Thursday, September 10, 2009

Eight Things Windows Needs Before I'll Contemplate Using it Again

Windows 7 is better than Vista. Great. But saying that is like saying you'd rather catch the common cold instead of swine flu. I've demoed the release candidate for Windows 7, and I can safely say that I still don't like it. Aside from the default options being obnoxious and hard to use (the icons for running applications are identical to the directly-adjacent Quick Launch icons; running programs have no text to show you what they are; unless you have the hardware to back up the Aero interface, you can't get the window previews to help you, either), there are several things I need to see in a Windows operating system before I'll even contemplate switching back.

  1. Multiple virtual desktops — Windows is pretty much the only significant operating system that does not support this. Mac OS X's desktops may not be implemented very well, but they're there all the same. My cell phone has multiple desktops. Why can't Windows get with the program on this? It's an invaluable feature which reduces clutter. I think you'll find that clutter reduction is centric to many of my needs.
  2. Application organization — When I click on the Start Menu in Windows, I have a list of programs to sort through which aren't even alphabetized until I tell them to be. The list is huge, presenting me with a different "folder" for each program I have installed. When I have to go looking for a program, I want to be able to look in one of these "folders" that tells me what type of program it is. Is it an Internet program? A productivity program? Is it a minor accessory? One of my programming applications? Keeping this kind of organization to programs keeps the list short, which would be a blessing considering the tiny, half-height, scrolling list of applications which contains six times as many programs as will fit in its frame. Microsoft tried implementing something like this with games when they launched Vista, but that doesn't work automatically for everything because it's layered on top of the existing system, not integrated as part of the system. The way they implemented it required you to open a new window just to see your shortcuts. First of all, that's counterintuitive. Secondly, it clutters my desktop.
  3. Useful window management — In Linux, I can click and drag windows across my multiple desktops by dragging to the edge of the screen in the appropriate direction. I can move a window by holding the Alt key and clicking and dragging anywhere at all on the window. I can move a window to the best location and resize it so that it's as big as it can get without overlapping any windows it wasn't already overlapping at a single keypress (see video below). In Windows 7, they have added some window management features where the movement of a window to an edge of the screen resizes the window to fill half of the screen along that edge. Whoopee. What if I don't want it at exactly half size? What if I just want my window on the right-hand side of the screen? There's no customization here, only an assumption that I want my windows to be exactly where Microsoft wants them. I sincerely hope this feature can be turned off.
  4. Installation across drives — As it stands, I get a tiny speed boost and a major OS installation advantage by being able to install my home directory on a different drive or partition than the rest of my OS. This is great for home users because it means they can reinstall the operating system without damaging any of their personal data or application settings. It's also great for server users because MySQL databases can sit on a RAW partition, which is often faster because they don't have to follow the rules of the filesystem that way. The best I can manage in Windows is to create a separate partition and manually save and copy files to that partition after the fact. Nothing will be automatic, and I will have a large separation in functionality between the two. Unlike Unix OSes, Windows does not mount all filesystems fluidly together.
  5. Security built in — With Vista, Microsoft attached "User Account Control" to Windows, and that turned out to be a major annoyance that did little to aid security. It prevented nearly every program from running because Windows required administrative privileges to run nearly every program. When all users have instant administrative control, that's a bad thing, and a security problem. That's why they pushed UAC through. But UAC popped up for everything, and most users just turned it off so they could be allowed to use their computer. Again, this is a bad thing, creating even more of a security problem. With Windows 7, not much has changed. Users can now select how many UAC warnings they receive. What will be the effect of this? Just like last time, users will either be annoyed or turn it off. Still a bad thing. Still a security problem. When Microsoft manages to write an OS that has security layered into its core, when they can sort out what should and should not require administrative privileges, they might have a chance at winning me over.
  6. Fragmentation-free file system — I don't want to have to spend hours every month defragging my harddrive and slowing my computer to a crawl because my operating system allows fragmentation to happen. I certainly don't want my computer to do this in the background on a schedule that I'm unaware of, slowing my computer down when I need to use it. Mac and Linux do not allow for this to happen. A defragging program is not the proper solution. The NTFS file system is about a decade old now. It's no longer "New Technology." I never wanted to work for my computer in the first place, and it's time to ditch this abhorrable system.
  7. Singular application installer and updater — In Windows, when I want software, I go to the Internet and either search Google or go to a website that I know carries that software. I install it using a six-page installation wizard that probably only needs to be a one-pager. I install software one program at a time. And then a week later, when the fifteen programs I took the time to install last week have been updated, I have to either download the software from the individual websites again and then reinstall them all separately through more wizards, or I must run fifteen separate updater programs in the background constantly, just waiting there for an update to happen. Neither of these are viable options. Linux uses central, customizable repositories to pipe software through a single, centralized installer/updater/uninstaller program that allows me to install, update, and uninstall as many programs as I want simultaneously, and in one fell swoop. Again, even my cell phone does this. And as with the fragmentation problem, Microsoft should fix the core problem instead of adding on layer after layer of faux-solution to bandage it.
  8. Let me customize! — I don't want the ugly Aero interface, and I don't want the even uglier atrocity that I get when I turn off Aero. I want something that I like and that I choose. I want my colors in front of me. I want my style, my appearance, my everything. Please, Microsoft, let me do this without paying for third-party software that only adds a separate layer to the problem. The software linked above uses the Windows API to accomplish this, which means that the functionality exists deep within the Windows system files. If Stardock can do it, so can you. You can implement it straight into the software. Do it, already! Let me use my computer the way I want to.


  1. I'll add another to your list.

    9. Useful applications I'm sorry, Microsoft, but really? You can't even ship with a PDF reader? A basic document reader? A coherent archive/zip application? What exactly is that 16GB disk space requirement taken up by for Windows Vista and Windows 7? My favorite Linux distros take up less than 5GB with a full install and include WAY more applications and native functionality than that!

  2. Sorry, I just thought of another one too.

    10. Interoprability -- Until you can prove to me that you can eat at the adults' table and stop acting like a child, you have no place on my computer. Stop going so damned far out of your way to make the rest of the world jump through so many hoops to work with you. Technology is, whether you like it or acknowledge it or not, a cooperative enterprise, even if you think you have a monopoly. Changing file formats every couple of years and using predatory patents to keep your "innovation" (don't even get me started on that) to yourself doesn't help you, it doesn't help users, and it CERTAINLY doesn't help administrators. So play nice, or don't play at all.

  3. Excellent post, except for one tiny little thing. Basically what you are saying is you just want Linux LOL. Instead of hoping that MS will implement these features (which we all know they NEVER will, and I would stake everything on that) we should spread the word that Linux HAS all of these features and many more already. People need to realize that right now the ONLY thing Windows holds the advantage over Linux with is "Disc Based" Gaming. NOT gaming in general, because Linux has a hell of alot of Excellent games available, but the CD/DVD based games you buy at the Store need a little work to get running.

  4. @linuxcritic - Both very good points. As a web developer, I constantly feel that Internet Explorer is really holding us back technologically. The Internet is quickly losing its status as just-plain-information-finder and is gaining clout as the place you go to do anything you can imagine. I've begun to ignore IE completely when I code. My stuff works on every other browser without a problem, so it really doesn't seem like it's my fault that it doesn't render properly in IE.

    @Anonymous (Post #3) - You're absolutely right. I do want Linux. Linux is fantastic and amazing, and I'm proud to be a part of that community. Microsoft will never get caught up to where Linux currently is. But if they did, and if they provided a significant advantage over Linux, I would switch. I don't think they'll ever get there, and I'm sure that when Windows finally beats out Linux for functionality and beauty (I almost called it elegant, but I don't know that I'd go that far), Linux will probably catch right back up a few months later.

    As far as "disc based" gaming is concerned -- Windows is disc based for everything because that's how the OS works. See point #7 for the reasoning behind that. I would even extend that to commercial gaming on the whole. You won't find very many commercially successful games on Linux. But it can't be too difficult to do. Some very highly-rated games (like the Penumbra series) have native Linux clients, and EA produces all of their games using OpenGL. It shouldn't be too much more difficult to do a full Linux port of those apps, since they're already not dependent on DirectX.

  5. @linuxcritic -- If I'm not mistaken, I think MS would be sued out the wazoo if they included essential apps for .pdf, .zip, etc. Remember when MS was sued for bundling IE with Windows back in '90s?

  6. and affordability...
    ...i cannot afford Windows 7

  7. #1 This is supported with 3rd party applications very easily. (I use bb4win which has it and there are many, mahy others)

    #2 Turn off personalized menus or organize it yourself. It doesn't take long or any more work than it does in kde/etc, those menus, once you install it, are usually good but already installed and 3rd party apps have to be added manually or organized manually. Same-same.

    #3 This I will give you, but they have it in win7 and you can do it with 3rd party apps very easily.

    #4 All of the windows special folders (desktop, my docs, etc) are just soft-links and you can change them in the registry very easily with minimal work.

    #5 Security is. But it's not perfect. And UAC is very annoying, but that's usually due to poorly written applications which microsoft has almost no control over. Applications that randomly and arbitrarily sometimes, ask for raised permissions obviously had problems. Programs written for vista are much better. It is just a transition and that's always tough.

    #6 You generally don't need to defrag very often, and linux filesystems can become fragmented too. Freespace bitmaps and etc etc make things easier, but they can become fragmented as well. Any file system where deletes can happen, fragmentation can happen. Having files set all over the place and requiring more random access causes slowdowns etc. If a filesystem or daemon constantly defragments while online would be great. But that's why I defrag my windows machines once every few months and I have a program to keep my large and performance-needy files contiguous.

    #7 This is difficult because of windows history and inability to package software that they don't own. And as well, they would not package foss alternatives to their own for-profit software. (Which is completely understandable.) If you've ever heard of click-once (what many google apps use to install on windows machines), it is a new installation standard that allows live from-the-internet or from-exe installs with automatic updating etc. It's great, and people should use it more for their windows apps.
    Also, many linux distros are centered around their package management and updating. Which is great, except linux doesn't have a central way of installing apps either. Everything must be downloaded, compiled, and packaged in a distro-specific way by developers who are either working with the distro or the software in question. It is much, much, much more troublesome to install something from a binary installer or let alone ./configure && make && make install for someone who doesn't understand how to fetch dependencies, sometimes of specific versions, etc. This is the reason the package management is almost necessary for a regular power-user joe to have a usable and updated linux system.

    #8 You can customize whatever you want if you put some effort into it. Or use 3rd party interfaces that work great. I don't know about all these for vista, but I've used them on XP (except for bb4win, used it on vista, worked great)
    BB4Win blackbox 4 windows, works great, I am using it right now...
    Lightstep .. coolness right there.
    Geoshell also very, very cool and very customizable.

    I see where your points are rooted. But the truth is, is windows is flexible and manageable. It can look and act just the way you want it, if you put some effort into it. And coming from a guy who has used very many linux distros (some I have loved) and rolled my own shit many times, and who has a house filled with windows, linux, and a little netbsd here and there, I have to say that I am most productive on windows for work. My development machine is a windows xp VM. I have spent a lot of time customizing, for fun and learning, my windows and linux desktops.

  8. @kage - First of all, thanks for not being all flame-warry like many disagree-ers would have been.

    #1 - Third-party software is something most people don't want to bother with, especially if it's only there to make things work comfortably. I've used BB4Win before and found it to be pretty alright, but I always end up going back to Explorer as the default shell. Again, the implementation of BB4Win's desktops is below my par (spoiled by Compiz). I hear KDE is working on a Windows version. I think it's still in beta right now, but it'll be nice to be able to use that in Windows instead. I'm still a Gnome guy, but I'll give it a go.

    #2 - Part of my point is that I don't want to take all the time to organize the menus on my own. I've never had an issue in Linux with Gnome getting things to organize themselves automatically and sensibly. As it is, I keep a few folders in a hacked Links toolbar in Windows XP to keep things organized there, but I have to manually move things every time I install software. Not what I'm looking for.

    #3 - My experience with Win7 is that it only does maximization and half-size shuffling. Again, not what I want, and I don't want to have to use another third-party app to make it work.

    #4 - This still doesn't solve my problem at install-time, and reghacks are dangerous. I typically only use them when I'm playing a prank on someone (I like to set the shell to the logoff command for people who don't lock their computers at work when they walk away from them).

    #5 - Security is still lacking in Windows. Even limited users can access things like the registry to a certain degree, and can run software that accesses it. The registry, I think most people would agree, is one giant clusterfail.

    #6 - At home, I rarely run Windows, and therefore don't have defrag very often either. The Windows defragger would have me defrag anytime fragmentation exceeds 10%. Defraggler works faster and better, but again, we're talking third-party apps to solve a problem that Windows doesn't very well solve on its own.

    #7 - I think a "Windows App Store" would benefit Microsoft in many ways that are already part of the way they run business. Seems like Microsoft could profit from including, say, Nero burning software in an auto-install/update format built into the OS. If they wanted to, they could even tie this into the Microsoft DRM treatment that they give everything else. It would be a boon to Windows users, Microsoft, and third-party application developers alike.

    #8 - Like I said in the post, Stardock is good software, but I don't want to have to install another layer on top of everything else just to have things customizable. I've never heard of Geoshell (will Google that tomorrow morning), and I'm excited to see what the KDE devs can pull off in Windows.

  9. Regarding #7: Why can't windows just add some update mechanism in the msi installers that are provided by all third parties? No central app store is really required rather each app can provide its update mechanism integrated with the add/remove programs. OpeSuSE's one-click install gets it almost right.

  10. You and i think alike. Just that we all know there is no way MS will put these in Windows. BTW, here are 5 things folks must know about Windows 7

  11. @james - I'm going to delete your post, not because it's offensive, but because it's completely off-topic and a shameless plug for some website. This is not a nice template. This a barely modified version of one of the defaults that Blogger provides. Your post is an advertisement for a different and unrelated website. Others should take heed from this. Don't advertise to me.

    @sinaisix - I know everyone's up in arms about the recent Microsoft "education" of Best Buy and Staples employees. Something I find interesting about this is that when Microsoft disparages Linux, they have to lie about it. Anybody trying to disparage Windows only needs to tell the truth.

  12. @Chris - I think what linuxcritic is getting at is that Windows doesn't come with anything functional. No productivity software. Nothing to read common document formats with. No disc-burning software that's worth a damn. You'd think that Microsoft could partner up with Adobe to include a PDF reader or something. I know MS wouldn't dare ship anything like OpenOffice by default (with that on every computer, who would buy MS Office?), but a few useful apps would be nice.

    Instead, Microsoft leaves it up to the PC manufacturers to bundle extra software, and the end result is a computer that was already bloated by a 16-20 GB Windows install plus an additional 50 trial applications, 85 startup processes by default, and totally useless software like Works for Windows, which isn't interoperable with anything.

    Meanwhile, when you do an install of Knoppix or Ubuntu or Suse or Fedora or Gobo or any other distro, you have burning software, actual interoperable productivity software, and practically everything else you could need. Anything that isn't there already can be installed in about four mouse clicks straight from the desktop. And there's no obnoxious trialware bloating everything up.

  13. All points are just WRONG personal opinions easily confutable if you'd really know the Windows Vista/7 world, and the 3rd party freeware opensource utilities on the Net fill the rest of your "concerns"...
    Only thing is true is the little customization available, again, by default (did you know WindowBlinds? ) but nothing really important at all.
    Thanks God starting with Vista, Windows has become a serious OS, and technically appealing, finally...

  14. @bill - I know you're a troll, but what the hell? I'll bite.

    I wonder if your last name is Gates. Your URL links to Microsoft. You provide no convincing arguments. You say my opinions are, in screaming caps, WRONG. You suggest I would know better if I were to "know the Windows Vista/7 world". Yet you do not tell me what that world is.

    You obviously did not read my post. Either that or your reading comprehension is sickeningly bad. You claim that the lack of customization is the only valid point I have, but it's refuted by the addition of third-party apps. Had you read my post, you would have seen that I don't care to use third-party apps, and I provide reasons to that end. Also, yes, I know about WindowBlinds. If you'd read the post, you'd know that I even link to Stardock's website. I mention Stardock's name in the eighth point listed.

    In your last "paragraph" you make another bold claim without any points to back it up. "Starting with Vista, Windows has become a serious OS, and technically appealing." Windows is not serious. It is stupifying. It is not technically appealing with its 16-20 GB hard drive and 2 GB RAM requirements. Please see basically anything in my post above to see how Windows is neither serious nor technically appealing. Some good points have been made in the comments as well.

    Please, in the future, be more like kage and respond intelligently and without trying to incite a flamewar. Kage took the time to make individual points in response to each of mine, and for that I am thankful. For your baseless and base accusations, I have only disdain, and I refuse to drop to your level. If you can come up with actual valid and intelligent points, please make them heard. This topic is open for discussion. Rational, level-headed discussion. Come back with any form of thought process, and we'll try this again.

  15. what games developers need to do is create a live mini distro that runs in ram and include the game on the dvd, that way noone depends on any os only hardware specs. run on opengl install the right drivers for graphics and have all the depends on the dvd/bluray. it would be a perfect game solution for them and they could legally use linux or bsd etc for the os

  16. Some thoughts from Apple user:

    1. OSX's virtual desktop is actually the only I can use and like. It is simple, first of all. Simplicity rules, dude.

    2. Color customization is not what I really want, because I am not a pimp. For me OSX's theme is more than enough. Aero could be better, but what the hell... Same to default Ubuntu Gnome's theme (clearlooks, I guess). Simplicity rules, dude (again).

    3. I will use Windows and/or Linux when these OS'es will have integrated desktop. Windows, apparently, better than X11 this time. However, I'd stick on OSX — no one can beat it in a big picture in its simplicity to use, although Dock could be more improved. Again, simplicity rules.

    4. OSX won't have that singular installer, because applications are draggable, thus RPM or dpkg will quickly lose a track. Maybe that drag-n-drop of apps could update package manager database on a fly, but it is still a big todo. But yes, apt-get really great here. At least we have ugly ports... :-)

    5. Everything else — agreed. Because OSX has has it already. :-) LOL

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  18. Windows 7 works great. This is OP is a Linux fanboy windows-hater. But if you like playing with your GUI all day, spending days trying to install everyday apps using the maze of repostitories and useless forums, have a blast!

    Some of us like to go beyond wasting time on the OS and GUI and actually work.

    Oh Linux is good for the cell phone. But then the spinny cube desktop isnt as impressive is it?