How Windows is shooting itself in the foot
What follows is my editorial from the February 2011 issue of HardCopy magazine:
I recently bought myself a brand new notebook PC. It’s not something I’ve done for a while but the battery life and performance of my previous model, a dinky little JVC number that seemed so sweet when I bought it some eight years back, was no longer tolerable. I wanted Windows 7, I wanted dual-core, I wanted light weight and I wanted something with a battery that would last at least a return trip to London, if not a transatlantic flight. I dabbled momentarily with the idea of an iPad, but I needed something that could integrate seamlessly into my Windows-centric world, and I baulked at the lack of keyboard. Netbooks seemed tempting but under powered, so in the end I plumbed for a very natty-looking notebook from a very respected manufacturer who shall, for reasons that will become apparent, remain nameless.
However I was in for a shock. When I first powered up it took so long to get to a usable desktop, with so many meaningless dialogs along the way, that I thought it had become seriously infected with malware. Once the hard disk light had stopped flickering and I felt able to assess the damage, I discovered what was causing of the problem – a plethora of ‘helpful’ software that the manufacturer, in its wisdom, had seen fit to install and configure to auto-load on boot-up. There were at least two separate programs that would each contact the manufacturer’s Web site in order to fetch ‘useful’ notifications, which seemed to include not just updates but heads-up on new products and services that they had to offer. There was a program that automatically locked the hard disk if the machine was jolted – useful, but for some reason it had been installed so as to pop up a dialog informing me every time it did so. And much, much more.
In the end I spent some four hours removing or configuring these programs until I got the machine into what I would regard to be an acceptable state. You can now turn it on and get on with writing a document, browsing the Web or editing photographs without having time to make a coffee in between. What gets me is that the average customer, who is not a computer professional, does not have the expertise to do this, and ends up with a second-rate experience that is giving not only these companies (and it’s common practice with most of them) a bad name, but also Windows itself.
Because the one company that does not do this is Apple. Buy an iPad and it’s up and running straight away – the only thing you need do is connect to iTunes to get any necessary updates to the operating system. Indeed this is one of the iPad’s big selling points: ask any ‘ordinary’ customer (i.e. not a computer professional) and they will tell you that they love the way they can just pick it up and start using it, without anything getting in their way. As far as I know it’s the same with the MacBook and the iMac. We in the industry may see this as a disadvantage – Apple’s draconian application lock down – but to Joe and Joanna Public it’s a major selling point.