If you've read my blog posts with regards to Microsoft here over the last few years, you many be under the impression that I hate them and their products. While I've certainly been guilty of perhaps using harsher language when talking about them here and on my show than what the situation warranted, I don't hate Microsoft, I rather think I'm just disappointed.

The early days

WOW this picture takes me back! I used to see this every day!
WOW this picture takes me back! I used to see this every day!

The fact is despite my current talk about FreeBSD, NetBSD, Slackware Linux and Mac OS X, I only really moved off Microsoft operating systems and software as late as 2003. Our first home computer had MS-DOS and Windows 3.0 with Multimedia Extensions, later Windows 3.1. We had all the Microsoft Home titles such as the beautiful Microsoft Scenes software, Explorapedia and Bookshelf; we had all the Entertainment Packs with such gems as SkiFree and Chip's Challenge. We bemoaned Microsoft's removal of Reversi from Windows 3.1 and it's Minesweeper replacement. Over the years our machines adopted Windows 95 (with Plus!), then 98, then 98 Second Edition. We skipped the Windows Me trainwreck and went to 2000.

I learned how to program using QuickBasic and QPascal. My first attempt at graphical programming was using Visual Basic 5.0. I used the first versions of Microsoft's .NET framework and learned Visual Basic.NET and C#, even though I went back to Visual C++ 6.0 afterwards without telling anyone ;-). I remember watching VBTV with Chris and Ari and loving it! The Head In The Box! Genius!!!

Suffice to say, the licences did cost us a small fortune to run all this stuff, but we were mostly happy with our machines running such software. I had got an iMac for Christmas back in 2000 but I was decidely underwhelmed by Mac OS 8. A few years previously I had given Red Hat Linux a try but was put off by the user interface; at that point I didn't understand that the graphical X server was independent of the OS and that I could swap out GNOME with KDE or something else.

The "awakening"

My Windows XP desktop from around 2002
My Windows XP desktop from around 2002

I don't know exactly when it really started, but I guess around 2002 my opinion of Microsoft software started to change. I got my beloved iBook with Mac OS X around this time. Wanting to relive the glory days of DOS (aka black screens with blinking cursors!) I opened a Terminal window and started learning shell scripting. I actually got quite good at csh before I realised nobody else used it! Later in high school I learned Python and did some Java swing programming because I secretly loved the purple metal interfaces they generated :).

During this time I also picked up my first copy of NetBSD. I didn't know at the time what the differences were between the different BSDs, or even between Linux and BSD, but the NetBSD installer and documentation looked more friendly to me, plus I read that people on the whole thought the BSDs were more stable and better written than Linux. I installed NetBSD on my now old iMac and got it working. I learned about Xorg, about Unix-like operating system directory structures, about file permissions and so forth. I was using desktop environments but swapping out the default terminals with rxvt and so forth. So forth and so forth.

It was crazy, but within a few years of this starting, by 2004 I was almost exclusively a Mac OS X and NetBSD (later FreeBSD) guy. In 2004 I also got my first proper job writing perl scripts to automate sever admin tasks at a company in Singapore. It irritated me that I couldn't open a Terminal on my Windows XP box and use it the way I could with BSD and OS X. It also bothered me by that stage that the documents I was saving in Microsoft Office were bloated and non-standards conforming.

At that point I also began to question Microsoft's direction from a usability standpoint. I didn't appreciate being treated like a criminal with product activation in Windows XP. The applications in the Microsoft Office suite were getting harder and more complicated to use, not the other way around. Their internet offerings were a joke. As someone looking from the outside of the Windows ecosystem looking in for the first time, I could see so many faults and I was dismayed at how far their previously excellent user interface standards had slipped.

The present

My Xfce desktop on FreeBSD 7.0-Release

Now we fast forward to the present. Windows Vista has been a mess (I know, I've had to fix and downgrade my fair share of them for people!), the "ribbon" in Office 2007 with its splattering of silly little icons can't be turned off (text, why can't we have text!?). My love of FreeBSD continues to blossom as I find new and exciting things I can do with it. Mac OS X and Apple computers are an absolute pleasure to use.

I've only touched on the issues of licensing as well as some of their dubious business practices, because as much as they have also affected my opinion of Microsoft to the general loathing I harbour for them now, what it all boils down to is a simple fact: Microsoft software isn't nice to use anymore.

The Microsoft I grew up with in the early 90s has long gone, but what I want to know is, what happened? Had I started using Unix-like systems back in the early 90s would my opinion be different? I guess I may never know.

My current Leopard desktop taken a few minutes ago