Mistywindow’s OS Wars

The great Windows, Mac and Ubuntu shoot-outShootout

I’ve been on a mission. A mission with a degree of difficulty comparable to brokering peace in Israel by next Wednesday. I’ve been trying to break a 20-year addiction to Microsoft’s operating system.

For toolong Microsoft have been putting the screws on their customers.  They’ve been particularly tough on users outside certain favoured markets. The Windows 7 upgrade special early-bird pricing was a case in point. It was only available to North American, British, German, French, and Japanese buyers.

This is a serious kick in the teeth for millions of their customers around the world. I live in New Zealand and I owned three Windows licences. If I wished to upgrade them all I’m looking at much more serious money than I’d pay if I lived in Toronto or Yokohama. Over the years I must have bought about 30 copies of Windows, does Microsoft think I matter?

Not a bit.

That has me mad as a snake. I’m not alone. In the midst of a full-blown recession Apple’s Mac sales are significantly up and still increasing since the release of Windows 7. Many commentators put that down to Microsoft fatigue. Howls of outrage over frustration with Windows Vista were heard in every corner of the globe. It beggars belief that a company with 90,000 well qualified employees couldn’t design and build a bug-free operating system when a bunch of unpaid Linux volunteers can manage it reasonably well.

What follows are my conclusions. Your mileage may vary. I’m not trying to start a war, so if you disagree with my conclusions, that’s fine. I’d like to hear your opinion but I’m not interested in flame wars. State your case without abuse or obscenities.

The top-heavy Windows edifice has been crumbling at the foundations.

So what’s the problem?

Need you ask? Here are a few samples:

  • Blue Screen of Death fatigue, the situation has improved, but it’s still an issue for some. They should’ve based Windows on Unix — the solid foundation of both Linux and the Mac.
  • Operating systems released to market overpriced and underdone.
  • Viruses, spyware and rootkits are a constant concern. People must spend far too much time and money managing anti-malware and firewalls than they should. Did I mention Linux, Mac and Unix? To be fair, Microsoft’s new anti-malware suite, Microsoft Security Essentials is very good but in several years of mac and Linux use I’ve never used such software and I’ve never had a problem.
  • Internet Explorer remains a security threat, particularly when used with Microsoft’s disastrous ActiveX controls enabled.
  • Digital Rights Management, Windows Genuine Advantage, licensing, registration, activation. Big Brother is alive, well and watching.
  • Complicated and sluggish networking, much better with Windows 7 but the memory lingers on.
  • I own 2 Windows computers for my own use. I must buy a Windows licence for each even though I don’t use both machines concurrently. It wasn’t always so. It’s the same for Macs, but Apple have a much lower operating system price and a bargain family pack for 5 Macs. What’s more, the thought police don’t monitor your installations, so your conscience can be your guide. Apple trust my conscience, Microsoft don’t.
  • Multiple versions of one operating system: Starter, Basic, Premium, Business, Ultimate or Enterprise; 32-bit or 64-bit; retail, OEM, Student, Academic or Not for Resale. “Where will it all end?” I hear you cry. Pretty damn stupid – the cost of customer dissatisfaction and the administrative overhead for everyone from the programmers to the retailers must outweigh the extra revenue garnered from, for instance, the vastly over-rated, over-priced and under-delivered Windows Vista Ultimate.
  • System Restore, which never works when you really need it. Stick with third party imaging – better and reliable.
  • Slooo…oow bootups.
  • Over time your Windows installation gets mired down with updates, patches and upgrades; service packs, and updates of updates. Power failures or accidental crashes leave thousands of junk files clogging Windows’ gears. The user ends up trying to sprint in waterlogged gumboots. I could go on for pages listing these gripes, but you get the picture.

You don’t even own the software you paid the big bucks for! What’s more, if you’re not wide awake when you buy a PC, the sods don’t even give you a Windows installation disc so that you can re-install the software you don’t own.

Ban bugs!

Vista was disgracefully buggy when first released and, for many users, fanned the flames of a smouldering desire to abandon Windows altogether. This was nothing new to Windows Vista – XP had its own hardware and software compatibility problems when first released and earlier than that, Windows Me was a bad joke.

Many of these issues haven’t bothered me much since I discovered imaging software. Imaging is another time consuming hassle that shouldn’t be necessary, but trust me, you need it.

Not all the heartache with the introduction of new operating systems was Microsoft’s fault. Many hardware manufacturers and many third party software companies were very lax in updating drivers and software. Sometimes through lack of interest, but more often because they wish to force you into paying for updated devices or programs.

It’s not all gloom and doom for Windows however:

The good news for Microsoft’s fans and shareholders:

  • Windows still has the market cornered. User inertia helps, and there are many programs, particularly games and specialist applications, which are available only in Windows versions.
  • After SP1, Windows XP was, and still is, a good stable system and Windows 7 looks even better. Much better. I’m very impressed with Windows 7.
  • If you use imaging software: Acronis True Image, Symantec Ghost, or BootIt-NG – you can get around the security and stability issues mentioned above. Although you shouldn’t have to! Read about it here.

The bad news:

  • The Linux market share is growing. Slowly. OK, glacially so. That could change in the medium term. If the current rate of progress continues, at a certain point there will be enough users to set off some positive feedback.
  • As mentioned, the Mac OS X market share is growing quickly even during the current recession, albeit from a low base and despite the release of Windows 7.
  • For many users, Vista has been a cock-up as monumental as that of Windows Me and the Ford Edsel. Those users will take some pacifying.
  • Many business users are quite happy sticking with XP. That’s a problem for Microsoft.
  • The price of upgrading to Windows 7 is a real issue for many current Windows users. That’s the final straw that prompted me to look at alternatives. To upgrade my Windows laptop from Vista Ultimate to Windows 7 cost almost as much as buying a new full version. It’s actually much cheaper for me to buy an OEM version. That is unacceptable to me. It’s not an issue for everybody. There are special deals for some, including students, some businesses, PC vendors, and some early purchasers of upgrades.  If you only need the Home version there’s a well-priced 3-pack. But if you’re an ordinary user on a limited budget with no access to a special deal it’s highway robbery.Apple

Oh dear, what to do?

Coming soon:

The first option is Apple’s Mac. Click here for the good and the bad news about OS X Snow Leopard as a Windows alternative.

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