The Great OS Experiment

The Great OS Experiment

A celebrity CIO reviews the desktop operating system contenders in search of the next-generation office computer

SIDEBAR: Compatibility at a Price

by Roger Kay

Words from a Windows expert

John Halamka has hit on Microsoft's biggest advantage: its dominance in the software industry. Windows' universality in the corporate world is what makes it so sticky. Companies want their applications and documents to be compatible with their partners', suppliers', customers' and colleagues' applications and documents. They also want their computers to be able to read today files created 10 or 20 years ago. Microsoft offers such flexibility. It's hard to replace a computing environment that provides that level of compatibility, even if it is bloated and buggy.

Further fuelling Windows' universality in the corporate world is, as Halamka points out, that so much new technology is developed to work with it. That's because software developers are always after the most seats (seats represent revenue). When I worked for a software developer, we loved the Mac, but we built applications for Windows because we stood the greatest chance of making the most money developing software for Windows.

Like Halamka, I have a set of keyboard macros I originally derived from the Apple II keyboard that I've nursed along through progressive versions of DOS and then Windows. Windows' flexibility allows me to perform this trick, but the fact that I have to do so points to the OS's inherent inelegance, which Halamka has noted. I also share Halamka's criticism of too much complexity in Microsoft software. One of my issues with Windows is how chatty it is. It's always talking to you, telling you that your antivirus software needs to be updated, asking you if you want to try a program from a partner, telling you that your save function hasn't been executed properly. It's like an old aunt who's always on your case. Fortunately, you can shut off some of those features — unlike your aunt. My opinion is that all OSs tend toward bloat. The good news is that Vista, which I've been testing, dances quite agilely for a fat man.

I laud Halamka's effort to keep the software stack on his machine simple. That's good discipline if you can manage it.

Roger Kay is president of consultancy Endpoint Technologies Associates.

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