Anti-userism (part 1?)

I’m sure many others have already editorized about the issue, Anti-userism is a constant & growing problem facing consumers & users the world over. What I mean by anti-userism is the trait that software, hardware, & service companies have of putting the user or consumer last when it comes to priorities, in particular, in relation to their bottom line. Examples abound, but I am particularly iffed by software & hardware companies actively trying to control how a user or consumer will utilize their product where there is little or no danger of general harm coming from such “hacking”. For example, Microsoft’s announcement that Vista will not be allowed to run under any kind of virtualization scheme (e.g., Zen, VMWare, etc.) in some of its different flavors (i.e., Home).

Which, ironically, is yet another example of anti-userism, in that software is offered in different tiers, and the code separating the tiers need only be activated. It boggles the mind that the software is there, on your computer, and it is simply waiting to be activated. In other words, the software was shipped defective.

Another example of intentionally defective products are those shipped with some form of DRM – Digital Restrictions Management (some would argue the “R” stands for rights, but I usually think of rights as relating to freedom, and not to control). Now, this feature affects me less than it does most, I imagine, because I generally don’t listen to any kind of music or watch any kind of movies that I can avoid, but I can still be affected if I try to download a useful audio or video clip, only to find it is not viewable except through a proprietary viewer, and then only if it is has been “unlocked” (through a technique by which my computer, rather than the file, is altered). Defective by Design is a website setup by the Free Software Foundation that explores this issue more in-depth.

One can argue that anti-userism is a dysphemism (I didn’t make that word up!) for policies of capitalism & ensuring a consistent profit. I honestly wouldn’t argue with that point, and in fact, I would further go on to say that therein lies part of the problem. Many have argued that a purely capitalistic society would evolve into one that is well-suited for both producers & consumers, because mistreatment of consumers would lead to the abandonment of the company by its customers towards a competitor that treats its customers better. However, this makes the assumption that there are competitors (most of the companies that engage in anti-userism are in pseudo-monopolistic stations within their industry) and that consumers & users can actually make that jump in the first place. In a society where people are raised from an early age to be “good citizens” by being ravenous consumers, what really guides people is their wallets, and if an anti-useristic product is seemingly cheaper on the wallet in the short run, you’ll find little hesitation from most people.

This extends beyond simple dollars-and-cents, because alternatives almost always exist that are both freer as well as more pro-user, but the accumulated inertia of existing systems (e.g., Microsoftopoly) makes the jump to said alternatives extremely difficult – if not in actuality, then in imagination (e.g., infrastructure overhaul, additional training for employees, hardware migrations, etc.). What is left out is that such steps almost always need to be taken even when staying with the same solution, so the point becomes moot.

I have plenty to say on this topic, and I may choose to stretch this out into a multi-part post rather than extoll on all the points at one time. Comments, agreeable or disagreeable, are most welcome!

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