Please stop pretending Windows “just works”

As a follow-up to Macs are just computers, not magic and Macs are computers, not magic (part 2), I have to say based on recent events that people who say “There’s a reason 90% of home users use Windows” (and mean to imply it’s the quality of Windows instead of consumer inertia) or “Linux is for people who don’t value time. I’m going to stick with Windows because it works” are delusional.

Recently, at my job, I’ve been lending the occasional hand to the tech support department (even though I work in the Admission Office), and the problems we’ve been encountering have been problems that have challenged even tech support (not just the end users). I installed Adobe CS3 on a co-worker’s computer, and all of a sudden Microsoft Word would keep crashing and would start up in only safe mode. And a whole bunch of computers could not view embedded PDFs in Firefox.

Such incidents are not isolated to this job or any job at all. Throughout the last two decades, I’ve seen amongst family members, co-workers, and friends, too many Windows problems to even count. It could be anything from an “unknown error” when an application tries to start to a print job not going to the printer but being unable to be cancelled.

The next time someone says “There’s a reason 90% of home users use Windows,” I hope someone else replies, “There’s a reason 100% of organizations who use Windows have tech support departments.” As a matter of fact, computer problems existing has little to do with what OS you use. I’ve seen Mac owners complain about various Mac problems and Linux users complain about various Linux problems. There is no such thing as “just works.” Windows does not just work. Mac OS X does not just work. Linux does not just work.

The only way around this I can see is a redefinition of the phrase just works. Here’s my new working definition:

Fill-in-the-blank operating system has caused me personally (and no one else necessarily) fewer problems than other operating systems I have used, and when I do encounter problems, they are ones I can tolerate and not big enough for me to abandon this platform for another one.

Everyone who uses a computer either is a geek, becomes a geek, has a geek friend, or pays someone to be a geek. I know no one who buys a computer and thinks, “I know nothing about how to fix computer problems, I know no one who can fix computer problems, and I don’t ever want to pay money to have someone fix my computer. I don’t have to worry about that, though, since fill-in-the-blank operating system ‘just works.'” Anyone who would think that is in for a big surprise.

Further Reading
Windows Setup… or Why I hate Windows
What could it be?


  1. A couple of years ago when our office switched from Win98 to WinXP I tried to install Adobe Acrobat Professional and also Adobe PhotoShop 7 on the new XP box. The two could not co-exist together on the same PC for some reason. Acrobat just crashed endlessly while rendering documents. In the end we had to remove PhotoShop to get Acrobat to work.

    Of course PDFCreator and GIMP would have worked together fine and saved the company thousands of dollars, but they wanted “quality commercial software.”

  2. There seem to be a lot of problems especially with Adobe premium software, although I see problems with various kinds of software on all the major platforms. I don’t want to make it sound as if anything is perfect. As far as I’m concerned, Mac, Windows, and Linux all have their flaws and bugs, as does the software that runs on those platforms.

  3. Interesting. I thought the phrase more refered to drivers and the like. While Linux has gotten a lot better, it’s a long way off being able to attach your computer to any printer and “just print”. But audio and wifi drivers have come a long way. Maybe graphics is next…?

  4. Funny story about Adobe. . . My mother has Adobe Acrobat Reader 8 on her laptop. She opened an email with a PDF, and Adobe would always crash. ALWAYS. I got tired of trying to troubleshoot (reinstalling Adobe, etc.), later found out that this version of Adobe was having some registry problem, and I told my mom to log in on my Ubuntu machine. Got on Firefox, opened up her email, got the PDF, ran the Document Viewer, and *PRINT*.

    . . . Come on, Windows gets the simpleton award, but it can’t open a PDF? Ridiculous.

  5. “My mother has Adobe Acrobat Reader 8…”

    The Acrobat Reader is mega-bloatware, it is no surprise it crashes. The current Windows version Adobe Reader 9 is 33.5 MB!! Why do you need that big an application to read a PDF?

    I would recommend she remove it and install a really good open source Windows PDF reader, Sumatra PDF

    Sumatra works quite well in its new 0.9.3 version and is only 1.2 MB, which is 1/28th the size of Adobe’s Reader!

    If you have to use Windows, use open source free software!

  6. Problem is: we should get paid for “the occasional hand”. Or r u getting paid for such help?

    Maybe if Linux was more commercial, ppl would appreciate it at least as much as other commercial OS.

    As for Mac: I think it would require someone like Guy Kawasaki to come and explain to me why Macs are so great.

  7. “Of course PDFCreator and GIMP would have worked together fine and saved the company thousands of dollars, but they wanted “quality commercial software.””

    As a future IT major who will probably end up making open source program suggestions to his future company, that phrase scares me.

  8. Have you ever read about the blind champagne taste test? I’m unable to find it on the web anywhere, but I read about it in the NY Times a few months back. The idea was to take a bunch of champagnes, put them in identical containers, remove the labels and the prices, then have the public taste test them. The same thing was tried with the prices and labels affixed to the bottle, and then yet again with the labels and prices on the wrong bottles.

    After tasting, the unlabeled bottles had a fairly random ranking with regard to price, but when the prices were attached people preferred the more expensive one and (this is the best part) when the prices were put on the wrong bottles the testers still preferred the ‘more expensive’ ones (i.e. not the ones that were actually the most expensive, but the ones mislabeled to be the most expensive).

    Maybe there’s a similarity in the OS world, and people would think Linux worked better if more distros charged a fee for a startup disk…

  9. There may be a small grain of truth to that. Considering how many people pirate Windows instead of paying for it, though, I’m not sure that explains everything or even most of the difference in perception.

    After all, Apple doesn’t charge for iTunes. Mozilla doesn’t change for Firefox. I know a ton of Windows and Mac users who spend a lot of time researching cost-free software so they won’t have to pay exhorbitant prices.

    More people trust cost-free software than they trust cost-free wine.

  10. On Wednesday, I downloaded the Ubuntu 8.10 RC (I wasn’t going to be home until like 9 on the release day so I just wanted to install it). I also decided it was time to install XP rather than Vista so I popped in an XP Media Center Disc, and installed it.

    It didn’t recognize ANYTHING. The only thing it NEED to recognize was my network card, so I could at least download drivers for everything. But it didn’t. I thought that XP had at least a decent plug and play system and would be able to recognize it. But I was wrong. So I was forced to install Vista because it was the disc that came with my computer and would work with my system.

    Ubuntu at least recognized my network card so I could at least do things with it. But I’m still having issues with both Vista and Ubuntu so Ubuntu isn’t perfect, but it does a lot more out of the box than Windows (at least from my experience. I’m sure other people will disagree).

  11. As a ubuntu user myself I have to say that for the basic home user windows is a lot easier to maintain for a few reasons

    1) More people around have windows thus more people know it.

    2) Drivers for everything, oddball chinese GPRS/EDGE/3G modems. Cheap bluetooth dongles, printers have windows versions. I can’t even get my standard and popular HP laserjet 1020 working in Linux all the time.

    3) You can get free software for virtually everything in windows so that negates the cost issue. The cost of windows itself is negligible. In most cases a similarly configured PC preinstalled with linux or windows costs the same.

    And lastly in a country like Bangladesh where I live, there are pirated versions of everything you can get for less than 50 cents, barely above the cost of media. Until that problem is fixed people will stick to windows. I’d like to see piracy end just to give Linux a boost.

    Now for why I use Linux

    I’m poor and can’t upgrade my machines. Everything I have is 4 years old at least. And I have scavenged a few more machines that are old.

    I run a proxy server, share internet connections, share printers and files, stream media, use bittorrent all off a machine someone threw out. Try that with windows.

    Linux kept me virus free for a decade.

    And lastly, its the principle of the thing.

  12. “While Linux has gotten a lot better, it’s a long way off being able to attach your computer to any printer and “just print”.”

    On ubuntu 8.4 all I had to do to get my epson photo printer working was to turn it on. So on my system I was able to “just print”. On XP I had to download and install drivers. On ubuntu I find that for many things the drivers are already in the kernel, so I don’t have to download anything. For proprietary drivers, ubuntu downloads and install them for me.

    As far as windows “just works”. Well, as a long time windows user, I have seen plenty of blue screens of death. Part of the problem with windows is that it’s easy to break. If you do stuff online like most people, eventually you will get a virus or malware or something. There are ways to minimize that, like not running as an administrator. But it seems that many windows users are lazy or ignorant. And telling people what to do to secure their system is many times pointless. Many people don’t bother to listen and take the time to learn. So I guess I better keep a knoppix CD handy to save people when their windows breaks.

  13. “As a ubuntu user myself I have to say that for the basic home user windows is a lot easier to maintain for a few reasons

    1) More people around have windows thus more people know it……”

    I had this argument with a guy on another website forum. His constant argument is that for the “average user” Linux isn’t user friendly.

    I asked him how the “average user” maintained their Windows system.

    He listed a number of things that he did to maintain his Windows system:

    – runs PC Tools Registry Mechanic
    – runs Norton Internet Security
    – regularly defragments his system
    – doesn’t download “dodgy 3rd party apps”.

    So I asked him again. How does the “average user” maintain their Windows system?

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