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Windows 7 - absent negatives = positives?

Michael Brown   October 26 2009 01:56:40 AM
Reading the many fawning reviews for Windows 7, there was one phrase that kept coming up again and again, in various incarnations: "there's no reason not to upgrade".  Check it out:
  • "There's not excuse not to upgrade" - Neowin (hardly surprising, that one)
  • "Windows 7 is a long way from being perfect, and it's not an essential upgrade if you're happy with XP. But nor is there a real reason to avoid it."  - the Guardian (that's actually quite restrained for arch-Microsoft apologist, Jack Schofield)
  • "So I see no reason, other than proper hardware support, to not upgrade to Windows 7" - Netbook Reviews (forum post)
  • "Windows 7 is a fantastic product, definitely a cut above Vista. It's more secure, and if you're not using a laptop from 5 years ago or a desktop from 10 years ago there's no reason not to upgrade." - the Daily (second comment)
  • "Windows 7 is such a well-designed operating system that there's absolutely no reason not to choose it as your OS for any new Windows PC purchases" - Notebook Review
Reading these reviews and comments, I'm reminded of Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party: 'it's your unbirthday too!"  I mean, when did the absence of reason to  not do something become a reason to actually do it?  When Windows 7 was released, it seems.

But when you look at the positive reasons that these people put forward, you immediately see why they're concentrating on the absence of negatives approach instead:

  • A nicer interface.  (Wahay!  I can pin stuff to the task bar!  How did I survive this long?)
  • Better security. (That's a new one on me...not!)
  • Superior hardware support.  (... as long as your peripherals are all less than three years old.)
  • Better performance.  (..than Vista.  And Barack Obama is nominated for a Nobel Peace prize, simply for not being George W Bush.)
  • It comes with a free copy of XP.  (... in the most expensive versions.  You know XP, don't you?  It's that thing that you've already got.)
  • Multi-touch screen support.  (Great for small, iPhone-like devices.  You know, the ones that Windows 7 is still too fat to run on anyway.)

No reasons not to upgrade?  I can think of 200 reasons right off the top of my head.  Yes, $200 (AUD) is what you'll pay to upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium in Australia, with the full Home Premium setting you back $300.  It's also $300 for the Professional upgrade version, and $340 for the full Professional version.  I'm sure you can find some cheaper deals if you shop around on the internet, but that's what you'll pay in the Sydney high street at the moment.  That's quite a lot of reasons to not upgrade, I'd say; especially in a recession.  And if you've got a few PCs in the house, that's going to soon add up to a tidy sum.  What's that you say?  The three licence Family Pack?  Nope, not sold in my part of the world.  The CEO of Microsoft Australia has decided that we don't need it here, and she ought to know, being an American.  (Update, 6/11/2009: MS Australia has recently announced that we will be blessed with a Windows 7 Family Pack, after all).

Here's another reason: it isn't actually any good.

Now, I don't mean that it's not any good at a UI level or the performance level or the hardware and software compatibility level, which are the things that reviewers generally concentrate upon.  I mean that deep down, it's no good.  It's a very badly designed operating system.  Windows has always been that way.  Take a look at the inner workings of Linux if you have the time and inclination, and you can see and understand how it's all put together.  I don't mean looking at the source code, which I've never done (why would I want to?)  I mean just looking at the layout of the file structure, and seeing where you can write to you (your Home folder) and where you can't write to (anywhere to do with the operating system itself).

Windows is a mess in this regard.  It's been built on the assumption that every person and every application can do what it wants at any time.  Microsoft, to its credit, has tried to correct this with the UAC, but it's really trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube with that approach.  It should have done what Apple did with OS/X (also based on a UNIX derivative, of course) and start over again, but it didn't have the courage or even the vision to attempt that.  That's why in Windows you have:
  • Viruses
  • Application code mixed indiscriminately with operating system code, so that nobody knows what the operating system is any more
  • The single-point-of-failure design abortion that is the Windows Registry
  • DLL hell
I can remember being in college, and having it explained to me how MS-Dos, which is Windows' predecessor, uses the letter "c" with a colon after it to describe its hard drive.  Even back then, I remember thinking "why?".  Why call peripherals by arbitrarily assigning letters of the alphabet to them?  Does anybody remember, these days, what "a:" and "b:" were used for?  And yet here we are, nearly twenty years later (ouch!) and Windows 7 still calls its hard drive "c:" for no good reason what so ever.  On a Macintosh, your hard drive is called - wait for it .... - "Hard Disk".  Hearing trained support engineers (well, MCSEs anyway) telling users that "the application won't work because your department doesn't have the right server volume mapped to their L: drive" is truly heart-breaking.  We're supposed to be here to help the business, not to weight it down with unnecessary obstacles like this.

The truth is that nobody really knows how Windows works; not even Microsoft knows any more, assuming that they ever knew in the first place.  Don't believe me?  Just remember all the conversations that you've had with your IT people when you've had Windows-related problems at work.  If you had a dollar for every time you've seen shrugged shoulders, quickly followed by the words "reboot" and "reinstall" you could retire now, could you not?  They don't know how it works.  Nobody does.  So, they sure don't know how to fix it.  They just know how to replace with a version from a previous state - probably its original state - and hope that works okay.

Still, none of that is any reason not to upgrade, is it?!!!

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