Mac Lab Report

Is Windows Killing the Internet?

- 2004.08.23

I just returned from an extended vacation "back east" - in Ohio and Kentucky. As the family PC-fixit-guy (doesn't every family have one), I listened to the trials and travails of my relatives as they described the various problems they had encountered with their Windows machines. (Despite my arguments to the contrary, the discount price at Walmart is usually the deciding factor in purchasing decisions for all my relatives.)

In the past two weeks, I have heard the following stories:

An aunt won't buy a computer because, "I can't put anything on it, because all the viruses out there will just erase it."

One complained of her relatively new PC, "This thing gets slower and slower, and I can't keep the popups off of it. I don't use it like I used to."

At a local library where a relative works, 4 of 8 public computers were down for "maintenance." One had a hand-woven cover proclaiming "I'm out to lunch," as the event occurred so regularly that a person dedicated the time to make a homemade computer cover to cover the monitor so patrons would stop asking about it.

Two technicians were wandering about trying to figure out why the Norton Antivirus program wasn't downloading updates. "This would be a lot easier on an HP," one of them complained. "You wouldn't believe the crap people download on these computers," my relative complained.

Another relative who had "quarantined" dozens of viruses because "she might need the files again" reluctantly deleted them after I argued that if she didn't know what they were and the software couldn't repair the files, she should just delete them.

I spent most of a day trying to persuade Norton to do a LiveUpdate to download virus definitions. Download LiveUpdate installer. Download new download manager. Fight with popups. Register subscription for virus updates [you have to pay?] Discover free virus updates in artificially large file hidden in a corner of a reference page like RealNetworks free player. Spend an hour downloading larger file to have it interrupted by kid flipping circuit breakers (my kid saw me look in the panel while trying to fix a switch). Finally got the "Intelligent" (read: manual) installer installed, so relative feels safe on the Internet again.

"How often should I update the definitions?" she asked.

How the heck should I know. I haven't had a virus problem since I got some used disks for my Atari ST in 1991. "Once a month or when you hear something in the news," I say. After all, it'll take most of a Saturday morning to update. LiveUpdate will only recognize the subscription if you "Go into Windows 98 mode" in Windows XP so the freaking icon will even be visible to click on, then download this, get off the Internet so the installation will fail, and then it will ask you for the registration code you paid $20 for - which doesn't even freaking work, and of course the solution, at the end of eight pages of instructions, ends with what I would have done in the first place if she even had the installer disks: Reinstall the software!

At the family reunion I heard other similar tales of woe, until I finally announced: "You know, there is a way to solve all this."

Heads turned. My wife rolled her eyes. (Someday, she's going to look at her brain and go insane, and it'll all be my fault.)

"Get. A. Mac."

"Aren't they out of business?"

"They're too expensive."

"I can't use my genealogy software on them. "

"All my recipes are Windows."

"All our school computers are Windows."

"They don't sell Macs in town."

"I don't know anyone to help me use it."

That last one is true more often than not for my relatives. You can't get on the Internet, because you're afraid of Windows and viruses. You can't get a Mac, because you can't get on the Internet. Or if you can find a Mac, you can't buy software at the tumble-bin at Walmart - those cross-stitch programs and DOS-based genealogy programs are mighty tempting when they're the only thing you use the computer for.

Well, folks, you pays your money and you takes your chances. I've made my choice, and I'm happy with it. I just wish, every now and again, that someone would listen to me.

Is Windows killing the Internet?

I think it already has, for a lot of casual users. The Internet is to be feared. Computers are still too complicated and unreliable (even Macs). Someone else is in control of the decision of how you do your computing at home (your office IT guy), who [emphasis here now] can't remember what it was like when he didn't understand how to use a computer.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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