After years of trying to improve their image, it seems Microsoft’s efforts must have paid off — not many youngsters these days are aware why so many of the previous generation (including myself) vehemently hated Microsoft.
I was searching for “microsoft is evil” just for fun, and one of the common reasons cited is their aggressive licencing practices (which is what got them in trouble with U.S. anti-trust laws). While a valid point, I feel this is too remote an issue from the average’s person consciousness. The immediate effects of it more screwed PC manufacturers than anyone else. (End users probably gave less thought about why Windows was the only OS you could get on any new off-the-shelf PC.)
On the other end of the spectrum there is Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, who says Microsoft’s Software Is Malware. While he makes a lot of valid points — Microsoft certainly is guilty of many sins — I feel the language of his arguments is often so far to the extremes as to make them less effective. (I generally agree with his free-as-in-speech software philosophy, but seeing as I make a living selling the software I create, I also give more leeway to the ways developers monetize their software. We gotta eat, after all…)
So here I will relate my personal journey with Microsoft over the years, to hopefully make clear why somebody like me could have so much hatred for a distant software company.
Our Way or the Highway
I’ve used Microsoft products, like it or not, for most of my life. My experience began with my first serious PC — a 386, 20 Mhz. clone build — running MS-DOS 6. (I’m ignoring for the moment the Commodore 64 I also used to tinker with as a kid.)
This was the late 80’s-early 90’s and DOS was king… it was fast, reliable, and you could do just about anything. I played PC games (Duke Nukem 3D, anyone?), did word processing (WordPerfect 5), messaged people on BBS’s before the internet, and even browsed the internet when that became a thing (yes there was a browser available for DOS, it was called Arachne).
I also had Windows 3.1, which back then was just another thing that ran in DOS. You would type “win” at the command prompt and it would load up, and when you were done you could quit (File->Quit) and return to DOS. It was slow and a little clunky, so I only went into Windows when I had to — when there were certain programs I needed to run and they only ran in Windows. You know, important things like Solitaire, or Minesweeper. (Or, later on, things like WordPerfect 6, Lotus Notes, or Netscape, which was the best internet browser at that time.)
Still, I would always return to DOS as much as possible because that’s where things were fast and easy. I grew up on the command prompt, so maybe that’s why to me things were easier there. If given the choice, I’d rather type what I wanted to do than perform click/double-click/drag antics for some simple task.
So I was really dismayed when Windows 95 arrived, and you could no longer quit out of Windows! What the fuck was this shit!? I knew it was bullshit because Win95 quite obviously ran on top of DOS — they simply hijacked the boot sequence to auto-start Windows and then removed the “quit” option. If you wanted to still do anything in DOS, they allowed you to open the “command prompt” which was (and still remains to this day) just a tiny little window… not the beautiful DOS I loved. There was no technical need to make it like this, so why wouldn’t they just let me use my computer the way I wanted to?
This was the first, of what would be many, examples of Microsoft’s arrogant attitude towards us all — they were basically saying, “we don’t care how YOU like to do things, we’re going to force you to do it OUR way.”
Embrace, Extend, Extinguish
Next Windows 98 came around, and it was the same exact shit as Windows 95 except it crashed more. It was around this time that Internet Explorer (“Internet Exploder” as we called it back in those days) began to be forced upon us whether we wanted it or not. My memory might be a bit hazy, but I seem to remember not being able to uninstall it, even if we wanted to. (Or there was a convoluted series of steps you had to go through to remove all the various files, registry entries, blah blah blah). I guess “bloatware” is so common a thing now that we accept it, but back then having programs/apps that we didn’t want forced on us was really fucking annoying.
Why exactly didn’t we want IE? Because it was a steaming pile of shit, that’s why. It couldn’t do even the most basic things right. But Microsoft brilliantly forced it on everybody by 1) bundling it with Windows and not allowing you to get rid of it, and 2) their famous “embrace, extend, extinguish” tactic. This was the start of the “browser wars”.
Their goal was to extinguish competing browsers like Netscape and ensure Microsoft’s total dominance of the internet. They almost succeeded. Thank God they didn’t. Those of you who have done web development for a while will remember what an awful pain it was. You would almost have to develop 2 different websites — first you’d build it to work in all the “normal” browsers, then you’d have to practically build it over again just to make it work in IE. (If IE hadn’t been such a terrible product from the beginning, they might have actually won… scary thought!)
If IE was so shitty, why did so many people ever use it?? Because 1) it was there, pre-installed with Windows, and so many people just used the default option given to them without any other thought, and 2) because of the ActiveX-based bullshit that larger companies built shit around, because they (apparently) believed all the hype Microsoft sold to the developer community.
Even though Microsoft eventually lost the browser wars, Internet Explorer would continue to be forced on us in every Windows version up to the present day, where it lives on under the name “Microsoft Edge”. (New name, same shit.)
Microsoft always wanted more money. They already charged hundreds of dollars between Windows and basically essential software like Office (Word/Excel/Powerpoint etc.), but still it wasn’t enough. This was before Software as a Service and subscription models had become a thing, and for a time there weren’t really any viable open-source alternatives. You were locked into Microsoft, and they knew it. And they made the most of it.
That’s why Microsoft would find ways to make you buy their software over, and over, and over again. Here, have a new version of Windows, let’s call it Windows 2000. Oh, your old software doesn’t work anymore? Time to buy new versions of everything else too. What, you’re still using Windows 2000? Time to upgrade to Windows XP. Sorry, we’re dropping support for XP, now you need… and so on.
They were releasing new versions of things so often that they started making stupid changes just for the sake of change. After all, they had to make up some “reason” to convince you to “upgrade”. Microsoft Office is the perfect example of this — by the time of Office 2003, every feature anybody actually cared about was already there. What more do you really need for word processing or spreadsheets? Their answer: THE RIBBON BAR! That’s right folks, we’re going to take the File/Edit/Etc dropdown menus that everybody has understood and used since Windows 3, and replace it with a “ribbon” where you will never, ever, find the things you are looking for. Upgrade to Office 2007 today and enjoy all the advantages of the ribbon bar! Yes, lets all spend $300 so we can get the same old shit all over again, just with a cutesy UI that nobody asked for.
It was even worse with all the different Windows versions coming out, because unlike installing the latest Office or Works or Vizio or Media Player or whatever, installing a new OS version was a painful experience. Seriously. It was like moving houses — you have to pack up all your stuff (your files), install the OS which wipes out everything in the process, then reinstall all your programs, restore your files, and configure everything all over again. It was a miserable experience, and Microsoft never seemed to appreciate the pain they were causing — especially for people like me who make a living on a computer. I spend so much time on my computer already its like I practically live inside it. And Microsoft is like the evil landlord who every year or two says “I know you always paid your rent on time, but I’m kicking you out because I want to turn this place into condos and make a lot of money, so fuck you.”
Computers are supposed to be a tool that makes our lives easier — not a source of frustration that causes you to spend hours on the weekend figuring out why some random driver is causing a BSOD after you installed the new Windows, or whatever shit-du-jour they hoist upon you.
They did this to us all the time. I never wanted to “upgrade” — I’d always be the last person to do it — but sooner or later I would be “forced” to because some program I had to use (for work, for school, whatever) REQUIRED me to have X version of Windows, and that X kept going up all the time. We went from Windows 95 to Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP (actually the most reliable version they’ve probably ever had), Windows Vista (the worst fucking piece of shit they ever unleashed on the public — it was barely even functional), Windows 7 (basically just a fixed version of Vista), Windows 8 (Metro tiles? Are you kidding me? Where the fuck is the Start Menu?), to now Windows 10 (basically just a fixed version of 8 with the Start Menu brought back). In all these years of updates, what new thing have we gained that we couldn’t do back in, say, Windows XP? Technologically speaking, I can’t think of anything. All we’ve done is fork over a lot of money to Microsoft for new UIs and fresh headaches.
The thing that drives me absolutely the most batty about Windows is… the forced updates. This ties back to my first point, which is Microsoft’s arrogance that they feel entitled to tell you how you will use your computer. We will give you updates, when and where WE want, whether YOU like it or not!
It’s bad enough that as of Windows 10 they no longer allow you to completely turn off updates. What’s worse is that, in all this time, they still haven’t figured out how to NOT INTERRUPT YOUR WORK WITH FUCKING UPDATES. I have literally been in the middle of working on a big project when Windows suddenly decided to start an update process, giving me NO OPTION TO CANCEL IT, and FORCIBLY RESTARTING MY COMPUTER ON ME in the process! HOW. IS. THAT. ACCEPTABLE. IN. ANY. UNIVERSE? Really, I want to know.
(By the way, I’ve since found that StopUpdates10 is a great way to permanently block these fucking updates. Also a firewall like TinyWall that can block on a per-application basis is indispensable — it’s sad that you need tools like this to fight against your own system, but it’s the only way sometimes to prevent Windows or other programs from “phoning home”.)
I have permanent PTSD from Windows updates, because THEY BREAK SHIT. Maybe it’s gotten better in recent years, I’m not too sure, but I remember this happening all the time especially in the old days. I would do my updates “like a good boy” and then weird things would start happening… things that used to work fine suddenly stopped working, or the entire computer would all of sudden pull blue screens of death at random times. There were bad updates that fucked things up for a lot of people, and we kinda had to know which ones to avoid. Don’t install KB12345 (or whatever number), or .NET Framework version X is bad but X.1 is okay, etc etc. Again, a computer is supposed to be a tool that makes my life easier! If Microsoft, a professional software company, can’t figure out how to release updates without fucking up my computer, then don’t fucking release them at all!
Ugh. Just typing this has made me remember how much I hate Microsoft. I’m not even going to get started about their privacy abuses. I need a drink.
Please share your own experiences with Microsoft in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!