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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Win-doze 7: An outsider’s perspective, and why I am not excited about it

Published: October 23, 2009
Section: Opinions

As a person who has never depended on a Windows machine, or even used one outside of a school computer lab, I lack some of the fundamental experiences that define the children of my generation. I have never had a computer virus. If my computer crashes, it is a 20 second ordeal, after which I continue working, and I have never lost a research paper minutes before it is complete. Not to say that my MacBook never gives me any problems, but they are few, infrequent, and relatively easy to fix.

For the past few months I have been reading about Microsoft’s new operating system, “Windows 7.” I have never used or even seen this operating system, but from all of the hype surrounding this release I imagined a historical event on par with the third coming of Christ.

I can’t help but notice that Microsoft’s business model seems to be creating a problem and then selling us the solution. For example, take Microsoft’s new Internet search engine Bing. Microsoft’s clever ads pitch Bing as a “decision engine” to cure the problem of “search overload.” Personally, I didn’t know that search overload was a problem (or that it existed) until Microsoft spent millions of dollars trying to convince me that it was (not unlike the infamous restless leg syndrome, a disease which nobody had before it was invented.)

Sure, Windows 7 does cure some pretty big problems. Vista’s slow reaction time, incompatibility with various peripherals, and propensity to crash all merit a fix, but the absence of those are all things I expect in an operating system, not as features, but as a part of the sales agreement between creator and consumer. Nearly a decade past Y2K, I know it may be picky, but I expect my computer to work. I don’t understand why people are so excited to shell out $100 or more for a new copy of Windows 7, and ignore the fact that Microsoft’s faulty programming caused the problem in the first place. How short our collective memory is if we forget that Vista was billed as the cure to XP and its “blue screen of death;” Windows ’98 was the cure to Windows ’95 and all of its bugs; the list goes on.

I am reminded of Charles Schultz’s cartoon “Peanuts,” when Lucy always told Charlie Brown that she would hold the football for him to kick, and without fail would remove it just before he got to the ball, and Charlie Brown would end up falling hard on his back. Every week, Lucy would find some new way to convince Charlie Brown to kick the ball, but every time she would trick him, and he would fall down.

Every few years, Windows agrees to hold the ball for all of the Charlie Browns in the world, Microsoft convinces us of a new and great product to revolutionize the Microsoft brand, and without fail most people who invest in Redmond’s promises fall flat on their backs.

In preparation for this release, Microsoft has done a good job convincing America that Macintosh computers are more expensive (a truly monumental job given that they actually do cost more upfront), and has implied that any Apple product is just trendy, or paying for a brand. Personally, I am willing to pay more money for a product that works, and works well. I am willing to shell out twice as much money for a pair of shoes which will protect my feet in the cold and snow, than for a pair that will fall apart when wet. For some people, a cheap Windows machine is exactly what they need, but most people would prefer a computer that works well consistently. Studies have shown that a Windows machine in the workplace can be a nearly continuous expense both in actual costs to hire tech people for upkeep and in lost productivity.

There is an old Amish saying about farming, that “you must count your labor as profit.” For those of us who do not find work as enriching as the Amish, a computer which is easy to use, and easy to upgrade should be the first priority. Surely after three years of Vista’s incompatibility with hardware and software, and the major trouble many people had upgrading, Windows 7 should be easy to install and easy to use. I was therefore quite surprised when I read in David Pogue’s article in The New York Times that current XP users (pretty much everyone with a choice in the matter) would have to do a clean install if they want to run Windows 7, or purchase a new computer entirely (a surprisingly common practice which should cast doubts over whether an iMac or a MacBook is really more expensive).

Pogue also mentioned that Windows 7 does not come with applications previously included on Windows machines (and standard on every Mac) such as: mail, calendar, movie maker, photo manager, a PDF reader, or an address book. Its OK though: people who want their computers to do these basic tasks need only download them from the Microsoft Web site, a process which has “always” worked well for the numerous drivers and plugins of years past.

I believe the words you are looking for are, “Oh, good grief!”