By Simson L. Garfinkel
Why is it so fashionable to hate Microsoft? An article in the current issue of
The New Republic by David Shenk explores the issue in detail. Some people blame
Microsoft's aggressive marketing techniques and ruthless competitive drive.
Others say the hatred is grounded in the fact that firstname.lastname@example.org is the
richest person in the world.
But after spending most of last Saturday afternoon reformatting my computer's
hard drive, reinstalling my copy of Windows NT 4.0 (service pack 3), and
reinstalling a dozen or so applications that I use on a daily basis - and then
doing it all again - I'm increasingly convinced the hatred stems from the poor
design of Microsoft's operating systems.
I don't like spending my weekend spinning CD-ROMs and typing activation codes,
but Microsoft didn't give me much choice: My system became unusable as I was
taking out a Turtle Beach sound card and installing a Creative Labs
SoundBlaster AWE64. (Turtle Beach's new card doesn't work with my
speech-recognition program.) Something went wrong with the deinstallation
procedure, and instead of getting the standard NT login screen, I got something
that's known as the Blue Screen Of Death - a solid blue screen covered with
lots of incomprehensible hexadecimal gibberish.
I tried to recover, but to no avail. Then I reinstalled NT, but the system
still wouldn't boot. So finally, I took drastic action: I reformatted my hard
drive (losing some important data in the process) and started with a fresh
By evening I got everything working again. Indeed, now my system runs better
than it did before I started. The reason, I suspect, is I'm getting better at
installing NT: In the last two months, I've installed the operating system at
least six times on the same system.
I'm not the only person who has had to install NT numerous times. A friend in
Silicon Valley tells me this is common at his firm. He jokes that each time you
install the operating system, ''the bits get pressed down a little harder on
your disk drive.'' Eventually those bits take hold and work properly, the way
I had another run-in with Microsoft last month, when I was trying to install
Office '97 Professional on a laptop that I was reviewing. It turned out my
Office CD-ROM was scratched. To its credit, Microsoft does run a media
replacement service for exactly this situation. Unfortunately, the CD-ROM had
been back-ordered for more than a month, and it would be at least another three
weeks before a replacement could be shipped.
Stuck without the CD-ROM, I tried to do something that's normally frowned upon
in the Windows world: move a working copy of Office '97 from my desktop system
to my laptop.
As many Microsoft customers know, you should never attempt to move an
application from one computer running Windows to another. The reason has less
to do with copyright and more to do with Microsoft technology. Windows
applications are messy: When they install, they put some files into your
WINDOWS directory, they modify some entries in your Registry, they update some
of your DLLs (Dynamic Linked Libraries), and they make all sorts of other
changes. It's impossible to track down all these changes and replicate them on
Impossible, at least, for a human. QuarterDeck makes a program called
CleanSweep that is supposed to rectify this problem. Besides uninstalling
programs from your computer, CleanSweep is supposed to be able to move
applications from directory to directory and between computers. I ran
CleanSweep with my fingers crossed. An hour later, Office '97 announced that it
was finished. The program told me to rerun Setup and reinstall Office from the
I think it's frustrations such as these that are behind the anti-Microsoft
trend. Over the past decade, the computer-using public has become steadily more
sophisticated. Instead of blaming themselves, people are realizing the problems
they are having with their computers are a direct result of design decisions
that have been made by product managers at Gates HQ in Redmond, Wash. People
want retribution for their countless hours of wasted time.
None of the problems I have described would have bitten me if I had been using
a Macintosh. The Mac doesn't have a Blue Screen of Death. In an emergency, you
can even boot your Macintosh from the CD-ROM, then drag the offending device
driver to your trash can. You can even perform a ''clean'' Mac OS installation
without erasing the other contents of your hard drive.
But like many other Mac users, I've been forced to switch to Windows because
many of the programs that I want to run aren't available anywhere else.
As the scrutiny has increased, people have found more reasons to hate
Microsoft. A few years back a weekly newspaper in Seattle ran an expose about
how Microsoft had hired prison labor to package and shrink-wrap all of those
millions of Windows 95 boxes.
And then there's an article in the current issue of Mother Jones that details
how Microsoft has gotten the Business Software Alliance to serve double-duty as
Microsoft's overseas sales force, by bringing copyright infringement lawsuits
and dropping them when the alleged offender agreed to switch from competing
products to Microsoft.
With all of these fine reasons, it's no surprise so many people hate Microsoft.
The surprise is that so many keep buying the company's products. And the irony
is that many people must belong to both camps.
Technology writer Simson L. Garfinkel can be reached at email@example.com.