[Salon] Simson Garfinkel on Windows Me

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From: Adam Rifkin -4K (adam@XeNT.ics.uci.edu)
Date: Sat Aug 05 2000 - 15:16:39 PDT

"It's a sad comment on Redmond's wizards that they haven't figured out a
way to let people install an operating system without jeopardizing their
computer's health at the same time." Ya think?


> Beware of geeks bearing gifts
> Microsoft may offer you a break on Windows Me, but that doesn't mean the
> upgrade won't cost you.
> By Simson Garfinkel
> Aug. 4, 2000 | Microsoft's decision to slash the price of the Windows
> Millennium Edition upgrade from $89 to $59 --- a whopping 33 percent
> savings -- made headlines this week. But the public should beware of
> geeks bearing gifts. Windows Me has some significant improvements, but
> for most users those improvements do not justify the pain and potential
> dangers they will face with this upgrade. Microsoft can lower the price
> of Windows Me and give it a few great features, but it can't
> fundamentally make Me a better operating system than Windows 95, because
> of underlying technical flaws with the whole Windows operating
> environment.
> I know, because I spent more than a week struggling with a Windows Me
> upgrade before I gave up, reformatted my hard drive, installed a clean
> version of the operating system on my 550 MHz Pentium III desktop
> computer and reinstalled all of my applications. Now that my computer is
> finally operational once again, I'm quite pleased with the results. But
> I doubt that other computer users will think that the new features are
> worth the hassle.
> Microsoft's Windows Millennium Edition won't be in stores until
> September, but the code for the operating system has been finalized for
> many weeks now. A few weeks ago a publicist at Microsoft's public
> relations firm called me up and offered to send me a complementary
> review copy of system. "Sure," I said, "send me a copy. I love living
> dangerously."
> The publicist laughed a little and reassured me that she was sending me
> "final code." A few days later the promised CD-ROM showed up in the
> mail, and I bravely inserted it into my machine.
> Windows Me is the latest in a long series of Microsoft operating systems
> that are directly descended from the PC-DOS operating system that
> powered the original 1981 IBM Personal Computer.
> Looking back from our vantage point in the 21st century, people remember
> DOS as a slow, clunky operating system. But I remember DOS as an
> exceedingly reliable operating platform. In part, this is because of its
> simplicity. DOS had two main functions: controlling the placement of
> files on a computer's disk drive and loading application programs into
> memory for execution. I had one of those early IBM computers and my
> memory is that the only time it crashed was when I wrote my own
> programs. If I was running BASIC or my simple word processor, that
> original PC was far more reliable than the Windows-based computers that
> I use today. It was also reasonably fast.
> DOS was so reliable and fast, in fact, that Microsoft was ridiculed when
> it started shipping the graphical user interface now known as Windows.
> Back then Windows wasn't so much an operating system as a programming
> framework that Microsoft built into its word processing and spreadsheet
> applications. Windows was slow; it made computers crash. When computer
> makers started shipping Windows 3.0 pre-installed on desktops and
> notebooks, many people uninstalled the software and kept running DOS.
> Since then, Microsoft has released a series of Windows upgrades --
> Windows 3.1, Windows for Workgroups, Windows 95, Windows 95B, Windows
> 98, Windows 98 Second Edition -- and the computer-using public has
> eagerly adopted each of these in turn, all with the hope that their
> computers would become easier to use and less prone to crashing.
> According to PC Data, Microsoft has sold more than 4 million copies of
> Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE from retail shelves, producing $350 million
> in revenue. That's not bad when you consider that people who bought
> computers running Windows 95 technically didn't need to upgrade to
> Windows 98 -- you can download most of the improved functionality over
> the Web from the Microsoft site.
> For the most part, people upgrade to newer versions of Windows because
> they think that the new versions will improve their lives. Specifically,
> people think that the new versions will make their computers crash less
> frequently. And, to Microsoft's credit, each version of Windows is
> marginally more reliable than the previous version. But versions of
> Windows -- even Windows 2000 -- are still nowhere near as reliable as
> Unix or Linux operating systems. I believe that the primary reason for
> this lack of reliability is Microsoft's slavish devotion to the god of
> backwards compatibility.
> To Microsoft's great credit, each successive version of Windows is able
> to run software from every previous version of the operating system, all
> the way back to DOS. This sort of backwards compatibility is fairly
> unique in the computer industry. Other manufacturers have limited
> backwards compatibility; usually the current version of an operating
> system can run software from one or two versions back, but not from five
> or six!
> Many Microsoft engineers credit the commitment to backwards
> compatibility, in part, for their company's success. You would be
> hard-pressed to run software designed for a 1984 or 1985 Macintosh on
> today's MacOS 9 systems -- and it simply will not run on MacOS X, with
> Apple's new "Carbon" interface -- but the vast majority of software that
> ran on the 1981 IBM PC still runs inside the MS-DOS Box that is part of
> today's Windows 98 Second Edition. Even Windows NT and Windows 2000 can
> run the majority of DOS applications.
> But a slavish devotion to backwards compatibility is also a curse. Many
> of the stability and reliability problems with Windows Me and Windows
> 2000 can be traced back to architectural decisions that were made during
> the development of DOS and Windows 3.1 -- decisions that haunt Microsoft
> to this day.
> For example, Windows 3.1 maintained two special 64K blocks of memory,
> called "heaps," that were shared between running programs. If you were
> running a program that used up all 65,535 bytes, your computer would
> stop running properly, and would quite possibly crash. When Microsoft
> created Windows 95, it added two more heaps -- both 2MB -- but it didn't
> get rid of the original 64K heaps, because many programs still used the
> 16-bit resources.
> As a result, Windows 95, 98 and Me users frequently get the message
> "system resources dangerously low" or "there was not enough memory to
> complete the requested task. Please close some windows and try again." I
> get these messages all the time on my computer, even though it has 256
> MB of memory. The reason is that Windows 98 has exhausted the 64K heap,
> and it cannot allocate any more space.
> Backwards compatibility was also responsible for my repeated inability
> to upgrade my desktop computer to Windows Me -- attempts that left me
> with a blue screen (not the infamous Blue Screen of Death, but a
> compassionately conservative blue screen) with a cryptic message:
> "Error: 0E : 002 : FF0780ED." This problem has a lot to do with the
> nature of Windows applications.
> On Unix, Linux and the Macintosh, application programs can be thought of
> as monolithic components that are loaded into the computer's memory, run
> and then exit. But on Windows, many application programs actually modify
> the operating system when they are installed. The most common way to
> modify the operating system is to add something called a DLL, or
> dynamically linked library. Because all DLLs are shared between all
> applications running on the computer, a bad DLL that's loaded for one
> program can interfere with the operation of another program -- or the
> entire operating system.
> Because so many application programs make subtle modifications to the
> Windows operating system as they are installed, there is no easy way to
> install a fresh copy of Windows without simultaneously reinstalling all
> of the computer's applications. This is in direct contrast to both Unix
> and the Mac, where it is common practice to do fresh operating system
> installs when new releases of the operating system are distributed.
> The two big features that I've noticed in Windows Me are the new user
> interface (it now looks a whole lot like Windows 2000), and dramatically
> improved performance of the TCP/IP network stack. For home users,
> neither of these functions really matters. Windows Me has the ability to
> share an Internet connection -- good if you have a cable modem -- but
> this feature was in Windows 98 Second Edition. You can also buy a $150
> home firewall appliance to share a DSL circuit or cable modem -- and
> that appliance will give you far more security than Windows Me ever can.
> But it's a sad comment on Redmond's wizards that they haven't figured
> out a way to let people install an operating system without jeopardizing
> their computer's health at the same time. It's insane that there is no
> way to install a clean copy of the operating system without
> simultaneously having to reinstall every single application program.
> Both of these failings are the result of Microsoft's priorities.
> The underlying design of the Unix operating system protects individual
> running programs from one another. Each program is given its own slice
> of memory and control over a limited number of system resources.
> Likewise, Unix was designed from the beginning to be a multi-user
> system, automatically protecting one user from the actions of others.
> The creators of Windows had different priorities: They wanted a decent
> graphical user interface, and they needed to preserve backwards
> compatibility at all costs. The results of these priorities are on my
> desktop computer today. The Windows graphical user interface is vastly
> better than any of the interfaces available for Unix or Linux. And my
> copy of Windows Me can still run that great DOS software that I wrote
> back in the early 1980s. But I have to spend a lot of time reinstalling
> all of my applications every time I upgrade.


"I am totally against plastic surgery. A lot of people think I have breast implants because I have the biggest boobs in the business. But I was a 34C when I was 17...They stay up when I wear a push-up bra. But if people could see me when I come home and take off my bra, how could they think these are fake?" -- Tyra Banks, discussing the size of her breasts, on The Sun Newspaper http://www.geocities.com/FashionAvenue/3062/bienvenido.html

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