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How Windows is shooting itself in the foot

24 Feb 2011

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.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 24 Feb 2011 17:51

    I’ve been an Apple user since 2003, and exclusively since 2007. I would never go back to Windows – I see my partner struggling with the sort of things you mentioned. I use a MacBook Pro (with a big non-Apple monitor, when it’s on my desk), and an iPhone, and haven’t yet thought of a use for an iPad, as the MBP goes everywhere with me. It’s always ready to use. I hardly ever switch it off – I don’t know why Windows users are always switching off their machines and then having to boot them up again.

    Applications aren’t ‘locked down’ on OS X, the way they are on iOS, by the way.

    But aren’t your complaints really about the manufacturers (nameless!) of PCs, rather than Windows itself?

    Like

  2. Matt Nicholson permalink*
    25 Feb 2011 11:00

    As you say, my complaint is indeed aimed at the PC manufacturers, but Microsoft is responsible for the contracts it negotiates that allow them to install Windows, and could restrict the ‘spamware’ they are allowed to install on top. You can also ask for a ‘clean’ install – last time I bought a desktop from Dell I specified a clean install of 64-bit Windows 7, and that’s how it arrived.

    It’s the other side of the coin – Apple is a monolithic company, delivering the whole thing: hardware and software. They have far more control over what you get in the shops.

    Like

  3. David permalink
    24 May 2011 22:03

    Hi Matt

    You might be tech savvy but you do not know the history of why a new computer is loaded with crapware. In the beginning of Windows a large cottage industry grew up around adding utility programs into Windows that added features to this new operating system. Every time Windows us upgraded all the utility programs broke or caused windows to become unstable. This caused a great headache for Microsoft so they soon added in the features into Windows. This had the effect of putting many of these small companies out of business. The other major companies who created spreadsheets, database and word processors could not come up with decent versions of their products that work for both the consumer and the business application developer. So Microsoft came out with MS Office. Soon the PC and Windows grew up and was challenging the Big Iron and Science Workstation computers than ran Oracle and Unix. These companies had ignored the little PC for many years and now were locked out of the market. So the companies lobbied the government to bring a lawsuit against Microsoft, forcing Microsoft to revise their contracts with the computer makers and make it mandatory that other competing programs were put on the desktop to give the consumer a choice.

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    • Matt Nicholson permalink*
      25 May 2011 08:30

      Many thanks for your comment! I wasn’t aware of that lawsuit but it does indeed explain the current situation. I would be interested in more details.

      Like

  4. Tony Kerr permalink
    2 Jun 2011 00:00

    As a confirmed Apple user since 1981 (with a 5-year lapse into Windows for the free software available from my employers) I’m delighted that they are now giving better value for all that money thanks to their fantastic free advice from the Genius Bar in their shops. They’ve sorted a few knotty problems that would have taken me (a non-tech-savy user) ages of reading forum posts etc. when I used Windows. I have no illusions about Apple – a profit-driven monopolist in their particular sector – but they certainly help me get on with using my computer instead of trying to understand its inner secrets.

    Like

    • Matt Nicholson permalink*
      2 Jun 2011 12:23

      That is true – it’s not easy to talk to a real person about a Windows problem unless you’re prepared to pay.

      Like

  5. Alexander Lash permalink
    5 Jun 2011 19:05

    Possibly worth noting that the Microsoft Store (the physical ones, that is to say) sell “Signature” editions that come without crapware 🙂

    Like

  6. trlkly permalink
    8 Jul 2011 08:49

    That stuff about the lawsuit is not correct. At least, they are not required to let the software already be installed, and a lot of Windows 7 involved contracting out features to help eliminate the problem of having to have extra stuff. The problem is that companies got used to putting the extra stuff on there, and still do it, when it isn’t necessary.

    The anti-trust issue is no longer a big deal, since people now accept that an OS can have a lot more functionality. You don’t see computers shipping with Firefox, now do you?

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