security. Frankly, they didn't want to change, and were only doing so because of the hassle of virus checkers, spyware checkers, etc., plus the fear that a zero-day exploit would get them anyway.

This splits, oddly enough, into two camps within this statistically inadaquate sample. Firstly there are those who've been stung - Found stuff on their PCs which is looking to harm them, such as keyloggers, plus those who have been actually scammed. Secondly there are those who simply don't like the idea that someone might be tracking/watching/robbing them because of software "installing itself" on their PC. In both cases it's a privacy thing, just before and after the inevitable problem.

When my wife (not interested in how computers work, only in what they can do for her) asked me, about a month ago, if I would set her up with Linux, she asked me if tracking cookies and similar were legal... Her second question was: Why? How? I can't help wondering if this is the angle to push, rather than the more esoteric concerns rehearsed above.

Thereafter, they all seem to like Linux, although not the administration or the "look and feel" - "Isn't it old fashioned and clunky?", or "It isn't as fast as XP on my PC" - That one surprised me too, finally my favourite: "The applications all look like Windows 95" :)

One of the really clever things M$ has done over the years is to let people who use one of their products at work install and use a copy at home. This seems to imply that they'd rather that their customers used a free copy of M$ products than get familiar with any alternatives. Those days seem to be at least drawing to a close, so the only useful contribution I can see Vista making to Linux is in its more draconian copy and piracy protection, both of itself and M$'s chums. If it becomes enough hassle to run Windows at a "discount", then I can see people taking a lot more interest in its free (as in beer) rival. Assuming this rival isn't too much hassle in itself, that is...

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I don't regard Linux as being inherently more trustworthy than Windows, although given the Ring-0 stuff that M$ gets up to that Linux doesn't, and downloaded files not being executable, I can't see Linux being vulnerable to anything like the same number of threat models, but it only takes one.

Which distribution? They all settled on SuSE (9.3 and upwards, all with KDE) except one, and they were using an iMac, although I offered several alternatives (most domestic laptops I know are corporate cast-offs and SuSE seems to like a lot of horsepower so wouldn't be my choice for that class of machine...).

For what it's worth, the thing I personally like most about the whole GNU/Linux/OSS thing is that it's probably the only thing the developed nations have given the 3rd. world which not only doesn't come with strings, but also is probably not going to make things worse for them. The fact that it can't be taken away again either, so any investments they make in it won't be "obsoleted" is the cherry on the cake.



I switched for a different reason

Anonymous's picture

This was back in 1999, when I was still a MCSE. I was fine w/ the DOS command line, having used it for years, but UNIX did scare me. The chief reason I converted back then was because I was getting tired of Microsoft locking down and keeping secret their MS Office file formats (this was w/ MS Office 97--the ones for MS Office 95 were well known). Furthermore, they broke MS Word 6.0/95 compatibility. Fundamentally, it was an issue of freedom. Microsoft was forcing, through file formats, upgrades to something (MS Office 97) that most folks, myself included, didn't either want or need.

Thus, this MCSE, scared to death of "UNIX", installed Red Hat Linux, WordPerfect 8 for Linux (the native Linux port, not the WINELIB one), and StarDivision's StarOffice 5.0. For me, it was no worse than when I had to learn Windows 95 coming from OS/2 and Windows NT 3.51 (I *hated* Windows 95's interface for months). Today, I use mostly Ubuntu and Slackware, with OpenOffice.org v2.x, and I will never go back to Microsoft. No, I did not renew my MCSE. :-)

Did I have plenty to learn after the Linux switch? Most definitely! I had *plenty* to learn, and I spent plenty of time doing it, but it's been worth it. Why? Because now I'm free. I repeat: I will *never* go back to Microsoft.


VistA is open source and making lives better

Anonymous's picture

What I would expect from the campaign is that some noise also be made about how the real Vista is being Google-bombed into media obscurity by a marketing company.

Vista is a very successful and useful project very worthy of more notice. The FSF campaign does have its heart in the right place, MS Vista is a problem on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. However, the FSF campaign does a disservice so far by drawing more attention to MS Vista instead of to the real Vista software which has been in service for a long time, making people's lives better.

Vista *is* bad, for customers, but good for Wintel

Sum Yung Gai's picture

Intel and Microsoft both benefit, but I, the customer, do not. Both companies seem hell-bent on controlling what we do with our legally purchased computer equipment, with the Treacherous Platform Module (TPM) and Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), respectively. This will do two things:

1.) get lemmings^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hpeople to just blindly go buy new computers, and
2.) lock people in yet further to Wintel.

As a man who values his own freedom, I say nuts to that. Microsoft's offerings are not in my interest. Free Software, on the other hand, has proven itself to be in my interest over many years, time and again. I'm voting with my wallet, and it's for freedom in computing. Oh, and that means I'm staying away from Apple Macs, too; Apple's just as bad.

I will be attending RMS's talk in January 2007 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It's about time I attend such a talk and thank him personally for all that he's done--and continues to do--in the name of our computing freedom.


Apple bashing is fine but...

Anonymous's picture

Hey dude (comment above) you may stay away from apple but its also based on Linux, there are many people developing OSS for it and you can run linux on the same box giving you two of the most stable operating systems in the world - however your right apple's DRM sucks it uses a chip to lock OSX users to their machines so no one esle can benefit or create custom systems with generic parts although there are projects to circumvent this and iTunes is the model of hell for downloading music I hope it dies because it also sucks as a music centre. Overall though I like apple and if you couldn't already tell I'm a user. For media apps it rules because of one fact - industry standard apps. I'm am however experimenting with Blender for 3d and GIMP for photos but I'll have to wait until someone provides a Linux Final Cut equivalent thats as good as Apple's... suggestions anyone?

Little correction: Darwin is

Anonymous's picture

Little correction: Darwin is based on BSD, not Linux...

Now paid links is different,

robienie stron www's picture

Now paid links is different, because if you pay then you are looking to get link value.

I can fully agree with you.

żeglarstwo's picture

I can fully agree with you. Few months ago we were just looking to get cheap link and there was no difference how strong it was. Nowadays we want to get stronger and stronger links to our sites.