Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Three Dollars Too Much

To try and thwart Nicholas Negraponte's One Laptop Per Child effort Microsoft is making copies of Windows available to a competing Intel box for $3 as I understand it. They are also working to make a version of Windows that will run on the OLPC, presumably for a similar price.

I know a lot of people that use computers. Before I left the big city to head for the beach I might have had conversations about home computer use (leaving out work related use for the moment) with dozens of people. But having been in the boondocks for a while my circle of friends has grown smaller. Get this though, here is the percentage of my Windows using friends who are reporting significant problems with their home installations: 100.

It just struck me the other day that I don't know any Windows users, not one, who isn't having problems, and I don't mean minor problems, I mean major "lost everything" problems. To help convince you that I'm not making this up, here are their stories, names omitted to save them the embarrassment...

Case A is a retired technologist, programmer for the Apolo moon missions, inventor, and aspiring author. He doesn't want to tinker with computers any more, he just wants to write his books. For months he has been doing so on a laptop, without major incident, but having "normal" Windows users issues with pop-up ads, spy-ware, spam, and drivers mysteriously failing to do what they used to do. His reaction to these problems has been to remove almost everything except Microsoft Office from his machine. Having sent him either links, or actual files that require Adobe Acrobat or Real Player I find that he has uninstalled those things out of fear. Nevertheless he managed to get Internet Explorer outfitted with so many "helpful" tool-bar additions that there was little screen real-estate left over for anything else. His sound card stopped making sounds, pop-ups continued to pop-up and he complained that the machine was getting slower and slower. He didn't want to try Firefox though as Microsoft has succeeded in convincing him that his problems have nothing to do with Windows itself, but just that big-bad world that it has to live in on the Internet.

He recently called in a panic to tell me that his machine, a laptop, suddenly wouldn't boot at all. Long story short, he had installed yet another "security" package from his ISP that had caused the condition. A trip to the shop for an overnight stay and $65 later the machine was working again. Fortunately, the fact that he hadn't done a recent back-up didn't cost him anything as they were able to retain his existing file system. Fortunately or otherwise, he was so shaken by the experience he purchased another PC as a "back-up machine" on the rather safe assumption that a similar thing will soon happen again. If the medicine makes you sick, try taking more of it.

Case B is a dear little lady that I agreed to help with her e-mail problems. Now I've steadfastly refused to get involved with anyone's Windows issues other than offering generic advice such as "why are you still using that crapware?" but in this case the problems seemed to be mostly "older person trying to cope with new-fangled technology", so I stop by once in a while to get her unstuck with sending a reply, forwarding a message, or attaching a photo. Unfortunately this has turned into three machines so far. The last one I purchased myself, used, from a shop I trusted, with a clean install of Windows XP and little else. I put on anti-virus programs and such, and so far so good. I can't be sure that her earlier machines were hardware or software failures. At some point it gets hard to tell from a post-mortem point of view. Power supplies burn out, fans die and machine overheat, often after running at 100 percent CPU for days at a time doing no-telling what in the background. If she manages to kill this machine, her next one will run Linux. Enough is enough.

Case C is a minister, on a dial-up connection, who really doesn't do much more than e-mail and print out church related materials from time to time. When I first saw his machine it had an obscure virus that was not removable by any of the major packages that are supposed to do such things. Fortunately I learned this through research, which was much quicker than trial and error. He too took it to a "competent" shop who managed to get rid of the virus and most of his applications software at the same time. I'll be installing Open Office for him and he is already using Firefox, thanks to some other kind soul he ran into. Should the need arise, he will already be over the hurdles that tie most people to Windows.

Case D is a couple of guys that run a small home business involving shared files with several other people working at home. Their Windows machines, although of relatively recent vintage are always bogged down doing something in the background that nobody can quite define. Opening a web page is a go-to-the-fridge-for-another-coke sort of operation at times, and while some of this problem is a slow ADSL connection and a care-less Verizon support system, my Apple laptop works pretty well on their network, even wirelessly, while their hardwired desktop systems continue to crawl.

Finally, the co-workers in this small business are always having trouble with their PCs too, except for the one Apple user of course. So those machines have to be regularly hauled over to "headquarters" for diagnosis and I dread even hearing about the long tortuous road to recovery, which is often followed by an almost immediate relapse.

So those are my sample points. All of them. Other people I know that are using Apple computers or Linux haven't been complaining much about slow systems or slow Internet or random crashes. Oh I know, there are Apple machines that are junk (I had one of those once too) and Windows machines that perform flawlessly, those just don't happen to be in my universe of users at the moment.

Worth three dollars? Hardly.

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