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Microsoft windows ease of use decreases
© December 2004 Tony Lawrence

Microsoft STILL doesn't understand the Internet, or basic networking. Or perhaps they do, and deliberately pervert things for their own purposes- I'm not sure which is worse. I don't think a month goes by where something dumb (or perverse) that MSoft has done doesn't annoy me or cause extra work.

I don't know if I'm truly a Microsoft basher. I don't like the company's politics, morals, and business practices, but I still own their stock. In general, I don't like Windows because, well, because it's DUMB. Every where I go, I see folks doing dumb things with Microsoft products. By dumb, I mean horribly inefficient, clumsy, and just plain silly. Things that could be done much better with just a teeny bit of intelligent scripting or programming. Spreadsheets used as databases, manual distribution of data, manual conversions, and on and on and on..

That doesn't mean they need Unix. Almost always, whatever they are doing COULD be done on Windows, but two things conspire against it: Windows scripting until WSH was, well, awful, and WSH is unfortunately obscure, and (probably the most important part), THEY FIND A WAY TO DO IT with Windows.

On the one hand, that's a good thing. The users get their job done, albeit painfully, manually, with greater chance of error, lack of validation and control of data, etc. On the other hand, they waste untold hours of time regularly, often daily or even hourly, and don't have any protection from errors in their own ad hoc procedure that a script or program designed for the task might give them.

I think you could make a real case that while computers may have increased worker productivity, the dumbed down "ease of use" features of Microsoft's products have retarded that: in other words, we could have MORE if people weren't wasting so much time every single day doing dumb things.

There are other things I don't particularly like about Windows, but they are mostly minor gripes or application specific. The big thing is the general stupidity of it, the insipid "even a moron can use this" design- because when morons can use it, it's guaranteed that they will..

But as long as I'm ranting, how about the protocols they have screwed up?

Java is the best known, but there are dozens if not hundreds of smaller little perversions spread here and there, causing constant annoyance for the rest of us. zealots just ignore those..

I don't mean screwed up in the sense of programming mistakes. It's not a matter of "perfect". Everybody makes *programming* mistakes. It's when you deliberately or otherwise prevent/screw up/etc. other OS'es from accessing protocols on your OS that you are guilty. Microsoft does that frequently, either on purpose or because they don't know the history of how protocols have been used.

Does Microsoft include a standard scripting language like Per? No, of course not. So, when the SAME memo needs to be sent every month with perhaps some new or replaced information to a list, the typical MSOFT company does it by hand- MAYBE with a mail merge, but often not even that.

Let's take a real life example: I have a list of folks who want to receive email when new pages are added to my web site. Naturally I use Majordomo for the list, and naturally I have a script that generates the text- it figures out what I've added recently, creates the text, decides whether it is enough to send out a mailing, and sends it to Majordomo if it is. In other words, the entire thing happens without intervention or conscious effort on my part. I guarantee that 99% of MSOFT shops faced with the same need would do it by hand BECAUSE THEY CAN AND BECAUSE THEY DON'T KNOW ANY OTHER WAY.

And of course this same thing CAN BE DONE on Windows- understand that I am not saying you NEED Unix to do this- just that the "ease of use" and obscurity of Windows scripting causes this inefficiency.

By the way, I am MSCE certified - or technically, was- I haven't kept up with the tests, but I work with MS OS'es every day- I have to, because 99.99% of the time those are the clients, and very often there's NT mixed in too for authentication. I "keep up" with technology. I have to. My income depends on it, so you had better believe I don't keep in the dark. I don't consider myself "expert" at Windows- I do find it amusing that sometimes I know more than the supposed expert on site..

Anyway: A professional secretary can produce a consistent, good looking letter in a quarter of the time and at far less cost than someone who is not proficient. Yet the "ease of use" has caused the elimination of professional typists almost everywhere- managers everywhere produce their own crappy, inconsistent, ugly letters- BECAUSE THEY CAN.

And then that has to be printed. But once again, the Microsoft way is often inefficient. If you know anything about Unix Sys V printing, you know what a printer "class" is- it's a "printer" that actually is a pool of similar printers- a job sent to that printer will print on the first available printer in the pool. It's a very handy abstraction, and although I've never seen it, I bet there's some way to do something similar in Msoft OS's. But I've never seen any one do it, because the "obvious" way is too easy.

Of course, I can come up with examples of "printers" that need to process their input: make substitutions, copy to faxes, etc. : stuff that CAN be done with MSFT but almost never is- if certain documents need to be both faxed and printed, I guarantee it will be done manually and with two steps- again, wasting time and money. And if it needs to be preprocessed, that will be an entirely different step.

I'm not touting Unix- I'm pointing out the problems with MSOFT- if there is something I do with Unix that I couldn't do with MSOFT I can't think of it right now- the point is that DOING it is often obscure or difficult- THAT'S the problem and THAT's what I don't like about MSOFT OS'es and THAT's why they retard efficiency.

I just thought of another example- something I see CONSTANTLY: Company XYZ has a web page. Regularly, certain pages need to be updated with new information and old data needs to be taken down. Any half-assed web master, using Windows or otherwise, would do this with a database that produces the current page either statically or on the fly. It doesn't have to be fancy or even a real database; I often do it with simple HTML forms that report the new data..

But your typical little MSOFT shop doesn't. They COULD, but all they know is FrontPage or something like it, so somebody hand edits every week or even every day and posts it. Manually. Because they can, and because the very idea of scripting never occurs to them.

The hand work takes time, and worse, it often introduces errors of content or formatting or both. When more than one person is involved, you get inconsistent pages, duplication, etc.

Again: YOU CAN DO THIS AUTOMAGICALLY WITH MICROSOFT OS'ES. But people don't, because most of them aren't even aware that they CAN do anything but point and click, and because it is usually not as direct and easy as it is with Unix.

Ease of use has produced legions of folks who really are computer illiterate but don't know it. They think they are "using" their computers, but they really aren't. They are popping TV dinners in the microwave think they are cooking- and worse, not knowing that there is any other way, and never realizing that while that may be a great way to make a quick lunch, it's a very dumb way to make dinner for twenty.

But that's what happens every day in the MSOFT world: dinner for twenty prepared in a microwave. Slowly. Painfully. Nobody gets fed on time, and the food isn't very good, but nobody complains because TV dinners in the microwave is so much easier than peeling veggies and boiling water and using that darn stove that nobody understands..

Again, MSOFT OSes have a "stove". They hide it, they make it even harder to use than any Unix stove ever was, but it is there and it would cook a perfectly good dinner.

Maybe not as fast as the Unix stove though :-)

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-> Microsoft windows ease of use decreases productivity

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Inexpensive and informative Apple related e-books:

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More Articles by © Tony Lawrence

"Every where I go, I see folks doing dumb things with Microsoft products...spreadsheets used as databases, manual distribution of data..."

How about generating customer invoices with PowerPoint? I kid you not!

I have a client who uses PowerPoint to do invoices and then manually enters the A/R data into an Excel spreadsheet. I just have to bite real hard on my tongue when I see this sort of nonsense.



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