Just Say No to Microsoft, by Tony Bove, ISBN 1-59327-064-X

Reviewed by: Robert Boardman, February 2006
Published by: No Starch Press
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$24.95, CAN$33.95

The title says it all for this book. The sub-title is even clearer: “How to ditch Microsoft and why it's not as hard as you think.” Right from the first page author Tony Bove's direction is clear. Interestingly as well, Bove provides about as much information for people who want or need to have Microsoft on their computers as he does for people who have or wish to change operating systems.

Bove emphasizes two things: a) how to get work done and have fun with a computer without using any Microsoft products, and b) how to avoid being tied to Microsoft (the company) even if you continue to use Microsoft products. Bove recognizes that many people do not have control over either the operating system or the applications on their computers. And he recognizes that many people are not willing to throw away their existing systems in order to change to a Mac or change operating systems to Linux. So he offers many practical suggestions for both.

For those willing to make the switch to Mac hardware and software or to a Linux (or any Unix-like) operating system the book discusses applications like OpenOffice.org, media tools like iTunes and XMMS and e-mail clients like Evolution. For some products the book offers an abbreviated discussion of installation. For others there's a web site and some brief notes. File types are also discussed, particularly in the chapter about sound and video.

The book contains several interesting stories about Bove's personal experiences with some of the most well-known figures in the computer industry including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Bove also mentions some of the history behind the development of some products. These stories can be enlightening or redundant depending on the reader's own history and tolerance for such things. Scattered throughout in framed 'sidebar' areas in the text are clippings from journal articles, notes, tips and tricks. These can be read independently of the main text and are quite useful on their own.

Unlike many who venture into this area, Bove is not willing to ignore those who must use Microsoft products. Bove understands that many people work with Microsoft products in workplaces which don't offer any other choices. Bove understands also that many people do not have the knowledge to replace operating systems on home computers or otherwise haven't chosen to purchase Macs. So Bove discusses how to avoid or turn off features in Microsoft applications that he finds objectionable: applications being conduits for information transfer to the Microsoft corporation, applications taking control of file type assignments, applications being targets for viruses and spyware. In the process the author educates readers about taking control of their own computers.

For those who are able to break away from dependence on Microsoft applications, Bove has a list of replacement applications that serve at least as well as the corresponding Microsoft products. Bove deals with issues of file compatibility from his own experience and from the experiences of others. For “Word addicts” Bove lists OpenOffice.org and AbiWord as alternatives, and PDF as the file type for information that must be shared among many users. Excel and PowerPoint can also be replaced using OpenOffice.org. There is one chapter about e-mail which focuses on various issues with Microsoft Outlook and delineates the advantages of Outlook Express over the full Outlook program. Most of Outlook's vulnerabilities are historical and can be blamed on Microsoft's design paradigms. Fortunately there are many replacement e-mail clients available. Unfortunately very few work with Microsoft Exchange servers, often a corporate or enterprise workplace requirement.

One of the last chapters is entitled “Twelve Steps to Freedom from Microsoft”, an acknowledged take-off on 12-step addiction treatment programs. It could have been much shorter. One of the strengths of the lists in true 12-step programs is their brevity. This chapter should have been limited to Bove's twelve steps and perhaps very brief guidelines with references to the other chapters.

The auxiliary information at the back of the book is useful. There are eight pages of online resources for those who are seriously committed to getting Microsoft out of their lives. There is also a bibliography for anyone who wishes to check the accuracy of Bove's quotations and stories, or who feels the need to do additional research into the subject.

This book presents an unusually rational argument for getting Microsoft off computers—certainly more rational than the typical Microsoft bashing evident in so many places. Bove gives clear guidance for anyone who wants to make the change. Surprisingly, even Microsoft fanatics will be able to learn more about their favorite corporation from this book. Recommended.

You need this. Highly recommended.

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