By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers
What's wrong with Windows?
People ask me that question with a peculiar emphasis. They say, "What's WRONG with Windows?" the same way a mother or father would say to an obviously misbehaving child, "What's WRONG with you?"
There's no question that Windows has been misbehaving. And it's equally obvious that many Windows users have grown weary of problems that won't go away. Microsoft, the company that makes Windows, either was not able to fix these problems or decided not to fix them. It's as simple as that. There is no other way to look at this.
A list of the main flaws makes fascinating reading. Here are just five major areas in which Windows 95 and 98 are failures, in order of importance, stated as briefly as possible.
1. Windows is not stable.
You should be able to trust a computer operating system. That means the operating system should work for relatively long periods without failing or causing programs to fail. Windows can't do that. System administrators, the folks who oversee all the computers in an office, for example, know this already. They spend far too much of their valuable time trying to get Windows PCs to run properly.
2. Windows does not properly support one of the primary functions of an operating system -- the safe installation of user software.
Programs added to a Windows PC eventually corrupt the operating system, forcing the reinstallation of the operating system and the user software. My standard advice when a PC user is having trouble with a Windows PC is to reinstall Windows. This needs to be done every 6 to 12 months.
3. Windows does not protect the operating system.
A properly functioning operating system does not allow misbehaving programs to endanger the system as a whole. Windows cannot protect itself and often will crash or lock up under these conditions.
Windows users are so used to this that sometimes we blame the PC itself for misbehaving, but all you need to do is run Linux for a few weeks on the same computer to see that operating systems don't have to crash. The fact that Windows isn't really in charge is evidence that Microsoft Windows isn't really an operating system. It's a huge program that provides a way for other programs to run on a PC. If you ran a hotel that had to shut its doors every now and then because the plumbing stopped working, the elevators shut down and the parking lot crumbled, you would not be able to claim that you actually "ran" the hotel.
4. Windows does not protect well behaved programs from ill behaved ones.
A properly functioning operating system should not let a program that misbehaves cause problems for other programs. Windows cannot control misbehaving programs. This is related to the previous problem, but is a separate category. Even if Windows itself were perfect in the way it did its own thing, it would be a disaster if it let one program step all over another one. (And that's just what Windows does. And, yes, it's a disaster.)
5. Windows runs out of memory when there is plenty of memory left over.
The operating system should be able to control how memory is used. Memory that is no longer being used by a program or by the operating system should be made available so other programs or the operating system can use it. Windows stores very important information in a tiny area of memory, called the "heap," and cannot manage that small area of memory properly. (There are actually a few of these areas. Collectively, they are called "resources.") When that small area is used up, Windows falsely reports that the system is out of actual memory. Further action on the computer is likely to cause a lockup at that point.