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10 stupid things that exist because of Microsoft

Michael Brown   September 18 2010 02:29:40 AM


They shouldn't exist because nobody in their right mind should be using Windows in the first place.

Here, in order, is what they know how to do if you have a problem:
  1. Restart the application
  2. Restart the Operating System.
  3. Restart the box.
  4. Deinstall, then reinstall the application
  5. Wipe the drive, reinstall the operating system (including service packs) then reinstall the application (again).
  6. That's it.  If none of that fixes it, then the problem cannot be solved.  Time to shrug your shoulders, tell the users that it's "one of those things and can't be helped" and log a job with Microsoft.

Okay, they're not all lazy and stupid; I've worked with some great ones in the past, in fact.  But the bad ones are really bad.  Not only are they incompetent, they're also arrogant and relentless in driving their own pro-Microsoft agendas at every opportunity.  To them, the Microsoft solution, in whatever field, is the default one, and any diversion from that path borders on heresy.  I knew one guy who actually quit the company, saying that "working with Lotus Notes is harming my career".  I had some respect for his position, even if I didn't agree with it.  I only wish that some of his colleagues had followed his path rather than staying behind and attempting to throw a spanner in the works whenever they could.

Mapping Drive Letters

Yep, this is still an important task in any Windows shop.  If Department A has a certain folder on a certain server volume mapped to drive letter L:, but Department B has it mapped to M:, then that's a big deal.  

Think about it?  Isn't it insane?  And yet, there are people who actually hold down jobs dealing with this nonsense.

I remember as a young(ish) lad, in my first Computer Studies lesson, having it explained to me that "C: is the your hard drive, A: is your floppy drive and B: is your second floppy drive, if you have one".  I remember thinking to myself at the time "what a stupid concept".  That was February 1990.  It's now 20 years later and things have not improved.  If anything, it must be even worse for new computer students now that floppy drives have gone the way of the dodo: "sir, if C: is your your hard drive then what happened to A: and B: ?".  Lucky it's nice and easy to assign drive letters in Windows, isn't it?

Windows has been able to work with Universal Resource Identifiers (URIs) for many years now, at least for network shares.  I remember setting up a Notes email button for one of our Windows support guys once.  The button had to open a document on a particular shared folder on a particular network volume.  Naturally, he was fretting that some departments had the volume mapped to different drive letters than others, whereas others still (shock, horror) might not have a drive letter mapped at all!  I told him to make sure that the network access was set correctly, and I'd handle the rest.  All I did, of course, was set the file open link to use the URI and it worked for everybody.  That would have been circa 1998, I think.  So, if Lotus Notes could use URIs back then, why are we still frakking about with drive letters in 2010?

The Mac does this the best, by the way.  The hard disk is called (wait for it) "Hard Disk".  Remember though, you can't use Macs in your company because the users would be confused by all the change.

Anti-virus installations

Come on, somebody say it: "if Linux, Mac etc. had more users, then they'd have all the virus problems instead."  No, they wouldn't.  Because those unix-based operating systems were architected correctly in the first place, and Windows wasn't (and never will be).

At one place where I once worked, the anti-virus task would take up to 180 Meg of RAM at certain points during the day.  I'd find myself having to close down other apps just to accommodate it.  Lord only knows what it was doing.  It wasn't doing an actual anti-virus scan, because I checked the logs and found that was being done in the early hours of the morning (as it should be).

Internet Explorer 6

And all other versions before 7, or is 8?

If you're at one of those companies where, like me, you still have to target your web apps to run on IE 6, then I've one word for you: jQuery.  Although even that will only get you so far with this abomination of a browser.  And it's ten times worse if your company has used ...

... ActiveX

Mercifully, you don't see too much of this in the wild any more.  But when you do, my god, what a pain it is.  Yet another lock-in that companies should have seen coming a mile away, but didn't.

Give the Devil his due though: Ajax began its life as a Microsoft ActiveX control.  So, Microsoft does something right occasionally.  The law of averages says that it should have more to show for 15 years in the web development business though.

Client Access Licences (CALs)

Okay, Microsoft is hardly unique in charging a per-user licence fee for using its products.  But it is unique, I think, in nailing you twice for the privilege.

Take Sharepoint, for example.  You pay a per-user CAL for Sharepoint, which is fair enough.  (Actually it's not fair enough, because Sharepoint is crap, but let's ignore that one for the moment.) Now Sharepoint, like so many of Microsoft products, only runs on a Microsoft operating system.  And you need another CAL to access the Windows Server OS.  Seriously, you have to pay to access the server that the application sits on and then pay again to access the application itself.  You pay twice to get the same thing.  In fact, you might need to pay three times because Sharepoint needs Microsoft SQL Server to do anything serious, and you may need yet another CAL for that.  It's hard to tell from Microsoft's explanation of their licensing.  (A cynic would say that's deliberate on their part, but luckily, I'm not a cynic.)

It's the the same story for Exchange, SQL Server and so on.  You always pay Microsoft twice, at least.  If you're not using Microsoft server apps, the Windows Server CAL means that you still have to pay them something.  And yet companies persist in running the likes of Domino on Windows server, which apart from incurring expensive CAL costs, happens to be no damned good anyway.

Why does this still happen?  Sadly, I think it all goes back to my first point about MCSEs.

Q: Why do we have so many MCSEs in this company?
A: Because we have a lot of Windows servers.

Q: Why do we have so many Windows servers?
A: Because that's where our skill-set is.

The Windows Registry

Let's forget the massive single point of failure that the Registry is.  You can always back it up and restore it if it's fubared.  Hell, even a Windows Restore Point can work wonders here.

No, what I really detest about the Registry, as I did about the win.ini and system.ini files that proceeded it, is that it makes it damned near impossible to move applications from one drive to another.  Well, you can move them, but don't expect them to run from their new location; the registry entries, pointing to the app's previous location, will screw you over every time.  Think how much of your life that you've wasted dealing with this.

There are honourable exceptions, of course.  You can move an install of World of Warcraft or most games that you download from Steam from one place to another and they will run just fine from its new location.  You don't think the fact that World of Warcraft and many of the Steam games have a Macintosh version has anything to do with that, do you?

The Office Ribbon

Need I say any more here?  Well, I'm going to anyway.

It's near impossible to find anything that you need until you've trained yourself on it for at least a year.  But worse than that is that it robs you of screen real estate from where you most need it: in the vertical plane.  Yep, as we're all moving inexorably towards wide-screen monitors, the boffins at Microsoft decided that they'd accelerate that wide screen effect by robbing your space at the top.  The space at the left and rate of your A4 or Letter sized pages is no man's land in Word 2007; it is literally, a waste of space.

Lotus Symphony does it right: put all that extended tool bar stuff in that, hitherto, dead space at the side of the screen.

.WTV Files

My only use of Windows 7 at present is in my Home Theatre PC (HTPC).  Give the Devil his due (second time!) Windows 7 Media Centre does work quite well... so far.

Only, it saves my recorded TV programs as .wtv files.  Ever heard of them?  Me neither.  I had to Google it, and you'll never believe this: it's a proprietary Microsoft format that no other apps can read or write.  So, you can't move those recorded TV programs to watch them on another PC, unless it too has Windows 7 Media Centre on it, and I'm not even sure you can do it then.  Forget about doing it on Linux or Mac.

"What do you want to do with this device that you've just plugged in?"

You know the dialog that I mean, I think.  You pop in a USB device of some sort and Windows asks you what you want do with it... every time!  If you select "Do nothing" and also tick "always do this for this type of media" checkbox, then you shouldn't ever get bugged by this message again, right?  Somehow though, you always do.

1Stephan H. Wissel  09/19/2010 7:44:38 PM  10 stupid things that exist because of Microsoft

In defense of the ribbon: the idea was pioneered by Lotus in a product called eSuite. The problem with the ribbon is: you need to unlearn a lot of stuff (novice users are comfortable with the ribbon rather fast).

Why not swap out "The Ribbon" for "Directory forrest". Directory trees have been around a long time. Initially introduced by Banyan Vines (on a Unix derivat), refined by Novell NDS (now known as eDirectory) and finally adopted by AD. Neither Banyan nor eDirectory needs a forrest. So why is there one in AD? It is a classic case of "leaking implementation". Microsoft decided to store AD in a Jet database (the artist also known as MS Access) which has severe scalability issues (Novell uses Btrieve which laughs at 500M records). Since the AD tree couldn't support large corporation it was split into Forrests. Just ask any MCSE about the amount of suffering his forrest brought to him compared to the single tree.

2Mike Brown  10/29/2010 5:12:54 AM  10 stupid things that exist because of Microsoft


I disagree about the ribbon. It's not just about unlearning what you already knew. Even when you do where things are, it also seems to be too many clicks to get to them. And then, it even "cheats" by having a File menu that's not called a File menu. It's a nameless button that you click on to get to things like Save and Print.

Another problem with the ribbon is that it takes up space in the vertical plain, which is where you can least afford to lose it when you're typing on to a (digital) sheet of A4. And that goes double if you're using a widescreen display; e.g. just about any notebook or netbook.

I think that the new Lotus Symphony 3.0 has actually got this right. Its ribbon equivalent (I don't know if it has a name) is on the right hand side, where you have the "margins" of your sheet of A4 and it's context sensitive and actually useful, not just getting in your way.

3Share Tips  11/03/2010 2:29:46 AM  10 stupid things that exist because of Microsoft

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4Kurtis Mcleod  08/07/2011 3:49:07 PM  10 stupid things that exist because of authors like you

Don't know if your first paragraph was satire or not, but when you have a problem with windows, and your first idea to come to mind is to wipe the drive and reinstall the OS... you shouldn't be writing tech blogs.

5Mike Brown  08/08/2011 4:31:41 PM  10 stupid things that exist because of Microsoft

Thanks for sharing that, Kurt.

First off, I didn't say those were *my* ideas in that first paragraph. Second, wiping the drive was the fifth item on that list, not the first.

Maybe it's you that shouldn't be *reading* tech blogs, if that's the way you take things in?

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