The Practical Mac

Contains Microsoft: Use at Your Own Risk

- 2002.09.03 - Tip Jar

I have just spent a weekend trying unsuccessfully to be productive on PCs running the Windows operating system. I have come away convinced of three things:

  1. Apple hardware and Mac OS X combine to make the superior platform for virtually all computing purposes. The only obvious exception is wasting time trying in vain to make your hardware work with your software and vice-versa. For this, Microsoft software and the hodgepodge of PC hardware remain unequaled.
  2. There's a lot to be said for making the whole widget.
  3. Only a complete idiot would voluntarily use Microsoft software.

I spent the better part of an evening trying to scan a document and email it. The problem setup consisted of an unassuming PC running Windows NT Workstation 4.0 and a Xerox multifunction parallel port scanner/printer/copier.

These components had previously been working properly. They just stopped working. No software or hardware changes had been made. One day it worked; the next it didn't. I am Microsoft, hear me roar.

The scanner began to stop and hang at 97% completion. I exited the application, and when I launched it again, the scanner status still showed, "Scan in progress," and would not let me initiate a new scan. I turned the scanner off and back on. Same result. The only way to start over was to restart the PC.

I went through the same routine again. In the middle of trying to scan, the PC suddenly forgot there was a scanner attached. The only way to get the PC to recognize the scanner again was to restart the PC.

After about three frustrating hours, I hoisted the white flag. I give up. Microsoft wins again. In the game of Microsoft vs. the end user, Microsoft always wins. Or Intel, as the case may be. There is a remote possibility this problem may have been hardware related. However, having spent thousands of hours troubleshooting and repairing PCs through the years, I am all but certain this was a software-related problem.

This is not the only occasion in the past week in which I have found myself stymied by Microsoft. Earlier, I had an NT server that began to crash for no apparent reason, displaying the blue screen of death each time. Over a period of days, every single hardware component was replaced. The hard drive's contents were even transferred to a new drive using Norton Ghost.

The problem was only solved when we reinstalled the operating system.

In over twelve years of using Apple computers, I have never once encountered a problem for which the solution was to reinstall the operating system. In fifteen years of using Novell NetWare to power my servers, I have never once encountered a problem for which the solution was to reinstall the operating system. This is the all-too-common solution to problems with PC's running Windows.

One factor that contributes to the lack of stability in Microsoft's operating systems is the wide range of hardware they attempt to support. Apple has a much more limited range of hardware to support. However, as an end user, I don't want excuses; I want results. If this hardware cornucopia contributes to the flakiness of Microsoft's products, they need to limit support to hardware on which the OS can operate without crashing.

That would help, but it would not come close to closing the stability gap between Windows and the Unix/Linux family of operating systems. In order to do this, Microsoft would have to follow the lead of Apple and discard their proprietary operating system in favor of a completely new OS, built on the foundation of an already proven kernel.

I wouldn't hold my breath.

How long will the computer world continue to blindly follow the Microsoft monopoly into continued mediocrity? Fortunately, there are already some promising signs of independent thought appearing in the computer industry. This is not the last word on this issue.

Stay tuned. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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