Don't Do Windows

Voice Card  -  Volume 23  -  John Card Number 18  -  Sun, Mar 8, 1992 4:51 PM

In choosing his favorite voice cards, Larry mentioned that I am at my best when I'm ranting. So here goes...


My recent experience as a Kelly Girl has thrust me into the seamy underworld of PC computing. Most of you have probably heard a distant commotion about Microsoft Windows for the PC and how it's supposed to make PCs as easy to use as Macs. As you might guess, the truth is not quite as rosy as PC salesmen would have you believe.

My initial reaction to Windows was quite positive. It comes with a very colorful solitaire game that is, quite frankly, BETTER than similar games on the Mac. It's intuitive, makes good use of the mouse, lets you drag objects in real time and all that. Very impressive.

After that, however, it's all downhill. In real life Windows is so confusing, so buggy, so slow, so poorly implemented, that it's actually WORSE than the abysmal, obsolete command line interface. Let me give an example...

One of the first things I wanted to do when I was assigned a small project at work was to drag a file from a floppy to my PC hard disk and have it show up on the "desktop." On the Mac you would simply pop in the disk and drag over the icon. Even a chimp could do it in under five seconds.

I spent over an HOUR pouring through manuals and trying one thing after another with no luck. I then called in the office PC expert, who is quite sharp (but new to Windows) and she spent ANOTHER hour and I think may have wiped out a subdirectory before my boss stormed in and told me to turn off the damn machine and write up my project by hand. When I got home that night I told Roger about this and he couldn't believe it was THAT hard. So he tried it himself on his own PC. After an hour or two he gave up.

There are several reasons why Windows just doesn't work very well. The primary problem is that it is built as a shell which sits OVER the existing old-fashioned disk operating system. When you move or rename or delete an icon on the PC desktop you are not doing ANYTHING to the underlying files. And if you move or rename or delete the underlying files using the old system (which you are frequently forced to do) the icons on the desktop don't change at all! So what you see on the desktop winds up bearing little or no relationship to reality.

As if this wasn't bad enough, instead of providing a single equivalent to the Macintosh Finder, one program that handles all file manipulations, Microsoft divides inter-related tasks between two separate programs. To do almost anything you need to get both programs running simultaneously, resize a whole series of windows using the absolutely maddening resizing procedure, and then bounce back and forth between the two programs in ways that could not possibly be intuitive to anyone!

At various key points in the procedure you have to TYPE IN the FULL pathname of your file using all sorts of backslashes and periods and underlines. If you want to create an icon of a file instead of a program, you have to type in the full pathname of the file AND the full pathname of the program, all in one VERY long line. If you make a typing error or can't remember the full pathname - TOO BAD; you'll get a confusing error message and be forced to start over. And since you're typing a very long line into a very short window, you can't actually see what you're typing.

But wait - it gets worse! In addition to the two cumbersome Microsoft programs there are several other file management programs written by other vendors. WordPerfect for Windows, for example, has its own separate filing system. Because of all the holes and rough edges in the Microsoft shell, our word processors found they were forced to try to use several different shells, each with its own set of three inch thick manuals and bizarre quirks.

There is a help menu available at almost every stage. But if you so mush as click the mouse anywhere near the help menu the system bombs immediately with a "Non-recoverable Error." And everything is VERY slow, even on a 486.

I've only scratched the surface here, but you get the idea. Whenever I looked over the shoulders of my hapless co-workers I could not believe what they were going through, in or out of windows. I would say that for most tasks in a business environment, the PCs are an order of magnitude less efficient, and that includes the much ballyhooed WordPerfect. Adding Windows in it's current stage of development decreases efficiency by ANOTHER order of magnitude.

In spite of all this, businesses across the country are buying up Windows as fast as Microsoft can make them. With software costs included, a typical PC windows system almost certainly costs more than an equivalent Mac system, in some cases a lot more. And DOS-brains are now proclaiming that the PC is as easy to use as a Mac. And the worse part is that beleaguered word processors in cubicles all over the county are saying "Oh! So THIS is what a Mac is like. It doesn't seem all that user friendly to me!"

The Mac is far from perfect, and can be frustrating from time to time. But if you want to gain a new appreciation for your Mac just spend an afternoon with a PC. Things could be A LOT worse.