Please, PC Makers: Don’t Screw Up Windows 7

Windows 7 is shockingly pleasant. Which doesn't mean that the PCs it powers will be.

By  |  Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 5:37 pm

windows7-logoFor the past eleven days or so, I’ve spent a meaningful amount of my computing day in Windows 7. It’s very much a rough draft of the operating system that will eventually ship: It’s missing major features and a meaningful percentage of the apps I’ve tried to use wouldn’t even install. Even so, I’ve been enjoying the experience. The preview version boots up quickly. It’s surprisingly stable. Best of all, it’s the most mellow and dignified Windows environment I’ve used in a long time, thanks to its minimization of pushy notifications and new tools for managing the System Tray and other venerable sources of Windows annoyances.

(Even UAC is surprisingly tolerable in W7: It’s amazing how much less aggravating it is when it doesn’t black out the screen and beep at you.)

I can’t give a verdict on Windows 7 until I’ve tried the final version, but I’m officially looking forward to it. But I’m also nervous that Microsoft will release a pleasing OS that gets messed up by the PC companies that use it. That’s because so much of the ugliness of the PC experience circa 2008 is caused by stuff that PC manufacturers pile onto the OS: icons that clutter up the desktop and System Tray, demoware that fills up the Start menu, and applications that bog down performance and waste your time.

(Check out this PC World feature from last year for some background on this scourge, including Test Center benchmarks that show that the junk robs you of some of the PC performance you paid for.)

Even utilities that serve no marketing purpose and theoretically improve on the basic Windows experience often degrade the OS. The last Lenovo and Toshiba notebooks I purchased both replaced the stock Windows Wi-Fi tool with their own networking utilities that layer on multiple levels of complexity for no clear purpose. (The Lenovo one tends to crash on me, too.)

In the past, Windows suffered from the broken windows effect–which traditionally refers to real windows in NYC housing projects, but hey, its name works perfectly in this case, too. The operating system itelf was so fundamentally disrespectful towards its users in so many ways that it wasn’t surprising that third-party applications picked up bad habits. (The reverse logic also works: Mac apps tend to be low-key good citizens, and that’s surely in part because OS X sets such a good example.)

I’d love to think that a more polite, less intrusive Windows will lead PC manufacturers to rethink their attitude. At last week’s PDC event, Microsoft said that it hoped PC manufacturers would rachet back the annoyingware on new PCs–but you gotta think that the company must tread carefully when telling companies how they can customize Windows given its past legal woes.

PC manufacturers presumably lard up their computers with extra stuff to add distinctive value to their systems (through apps that aren’t part of Windows itself) and squeeze more money out of their customers (through trialware and other marketing materials). These tactics are so pervasive that I’m not sure that many people in the industry realizes how self-destructive they are, and how much they could improve Windows by tampering less with it.

Here’s one tidbit that may be reason for optimism: Symantec, whose Norton Anti-Virus has long been the software equivalent of a potent medicine that tastes terrible, focuses on making its new Norton 2009 security products less of a system-sapping troublemaker.

Right now, the single biggest reason to choose a Mac over a PC is that OS X is simply far less of a hassle to use out of the box. Lots of folks are willing to pay a premium for the better experience. If Microsoft and PC manufacturers made a concerted effort, they could change the game pretty quickly. Windows 7 could be a sizable leap in the right direction, but I’ll remain a worried skeptic until Windows 7 machines start to ship…


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9 Comments For This Post

  1. Lee Mathews Says:

    Just curious Harry, which apps haven’t worked? My Windows 7 installs (one on a Core2Duo laptop and one on an MSI Wind U100) have worked great. No major application troubles, just a few oddities with the start menu and Explorer – the latter of which is my fault, due to hacking around.

    At any rate, for the first version I’ve gotten to use it shows a lot of promise. The backup and imaging system works very well, PC Safeguard does an excellent job of preventing trouble from irresponsible use, performance and battery life is better, and so on.

    That being said, it’s got a long way to go – and I hope Windows 7 turns out to be as big an improvement as the ME to XP switch.

  2. [email protected] Says:

    Its ironic Microsoft blaming PC Makers (Dell , HP , IBM , Compaq,etc) that its their fault that Windows Comes with bloat .

    Even with a factory default copy of Windows XP , Windows Vista (MEv2)


    The amount of services and junk thats pre bundled from Microsoft compared to clean / stable / fast Windows 2000 PRO or Windows 2003 is amazing .

    Two good ways to speed up Windows XP/2000/2003 is to create your own custom edition of Windows using Nlite , which is a freeware tool which removes the bloat .

    If your using Vista you can use Vlite which is the Vista edition of Nlite .

    One of the many problems with Windows and its not going anywere direction is its still bloated its designed for every possible system in the globe , instead of asking users what they want or at least using a bit of smarts .
    Eg No printer found , turn OFF printer service .
    No internet , turn turn off auto updates .

    The speed performance between non nlited/vlite and nlited/vlited Windows is amazing .

    The amount of people that are constantly ditching IE instead using Firefox , using MPC or VLC instead of WMP , Miranda IM/aMSN/etc instead of Microsoft Messenger, yet all this Microsoft crapware that is targeted for exploits/infection is still pre bundled Windows XP/Vista/and the next one I am guessing if its anything like the pre ones.

    Microsoft needs to start to do what they tell everyone else ,
    stop releasing expensive bloated operating systems that dont
    really offer any decent new features to an operating system

    Stop focusing on BLOAT , Software Application Blocker/Firewall and the PRETTY GUI

  3. Harry McCracken Says:

    Hi, Lee,

    Adobe Acrobat Reader failed to install on one of my Windows 7 machines; Sonos’s software installs, but doesn’t work.

    Thanks for your report!


  4. Rob Says:

    Agree with Charliebrown above. Blame everyone else but the software? That’s funny.

  5. dave bissett Says:

    I love windows broken just the way it is. Continue with the bloat the Dos the constant updates and patches hacks n flaws

    I would never use Os x, it just works

    I’m a of lover and I don’t work


  6. Scan Windows Registry Says:

    This is the most interesting thread about M$ Windows I ever read this month!

  7. Sarongs Says:

    Personally I like WIN 2000 still but so many apps wont run unless you have .net installed and its a .net that is higher then 2000 can handle. I have head that windows 7 is just like 2000 but with all the new stuff for today.. almost as if they updates 2000 or 2003 server and made it better and lighter..

  8. SpeedingMyComputer Says:

    I found your post looking for help with my own computer issues. Didnt fix my original problem, but still a good read. Sometimes i think it would just be easier to buy a spanking new computer then keep the one i have

  9. Haba Says:

    From what I’ve seen, they’ve done a great job with Windows 7!

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