Looking Through The Windows

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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Looking Through The Windows

Have you noticed that Microsoft Windows operating systems follow a distinct pattern?

By that I mean that after a fairly decent stable version, it inflicts a bloated piece of trash on the poor consumer. Software that is invariably rushed out to the public before it is ready, or before someone in the company has had the decency to take it out behind the Microsoft barn and shoot it.

Invariably each new version of Windows is hailed by Microsoft as “the best Windows yet”. You can understand that advertising hype I suppose, but it just ain’t true, they only get it right about half of the time.

The other half, Microsoft takes a good idea and turns it into a bad one as it tries to be new and trendy and interesting. It invariably ends in disaster.

Windows XP

After a number of faltering tries, most of which I experienced during my long love affair with computers that I previously wrote about on this blog (click here if you want to read it), we eventually got a decent operating system that Microsoft called ‘Windows XP’. It was stable, did everything reasonably well, didn’t suffer from too many dreaded blue screens, if any, and everyone was happy, particularly business users which are Microsoft’s bread and butter.

I know some people who are still happily using ‘XP’ despite its lack of updates to fix security issues like new hacks or threats now that Microsoft has finally ditched it.

Sadly, Microsoft followed the ‘XP’ success with a thing they called ‘Windows Vista’. As usual it was intended to be breakthrough technology. They tell me it was the brainchild of Bill Gates himself.

Windows Vista bad

However, ‘Windows Vista’ had one big flaw.

To put it bluntly, it was a piece of crap!

Most people, with the exception of the idiots who have to have every shiny new thing that is announced whether it is any good or not, stayed well away from ‘Vista’, and wisely so. Just to see what all the complaints were about my curiosity made me load it on to an old machine. I persevered with it for a couple of days before taking it off my computer for ever, never the easiest thing to do with Microsoft operating systems but I did it. I had to. It was dreadful.

I continued happily with ‘XP’ until it was time to change my laptop. The new one came with a 64bit version of ‘Windows 7’ on board. I had read good things about ‘Windows 7’ and they were largely true. It was a good system.

Windows 7

In fact a lot of people agree, because ‘Windows 7’ runs on about fifty-five per cent of the World’s PCs. ‘Windows 7’ was a winner because it didn’t try to make a big splash by attempting to do everything everything else did, only worse. It was just a good stable operating system that worked.

‘Vista’ became a distant memory, people were happy once more.

But then Microsoft went and did it again.

Instead of allowing ‘Windows 7’ to stay on as a cash cow, their idiot designers thought it was time for a new breed in the herd.

They ignored everything that was good about ‘Windows 7’ and, in a nerd-like stupor of unreality, decided what the world needed was not something that they were familiar with and liked, but something they wouldn’t know how to use and that would frustrate the hell out of them.

So it was that the horrible ‘Windows 8’ was conceived and born. It ignored the desktop and most of the laptop markets completely and aimed itself squarely at the touch-tablet system, Microsoft thinking that was where everyone was going. They didn’t say so, but a big part of their plan was to try to get kick Google’s ass because its ‘Android’ operating system for mobile devices and tablets had become a dominant market force (80%+ of the market).

It could all have been so different if the arrogant know-alls at Microsoft had listened to what people were telling them when they did exhaustive testing for ‘Windows 8’ before releasing it. About 1.24 billion hours of testing was done pre-release and all the feedback ignored, presumably because it was overwhelmingly negative.

Windows 8

Needless to say, when ‘Windows 8’ did hit the market it failed.

In fact it failed on all levels.

It alienated the desktop and laptop users. Business users didn’t want it and ordinary consumers didn’t want it either. It was so bad it wasn’t even popular with the mobile device users it was aimed at.

Microsoft got themselves stuck with one of the least wanted versions of Windows in the history of the company and that’s saying something!

‘Windows 8’ is so bad it has even eclipsed the hated ‘Vista’ in the league of things you never want near your computer.

It’s not just my opinion. Microsoft’s share of the PC and tablet market on ‘Windows 8’ is only just a little over 10 per cent and quite a lot of that is made up of people who didn’t have a choice when they bought a new machine with this catastrophe pre-loaded on it.

So what have I got on my computer?

I’m glad you asked. I have ‘Windows 8’!

WTF?

No, wait, I’m not a hypocrite, not completely.

‘Windows 7’ is no longer available since Microsoft stopped retailers and PC makers from selling and installing it.  It has entered into what Microsoft calls an ‘extended support mode’, but this only means that from now on all you will get will be new bug fixes, if and when problems crop up.

So when I needed to upgrade my laptop the dreaded ‘Windows 8.1’ was all that was available. They call it version ‘8.1’ because it is 0.1 percent less horrible than version ‘8’, but that’s still nowhere near being even average, let alone good!

Of course, trying to regain my dignity and sanity, I immediately tweaked the whole horrible mess that ‘Windows 8.1’ is, for example, adding back the start button (like ‘Windows 7’), loading a proper desktop version of ‘Skype’ instead of the irritating piece of crap app that is bundled with ‘Windows 8’, and doing some more bits and bobs to make the thing actually work like a ‘Windows 7’ machine. The bloated and useless ‘Metro’ start screen is also gone and I boot right to my familiar desktop.

The only reason I didn’t dump the whole shebang and load on my old ‘Windows 7’ program was because the new ‘Windows 10’ version is so tantalizingly close.

‘Windows 10’ ? Wait a minute. What happened to ‘Windows 9’ ?

Windows 9

There are a lot of theories about what has happened to ‘Windows 9’. Personally I think Microsoft already had it in development as another souped up version of ‘Windows 8’ when they launched ‘Windows 8’. But when they saw what a disaster that was they just ditched the whole thing and put all their efforts into ‘Windows 10’.

The official line from Microsoft says they have called the new operating system ‘Windows 10’ because they wanted to emphasize that it is is not a simple step up from ‘Windows 8’ but is a huge change for the company from the way they build Windows to how it will be deployed.

In plain English what that means is that Microsoft themselves know what a crappy program ‘Windows 8’ was and are trying to put some distance even in their numbering system between it and their new baby.

Windows 10

That aside, from what I have read so far, ‘Windows 10’ is a step back towards ‘Windows 7’ rather than a move ahead to where ‘Windows 8’ was trying to go. In other words, ‘Windows 10’ is bringing back the parts of the Windows desktop stupidly dumped by the designers of ‘Windows 8’.

At last Microsoft has hit the reality wall with a big slap and realized that safe and familiar is what the vast majority of their consumers want. The detestable immersive UI experience that forced bewildered users into the flawed ‘Metro’ world is gone and the desktop environment is back. And so is the beloved start button – hurrah!

Sanity has returned!

No, wait a minute, this is Microsoft what are you thinking?

‘Metro’ is still there, although in a much toned down version, with ‘Metro-looking’ apps that can be run in the desktop environment.

Apparently Microsoft has also integrated its digital assistant ‘Cortana’, the rival to Apple’s ‘Siri’ and Google’s ‘Now’, which made its debut on the unwanted ‘Windows Phone’. On the phones, ‘Cortana’ is used for voice-activated calls and searches, mapping, location and to launch apps. I’m guessing it will be on ‘Windows 10’ for the same reasons, but how much use people will make of it remains to be seen and heard.

I have also read that with ‘Windows 10’ comes a new Windows browser, codenamed ‘Spartan’, which may or may not integrate with ‘Cortana’. If it is a better browser than IE that will be a good thing, but don’t hold your breath on that score, after all IE versions just kept getting worse and worse when compared to something like ‘Google Chrome’. Another point against it in my book is that it has been designed as an app rather than a proper program so the jury is still out on it. I think I’ll still be using ‘Google Chrome’!

It is a bit obvious that the idea of adding these, really unnecessary, features, to ‘Windows 10’ is an attempt by Microsoft glamorize the new operating system and, by no means least, a smoke and mirrors attempt by the company to divert attention away from the fact that it has stuffed ‘Windows 8’ in the bin where it always belonged.

So for now we just to wait and hope. On past performance, after such a turkey as ‘Windows 8’, the next Microsoft version of its operating system should be good. It has to be better. It wouldn’t be possible to do worse.

But you never know for sure with Microsoft.

One final thought.

If your name was ‘Gates’ why would you call your operating system ‘Windows’ instead? Did he suspect right from the start that there would be embarrassing catastrophes ahead and didn’t want his family name associated with them?

As I said, just a thought.

open-gate-meadow-field-peaceful-43309059

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A Long Love Affair

“Flight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

 

Yesterday’s post was really about a couple of funny helpline incidents. But by way of introducing it I started to talk about my love affair and history with computers. Well I didn’t stop thinking about that when I finished yesterday’s blog post and so another post was born.

I hope you find this at least a little bit interesting. Obviously I do because I lived through it. To younger readers I’m sure it won’t mean much, but maybe they can have a laugh at the archaic crap that at the time we all thought was just the greatest thing ever – and actually at the time so it was.

As I said yesterday, my first experiences with computers were on the big mainframes. We had them in university and quite honestly the stuff we were doing on them in those days you could probably do on a good scientific calculator now. But there we were punching cards and working out mathematical formulae and getting results that I’m sure no one understood or cared about but us. (I probably wouldn’t even understand them now either!)

Here are a couple of pictures of the big machines. Younger readers will note the handy compact hard disks used to store information!

Hard Drive
Hard Drives In The Good Old Days

 

Compare the size with one of today’s disks

Yesterday and Today
Yesterday and Today

 

My first tussle with the big boys was on something resembling this

mainframes
mainframes

 

And we inputted our data via either these punch cards

IBM Punch Card
IBM Punch Card

 

Or via these teletype machines that I called the “chuggers” in yesterday’s post (notice the paper tape at the left hand side that made everything work!)

teletype computer interface
teletype computer interface

 

Then the personal computer era began.

My first introduction to that was a Commodore PET. It was around 1977 or 1978, I think. A fellow student and friend of mine at the time, a Malaysian Chinese guy who’s family were super rich (I don’t think he ever told them the proper exchange rate so his monthly allowance was huge!) bought one of the first of these machines and he loaned it to me for a few days when he was away on vacation.

I was enthralled. Dear knows why. If you look at the video at the end of this post you’ll see just how basic the technology was.

But ignorance is bliss. There was nothing better around.

The Commodore PET
The Commodore PET

 

Needless to say I could not afford a Commodore PET, nor for that matter an Apple II which was making its debut at more or less the same time and was vastly overpriced as Apple stuff still is. In it’s defense the Apple II was a cut above the norm even in those days as regards looks and it had a floppy drive (which I think you had to buy as an optional extra) instead of the awful cassette tapes.

The Apple II System
The Apple II System

 

But something that I could afford was the budget priced, but very, very basic Sinclair ZX81. To call it a computer nowadays is a bit of a joke, it had little or no memory, you needed a cassette tape deck, and a television to help it along, and it hadn’t even a real keyboard. But it did come in kit form and was fun to build and do basic Basic programming on.

Sinclair ZX81
Sinclair ZX81

 

Of course my thirst for bigger and better machines was only getting started. Next I was on to something called a Dragon 32, which as the name implied had a massive 32k of memory  –  yes, you young ‘uns, I said 32k, as in kilo  –  of memory. There was talk at the time that the company were working on a 64k version, but hardly anyone believed that a machine with such a vast memory was possible or even desirable!

The Dragon 32 was another one fired up by a cassette tape and a tv screen connection, but it was okay for learing more programming skills and there were plenty of games available that amused everyone at the time.

The Dragon 32 with a massive 32k of memory!
The Dragon 32 with a massive 32k of memory!

 

Then for me came an epiphany, computer-wise. I was about to put my trusty, and maybe a little rusty, typewriter aside. I bought an Amstrad 8256 word processor. It allegedly could handle other tasks as well, but it was primarily a word-processing machine and it did that job pretty well and reliably using its inbuilt Logoscript software. You could store letters and documents on its floppy disks and it had its own printer as part of the bundle. All in all a good piece of kit for the time.

The Amstrad 8256 Wordprocessor
The Amstrad 8256 Word-processor

 

A while after that the whole game changed. And the game changer was the graphical user interface, GUI, and the mouse.

DOS was dead. We would no longer have to plow our way through screens like this

DOS type screen interface
DOS type screen interface

 

The Xerox 8010 Star Information System in 1981 was the first to use it.

Xerox Star 8010
Xerox Star 8010

 

But Xerox didn’t see the potential and didn’t capitalize on it.  Steve Jobs and Apple did, and the Mackintosh released in about 1984 was the first to perfect its use commercially. It was a major change and brought computing into the reach of ordinary people instead of just the computer nerds and geeks.

The Apple Macintosh
The Apple Macintosh

 

Microsoft Windows soon dominated the PC end of the market with their 3.1 version doing a reasonably good job. Later versions like Windows 95, 98 and the appalling ME versions were rushed out and unstable. And, having learned nothing they followed that with a similarly unprepared Vista. All that did nothing for the reputation of the company.

They have made a lot of ground up with Windows 7 and 8 which seem to be a lot better both with regard to stability and functionality. And nowadays if you really hate windows you can run PC machines in linux based operating systems, just look for the penguin.

linux logo
linux logo

 

From the mid 1980s the PC market exploded. Many companies large and small, from the IBMs to brand new budget manufacturers (or rather, assemblers) were born. They all did basically the same job, used the same internal hardware and software and had internal hard drives that would store up to 100MB (yes, mega bites) and up to 4MB of RAM.

At first they looked like this

PC version 1 - IBM-PC-XT1
PC version 1 – IBM-PC-XT1

 

And then this

PC version 2 - Fujitsu
PC version 2 – Fujitsu

 

And then this

PC modern generic desktop design
PC modern generic desktop design

 

I had versions like pictures two and three. In fact I still have one of what I’ve called the modern generic desktop design in my office today.  Of course the processing speeds and memory capacities of both the hard drives and the RAM have increased dramatically. Now it is not unusual to be able to buy a desktop computer with at least a terrabyte of hard drive storage and 8 GB (yes, giga bytes) of RAM, as well as extremely fast multi processors and large high definition flat screens.

All in all a great improvement. A lot of it not really necessary for the average user who just uses their computer for a bit of word processing and to surf the internet, but when it comes to computers most of us kinda have to have the best spec we can afford, rather than what we actually need.

And there was another revolution in computers. This one really took off during the late 1990s and it was the increasing popularity of the laptop. In earlier years the laptop had been the preserve of the business community and were priced accordingly,  usually well out of the reach of the average consumer. As well as that the spec was well below that of contemporary desktop machines and no one like to pay more for less.

Then a few things sort of coincided. We had the near saturation of the desktop market with a subsequent slowing down of new sales. The cost of component parts like processors and memory consequently dropped as demand tailed off. And some of the smarter manufacturers saw this as an opportunity to create a brand new market that would allow them to sell affordable laptops with a near desktop spec to the same market that had previously only been interested, and could only afford, the bigger desktop computers.

I seldom if ever use my desktop at all now. All my work is done on my laptop. When I travel it comes with me. I’m writing this blog post on one like this right now

ASUS laptop computer
ASUS laptop computer

 

ASUS is a good machine. But I’ve also had laptops from Toshiba, Sony, Acer and Dell and for me they all worked perfectly fine.

As for the future?

Who knows?

Now that Steve Jobs is no longer with us will someone else invent things that no one wants, and that no one needs, and sell it to them at inflated prices, while generating their love and gratitude for it? Maybe, but I doubt it. I think that Jobs was unique in that respect. He was in the right place at the right time and the right man to take advantage.

What I can envisage is the continued development of faster and better processing; better internet communication speeds with more mobility; infinite storage capacity in the “cloud”; greater integration of all the bits and bobs we have at our disposal; and easier operation of it all through more voice activated control.

The future I think will be every bit as interesting as the past. If some ballax with an EMP device doesn’t fry all our chips, that is!

I kept my old typewriter just in case.

 

Finally, some hysterical historical videos.

Enjoy!

 

 

Commodore PET circa 1977


 

 

Apple II circa 1977

 

Sinclair ZX81

 

Amstrad ad circa 1985