Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why Windows Suck !

     It’s a universally held opinion by most PC users on the planet that 'Windows Sucks'. Most couldn't back this assertion up with concrete evidence though and most anti-Windows comments are actually blatantly wrong or refer to problems long fixed.

     Windows, from a usability point of view, has also come a long way. When you get over the rabid Microsoft hating fervor gripping most people you’ll come to realize that its actually a very well thought out GUI and if looked at from a objective usability based point of view, you can see the time and effort that has gone in to trying to make it as easy to use as possible. Its certainly miles ahead of the Open Source competition.

     But Windows does suck, and the reason is the software. For the uninitiated Windows software installs via an executable file (setup.exe usually) that places the main program files in the directory program files and then places a shortcut, or a folder of shortcuts in documents and settings->all users->start menu. The installing software has complete access to all areas of the hard drive – there are absolutely no limitations on what it can access and where it can put things. The software also generally saves settings in the Windows Registry (a centralized point of failure) via Windows APIs.

     Of course sometimes programs do what they want. If some software wants to install itself in the root of c: (an incredibly bad place to put it) - its allowed. The fact of the matter though is that programs can install themselves anywhere they want, add as many icons as they want to any place they want - and even delete anything that they want.





     The problem with this is that programs think they are much more important than they actually are. Quicktime, which isn't even the worst, and which 99% of people only have to use very occasionally watch a QuickTime file, installs a system tray stub (for settings and fast launch) a Quick-launch icon and an icon in your start menu. Not only that it also runs an updater in the background that'll alert you when new versions of the software come out. Its bundled with iTunes also (you don’t get a choice in the matter you've got to download both) which also gives it a quick-launch icon. I now have 3 icons taking up room on my start bar, some more on the desktop, a constantly running process (quick-launch and auto-update) and a mp3 player when all I needed was the ability to play QuickTime files.

     If just one program does this it is not so bad but even things which don’t even need an icon do it. Acrobat for example puts shortcuts everywhere, features a quick-launch and auto-updater (which I will go into in a minute) yet the only time Acrobat files are actually used is either integrated into the browser (so no launch button is required) or if you open a PDF (double clicking on it opens it in acrobat). Yet icons are everywhere.


     The auto-update mentioned in the previous paragraph is a classic example of the bloatware PC's face. Yahoo! Toolbar for Internet Explorer now automatically adds itself to the 'Critical Updates for Download' box beside the 'Security Update for Acrobat'. You can't remove it either, you have to remove the Acrobat update (which removes Yahoo) then re-add the Acrobat Update. The fact I have to go out of my way to separate junkware from valid security downloads is disgusting.

     Yahoo Messenger also now has a nice feature whereby the 'Load this program automatically on startup' button is grayed out unless you log in with a valid Yahoo account. So if someone installs Yahoo Messenger on your computer you can't actually stop it starting whenever you log in to Windows unless you sign up with yahoo, sign in, and then disable it. This wasn't a feature in earlier versions either. Skype goes one step further and simply doesn't give you the option of not starting automatically - If it *does* give you the option I couldn't find it!

     Unfortunately every single bit of irrelevant software nowadays has its own autoupdater, quicklaunch, system tray and start menu icons if it actually needs it or not. Now add RealPlayer (which is one of the worst for it), AIM, MSN, Skype, the usual collection of toolbars foisted on you, the half dozen more pointless icons added by your scanner, printer, OEM and mouse and you've got a slow booting computer with irrelevant icons repeated all over the place (and no room to view running programs) all popping up alerts, news, updates and generally getting in your way. You have to manually delete several dozen or so icons and then try to figure out where the 'stop annoying me all the time' button is buried on each one. It is generally buried fairly well too.
To add the icing on the cake the uninstall process is also handled by the software - Windows has pretty much nothing to do with it. If the installer wants to leave icons everywhere, it does. If it wants to remove key system files or leave software running in the background and not tell you about it, it can. It can even just not work entirely leaving you no decent way of getting rid of it. Installing things in Windows is generally a permanent move.
Most people don't even realise that it’s not meant to be like this - they just think that it’s the way it is and just learn to live with it. I have no idea why software installers are given 100% free reign over your PC, but they are. It’s as big a problem as spyware and it’s the main, large IT companies that are responsible. Sun has even recently declared a public partnership with Google - probably to try and install Google Toolbar whenever you install OpenOffice or Java as MSN’s toolbar (foisted on you by MSN Messenger) and Yahoo's toolbar (Critical Update by Acrobat Reader) may not empower your browser quite enough on their own. It is misbehaving software (and installers) that are responsible for 99% of the unstable, unbootable and otherwise slow to the point of unusable Windows computers.

     Windows without any untrustworthy 3rd party software is as stable as it realistically needs to be 'Windows crashes a lot' is no longer a valid insult - in fact it’s a lie. The last time I saw a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) was when I took a modem out without shutting down the PC first (you cannot really blame Windows for that). You will generally only see a BSOD in the event of hardware failure (not Windows fault), because of a bad device driver, (not Windows fault) or because a 3rd party piece of software has screwed the OS (partially Windows fault).

If the software install was not such a treacherous process, if programs didn't have complete reign over your PC and you could actually uninstall software without worrying about your PC actually starting next time you turn it on Windows might have a chance of being a decent OS. Until then it sucks.


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