Sunday, December 05, 2004

Windows Wish List

Computing zealots rarely win many followers - as I need to periodically remind the more "enthusiastic" members of my Linux User Group. Windows has its place, so does Unix, so does MacOS. The ultimate goal of a computer user is to maximize functionality. Unfortunately, there simply isn't the "perfect OS".

Many articles have been written about how Linux could be made better. Those articles usually compare Linux to Windows with the arrogant assumption that Windows does “it” perfectly and in order for Linux to have more adoption it should model itself after Windows. In Windows, everyone out of the box is treated like a newbie. Someone with the ego of a Power User resents this treatment. On first boot, the user can't do anything until they click the Start button. Now we know that a rat in a maze feels like. My purpose for writing this is to share a wish list of features that would make Windows more usable and less hated by the computing elite.

1. Decent file system.
For a power user, the simple fact that a file system needs to be defragmented instantly puts that file system in the "sucks" category. This is one area in which Linux beats Windows hands down. Linux has literally dozens of file systems to choose from. The best ones are journaled and use advanced oct-tree algorithms to balance the load on hard drives. They keep up with available disk space and only fragment files when disk space is critically low. Journaling allows a file system to recover from an unexpected power loss with a high confidence of no data loss. Microsoft has been promising a new file system for over a decade now. WinFS was supposed to be part of NT4 and even delayed its launch. WinFS was supposed to be part of Win2000 and even delayed its launch. WinFS was supposed to be part of WinXP and even delayed its launch. (See a pattern?) IBM proposed the journaled file system during its OS/2 days, but Microsoft and IBM stopped collaboration before IBM could finish it for them. Probably the most attractive issue is the ability of the Linux user to choose which file system they want depending upon function. Ext3 is fine for the casual user. A Power User building a dedicated server will probably choose ReiserFS.

2. Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer 6 is now over 3 years old. Why doesn’t Microsoft fix it? What are they waiting for? Alternatives such as Mozilla and Opera offer great features such as tabbed browsing, pop-up blockers, smart integrated searching, and smart downloading. Is Microsoft planning to deprecate IE? If so, why is IE so entrenched into the core OS? IE is literally a window into Windows! If mal-ware can take IE, it has the OS. In 1997, Microsoft declared Netscape a non-issue with Internet Explorer taking 95% of the browser market share. Today Mozilla (and derivatives) take up 20% of the market and gaining. Why is this? I’ve been using Mozilla for the past 4 years or so because of its transparency between Windows and Linux. I didn’t realize how awful the Internet experience was for IE users until I recently had to lend a hand to a neighbor. He has a newer Dell home PC with cable Internet access. We’ve all heard the complaints from novice users: “My computer was fast when I first bought it, but now…” This poor guy’s computer was eaten up with spy-ware. To his credit he had the Norton System Works installed so he had a firewall and virus protection. We downloaded Ad-aware6 and cleaned out hundreds of recognized objects. The act of navigating the web to find Ad-aware was a miserable experience. Pop-up ads were everywhere, and Pop-under ads behind them. He asked me how to get rid of them. Another Mozilla Firefox convert was born.

3. If you know a feature will be annoying, why adopt it?
How many times have you heard someone say: "I'm so glad Microsoft put Clippy in Word!” Probably never. Who in their right mind wants an assistant to pop up and announce: "It looks like you are writing a letter. Would you like help?" Of course not! The reason it looks like I'm writing a letter is because I know how to write a letter! Now, instead of concentrating on the content of the letter I am annoyed and have to dismiss the assistant. Let's say you are having a less stressful day and have a little time to indulge the assistant and tell it to show you some letter templates. What does the little guy tell you next? "The feature you requested is not installed, please insert Disc x of Microsoft Office xx". What the hell is Microsoft thinking? Office is supposed to make your working environment more efficient. Where is the human-machine-interface research they like to brag about? This scenario has driven lots of people to alternatives such as Open Office.

4. Security.
Why do users have to acquire third party software to keep Windows secure? Shouldn't an OS be secure by design? For example, the only way to write to the system files of a Unix OS is to have root privileges. Period. The only way to acquire root privileges is to have the root password. That simple paradigm of OS management stops the vast majority of virii and mal-ware from ever gaining traction on the Unix platforms. In Windows, the system areas are openly available for anyone to write to. Anyone (including virii and mal-ware) can add and delete dynamic libraries from the System32 with impunity. This is unacceptable to a Power User. I don’t consider switching to my root account to do system maintenance an annoyance.

5. Strict Memory Protection.
In all versions of Windows NT until WinXP SP2 it’s possible for a program to write outside its memory space. For example, one can write a simple C program that writes a character, then insert a tab, then backspace more than 6 spaces. This simple program writes over whatever information is stored in the memory location immediately preceding its allocated space! Incidentally, this program instantly causes the famous Blue Screen of Death. The Java language self enforces memory protection. The Java Virtual Machine won’t let a Java program write outside its allocated memory space. This “feature” is unnecessary in Unix, but a lifesaver for Windows users. Many in the industry consider this part of the Java language to be a poke in the eye to Microsoft from Sun.

Doug - Contributing Author


mlewis said...

I definitely agree with this article. No OS is perfect; Windows is buggy, Linux is hard to use and Mac is slow. IE blows, in my opinion; Firefox is much safer. Clippy in Word is pointless, having him help you write a letter screws up all your favorite formatting. Defragging, in a word, sucks. And Windows is definitely NOT secure! Hackers find all sorts of back doors into Windows. Windows needs a root account setup, but I guess it isn't "user-friendly" enough for the seniors out there.
Guess we're back to the drawing board... =sigh=.

Lun Hangsing said...

Really, why can't Microsoft have different versions for Power Users and Dummies. They already have many versio ns of Windows. Like windows 95, 98, 2000, 98SE, Me, Xp and many ather group of possable letters and numbers you can string together.
Or better still why cant there be a power mode and novice mode.
Just a suggestion.