Tech Talk: the downfall of Windows

By Andrew Krigline, Page Designer

I’m a geek, plain and simple. So Microsoft, specifically MS Windows, is our topic of today. My thesis is simple: since Windows 2000, Microsoft has been on a steady downward trend.

People my age (a whole 20 years) probably didn’t start with their own personal computers until the time of Windows XP. Sure, mom or dad might have had a work computer that we snuck onto every once in a while to mess with, but the average kid was too busy doing other things to worry about these computers. So for the sake of keeping this based on my personal observations, I’ll start with Windows XP.

We all remember Windows XP: it was functional, customizable and relatively stable, though apparently not quite as stable as its predecessor. The windows worked well; menus weren’t buried. Customization was easy and complete. It was also light on resource consumption, so you didn’t need 2GB of RAM to run anything more than the operating system itself.

Along comes Windows Vista, which had zero backwards compatibility. I understand the reasoning: it’s impossible to keep building on top of antiquated technology, therefore you have to start from the ground up and build with a new foundation.

The problem is that this new foundation was worse than anyone expected. It was alternately unstable and just sluggish depending on the computer you had it on. People were so used to Windows XP, being both light and mostly stable, that this abomination slapped them across the head.

Vista became the laughing stock of Windows, with many computer retailers offering to install XP on new computers. Businesses were reluctant to upgrade, and rightly so. Why bother upgrading to an inferior product at a very high cost? Furthermore, none of the programs that businesses had previously purchased would transfer over, making it even more expensive to update all of those licenses.

Even Microsoft realized reluctantly that Vista was crap and continued support for XP far longer than they originally said they would. They also got right to cracking out Windows 7 in an effort to redeem themselves. Vista was mostly stable after several large updates, but most people were just figuring that they’d wait and upgrade to Windows 7 when it arrived.

Windows 7 was a welcome reprieve after Vista. Features like “XP Mode” that were built in to the more expensive versions made it evident that Microsoft realized that many people still clung to XP. Such features became a major selling point. They didn’t work flawlessly, but the thought was there.

Along comes the smartphone boom and Microsoft decides it wants to be like Apple and get a corner on the market. Mind you, we all still joke about how unstable Windows is, so why would I ever buy a phone based on Windows?

Microsoft evidently believes touch is the future of computing. So out pops Windows 8. Probably the most idiotic move yet by Microsoft.

“Let’s take our biggest customers (businesses and corporations), and completely ignore them by churning out a system that is optimized for expensive touch systems!”

Can you imagine a giant corporation paying to upgrade all of their systems to expensive touch screens so that their employees cannot make use of the technology since all they’re doing is entering in data? That’s crazy.

I spent three hours trying to customize the appearance of a Windows 8 computer that my family had recently bought for my grandmother. There’s a settings screen, sure, but the range of controls arrayed there provide little option to change the functionality of the user interface, certainly not as much was easily possible (for those that knew a little about computers) with the old Windows operating systems.

After consulting the Internet, I found that the control panel is still there, but it is buried now. And after tweaking the settings and removing useless tiles, I was still unhappy with the way the new “Metro” interface looked and worked.

In addition to all that, starting with Vista, the base-line system requirements to run nothing but the operating system have increased dramatically with every subsequent iteration. Windows XP recommended a measly 128MB of RAM to run well. On the tail end of its popularity, you couldn’t find a stick of RAM this small if you tried.

Vista required a minimum of 512MB to run, but everyone would tell you that to do anything anywhere quickly, you need 1GB minimum. Add a program that needs any amount of memory to operate and you’re talking 2GB minimum. That’s anywhere from two to eight times the system requirements of XP, and that tacks on money quickly.

Now Windows 7 officially only requires 1GB RAM for the lower-end version. But again, that’s to run nothing but the operating system. Add anything else and you’ll need more RAM.

Along comes Windows 8 and, surprise surprise, they recommend 2-4GB RAM to run this thing.

Basically, Microsoft has been making systems require more and more advanced hardware at a rate different than the rate at which the price for this hardware becomes more reasonable. This is just my opinion, granted, but if Windows XP ran great and only needed 512MB RAM, why does Windows 7 run slower, but require four times the RAM?

I’m nothing but a geek who likes and knows his computers a little more than the average user, and I acknowledge that I know very little about business. All the same, from my standpoint looking at Microsoft’s decisions in the development of its primary product, they’re not going the right way.

If a company’s primary customer base is the corporate world, shouldn’t it primarily be focused on providing the needs of said customer base? Individual consumers might think the flashy new Windows 8 user interface is neat, but it certainly doesn’t improve productivity from a corporate standpoint.

If Microsoft had simply concentrated on improving stability, speed, networking and reliability, the consumer world wouldn’t have complained and the business world would have been overjoyed.