Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Vote Windows, for No Tax On Sheep!

Once upon a time, so I have heard, there was an Australian politician who ran on a platform of "No Tax On Sheep". None of the other candidates would have dreamed of trying to tax sheep. Nevertheless, our hero won by a landslide.

Its a nice trick; claim a common virtue, not because it differentiates you, but because it casts a subtle doubt on whether your competition has the same virtue. It involves no actual lies, and you don't even need to name the competitors; they are all equally suspected, and must either ignore you or issue hasty and unconvincing claims to be just as good.

Advertisers love this one. In advertising "knocking copy" is the term for pointing out the defects in your competition. But blatant knocking copy is usually counter-productive: potential customers see it as mean, and it also carries an implicit message that the product you are knocking is a significant competitor (otherwise why spend money knocking it). But the "no tax on sheep" strategy neatly sidesteps this; you don't name your competitors and you don't say anything bad about them. You merely imply that they are not as good as you.

So its no surprise to see Microsoft using this strategy against Linux. The Microsoft page on Netbooks has this to say on why you want Windows on your Netbook:

For starters, you already know how to use it. Windows also works with more devices and applications, and offers security features to help keep your PC and personal information safe. Here's a whole list of other Windows benefits:

  • Windows makes your life simpler. Windows is easy to set up and use. You already know your way around, which means you can get started right away and easily find everything you need.

  • Windows just works with your stuff. With Windows, it's "plug and play"—meaning it works out-of-the-box with your PC applications and peripherals such as printers, digital still and video cameras, music players, and webcams.

  • Windows gives you peace of mind. Windows comes with features and tools that help keep your family and personal information safe. When you install Internet Explorer 8 as your Internet browser, you get additional built-in security features that help protect against deceptive and malicious websites.

  • Windows comes with more goodies. With Windows running on your netbook PC, you get access to additional software and services provided for free, like Windows Live services, which help with photo editing and organization, instant messaging, and family computing safety—all of which are just a download away.

I've highlighted the items which (in my opinion) apply to Linux as well. About the only thing I can't honestly claim is the "Windows is familiar" line. I can't deny that if you have only ever used Windows then Linux is going to be a bit different. Its not huge, but there is no point pretending its zero either.

So, I wonder, how could we turn this trick around? What can we say about Linux that casts doubt on Windows? To work, the implication has to be something that is truthy, regardless of how true it actually is. How about:
  • Won't send your files to the US government. Linux has no stealth functionality, and it wasn't written by people with big Government contracts.
  • No Blue Screen of Death! Linux was designed to be reliable.
  • Puts you in charge. You decide what software to install, and if you don't like it you can always remove it.
  • No extra fees just to get a feature you thought you had already bought.
But of course none of this will work in reality. Deceit of any kind and open source are fundamentally incompatible.

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