Software Giant Microsoft launched the latest version of its Windows software on 25 October. Sting played a special gig in New York to launch Windows XP. London's Royal Festival Hall was booked for the European launch. Behind the hype Windows XP highlights Microsoft's obscene rush for profits. Company founder Bill Gates is already worth £41 billion-over £6 for every person on the planet. His company reckons that Windows XP can increase that even further.
Older computers won't run Windows XP, so Microsoft believes that people will go out and buy new ones. This would be good news for the computer makers. But the signs are that growth in computer sales is slowing. Most of the people who want a home computer, and can afford one, have bought it already. Windows XP computers won't work that much better than any other recent machine.
At work most of the software companies use really doesn't need a system powerful enough to run Windows XP. Many companies still use older versions of Windows, and older versions of Microsoft's Office software. 'XP has a fiendish new feature called 'product activation',' writes the Observer's John Naughton. 'After you've purchased and installed the software you have to contact Microsoft for permission to 'activate' it. If you upgrade your hardware XP may 'deactivate' and require you to contact Mr Gates for permission to reinstall. The same applies if you buy a new machine and desire to move your copy of XP to it. And so on.'
Microsoft would like to force companies to buy every new version of Windows and Office it produces. So Microsoft has introduced a new pricing policy which penalises companies which don't buy every single issue of their software. The company wants to move towards renting its software over the internet, rather than selling it. This policy will add millions to the information technology bill for the NHS and other public services.
'New Labour is hooked on Microsoft,' says Naughton. 'Hospital IT managers are appalled to discover that the NHS has signed a three-year deal with Microsoft without consulting them. And where the NHS goes, so too will the DfEE, the MOD, the DSS.'
Even businesses are unhappy, with extra costs of £880 million a year for UK companies. Some companies and individuals are looking for alternatives to Microsoft products. One substitute for Windows is Linux.
This software was developed cooperatively over the internet by programmers all over the world. Linux has no copyright, and is available free. Some people have identified Linux as 'anti-capitalist' software, since it's available free. Yet even though the software itself is free, once it's packaged in a glossy box with manuals it costs almost as much as Windows.
Companies like IBM make big profits from selling computers that run Linux-non-copyright doesn't mean non-commercial. We need computers that allow us to share information easily with one another. In a capitalist society the only way that can happen is by one firm gaining a monopoly and Bill Gates adding to his obscene wealth.
In a socialist society the cooperative effort that has created Linux would use systems like the internet to their full potential.