RETURN ON TECHNOLOGY: At home with that old computer? Prepare to be frustrated

Keywords Technology

Microsoft is yanking our chains again, and it’s your fault.

Oh, perhaps it’s not your fault personally, but you’ve contributed-as has almost every businessperson in the world. We all buy Windows machines, then use Windows software on them.

In return, Microsoft treats us to heaping piles of frustration, like when the company recently said that, contrary to prior announcements (and mine a few weeks ago in this space), some versions of the new Windows Vista operating system won’t be available until early 2007. This is hardly the first time Vista has clouded over. I was beta-testing Longhorn, Vista’s maiden name, two years ago when Microsoft was making noises about releasing it in 2005.

But it’s not such delays that get most of us steamed. In point of fact, many businessfolk hardly notice a new operating system unless they have to buy a new computer. Many are still happily logging into Windows 2000 every day. It’s when the old system gurgles and dies that we suddenly become aware of how horribly exposed we are.

Little by little, we’ve adjusted, fiddled and added to the old system until it felt like home. Most of our computers don’t look a lot like they did when they sprang from a sea-foam of packing material. We’ve wiped away the most annoying icons, popped a game or two onto the hard drive, put photos of the kids on our backgrounds, sent and received hundreds of emails, and added storage places, some of which are still called only “New Folder.”

We know where everything is, and that’s a good thing because we have so much to track. Old files accumulate like rocks at the bottom of a waterfall and get cleaned out almost as often. But it’s home, and we’re comfortable there.

Then the comfy screen goes dark, and we have to start all over again.

Chances are excellent that when your latest computer arrived, you didn’t load Windows on it; it was already there. That’s the deal Microsoft has with Dell, IBM, and other computer-makers: Microsoft supplies the goods and the manufacturers do all that nasty loading to save you time.

But preloading is part of what got Microsoft in trouble with the Justice Department, because it “encouraged” balky manufacturers to load all things Microsoft along with Windows, and discouraged anybody else’s applications, such as QuickTime or the Firefox browser.

Chances are you’ve forgotten to back up your e-mails, your browser’s bookmarks list and any of a dozen other programs, so you’re now without all those aids when you have to move to a new system.

And Microsoft is scant help here. The Microsoft nabobs don’t have to worry about such things, so why should you?

It’s clumsy to back up e-mails from Outlook. It’s a multi-step process to back up browser bookmarks, too. Microsoft has supposedly supplied helpful software to make it easier to back up files, but “easier” is a relative term. It’s easier for techies, perhaps, but not for accountants.

Part of the problem is how Windows is designed. Windows applications are not single lumps of code, but instead are scattered bits and pieces that use each others’ resources. That’s why Internet Explorer can’t be totally excised from the system, because other things won’t work. On the surface, this makes sense, because there’s no need for multiple printing programs when all applications can use the one that Windows provides.

The drawback is that you can’t just pack up your applications and move them entirely to a new machine. They have to be loaded anew, from CDs. Then your old Word, Excel and Outlook settings have to be reconstructed by hand, taking a huge amount of time. Most of us won’t even remember how we made Clippy go away or how we put that helpful new button on the toolbar.

It hurts to be evicted and have to move to a sterile new place.

It doesn’t really have to be this way, but the truth is that Microsoft isn’t all that concerned about you and me. In most companies, there’s no discussion about what new machines will have, except for their cost. Windows is a given, and therefore, Microsoft routinely sells Windows and Office in batches, not singly.

Yet Microsoft gives far more attention to its technical customers than its business ones. Techies get the features they crave, because in their world, Linux or another operating system works just as well.

The business world-well, that’s different. We are taken for granted by Redmond’s Big M. A salesman once pointed out to me that although Word, Excel and Outlook interfaces are clumsy to use every day, they’re great for demos. I think that sums it up pretty well.

Altom is a senior business consultant for Perficient Consulting. His column appears every other week. He can be reached at

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