Friday, February 16, 2018

Windows 10 Is Like A Huge Old Super-City: Discuss

There are many cities around the world that were founded centuries ago and have, over the years, super-sized themselves. You can still stand in the spot, perhaps the neighborhood, where people first settled and gave the city a name. In the beginning, you could stand anywhere and throw a rock out of town, but walking to one of the edges would be a challenge at this point.

Some of them are very old, and have grown truly huge over time. There’s Karachi, Pakistan (thirty-one million people); Mexico City (twenty-four million); Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (a stunning thirty-five million); and many others. The one that I know best is kind of a junior-super-city. That would be my home of more than ten years, Bangkok, which started as a settled area over two hundred years ago and has grown to be the home of between ten and twelve million people. The entire phenomenon is very interesting.

If you look at Bangkok from a distance, what you will notice first are the newer additions to the city. There are a lot of very tall buildings spread over most of the total area, and several areas of the city seem to consist entirely of very tall buildings. There are now motorways and elevated trains laced around the city, not to mention one large airport surrounded by urban sprawl. There are, however, many reminders of the various stages of the city’s development. They are everywhere, and they are easy to find. You can turn a corner and see nothing but buildings of modest height that were built about one hundred years ago. There are entire neighborhoods that look almost exactly like they did sixty or seventy years ago. And spread out all over the city, from end to end, are small, cluttered areas where many ramshackle dwellings in the ancient Thai style are placed close together in no discernable pattern. These areas are difficult to place in time. The whole thing may have been built twenty, fifty, eighty, or a hundred years ago, or even more. Many of these consist of stilt-homes, often built along the older canals, and the floors and galleries can sag alarmingly. There will be newly washed clothes hanging on a line, though, and if you come across them in the evening, the light of a TV will shine out of the portals, otherwise unencumbered by either doors or windows. These families have nothing worth stealing, and Thailand is hot, so the home is as open to the circulation of air as possible.

One of my Bangkok hospitals is a case in point. That would be King Chulalongkorn Hospital, founded by the King himself in about the year 1910. The original two-story buildings are still there, connected by walkways that are covered to provide protection from the tropical rains. They are all still in use, and many contain very expensive, new high-tech medical equipment. They were built to occupy a large area featuring a lot of open space, either for gardens or just to encourage the circulation of air. Every available space is now occupied by buildings of all descriptions that have been built continuously over the course of the hospital’s history. The newest buildings are large and modern. It’s a jumble of styles and periods that is familiar to anyone that is familiar with Bangkok in general.

They say that large, old cities grow in this way according to unwritten rules that govern how people will move about and interact. I’ve read that cities themselves, as though they were living things, act to ensure that the resulting jumble will be livable. Perhaps it would be fair to say that cities are living things. They certainly seem to breathe, and life’s blood does seem to flow in them.

So, that’s the part about cities.

How about Windows 10? Is Windows 10 a living thing? Is it nourished by breath and blood? Ah, no. I think that would be giving it too much credit. But the history of its development does have a lot in common with the growth of a super-city.

Opening a Windows 10 machine today, we are presented with the most modern face of Microsoft’s premier product, the Windows operating system. The product called “Windows 10” has only been available for a couple of years, but its foundations, like those of Bangkok, were laid long ago. It almost seems like forever ago by now. The foundations of Windows 10 were laid in a world where FAX machines, the cordless home telephone, and pagers were the height of personal technology; a world devoid of mobile phones or the Internet; a world where computers were as big as Volkswagens and ran on punch-cards or big reels of magnetic tape; an analog world where music was still sold on grooved plastic disks that were played by a diamond needle that rested on them and vibrated with the sound, which was then amplified. The foundation of Windows 10 was the first version of DOS, which enabled regular people to guide primitive IBM licensed computers through simple tasks like word processing. DOS was the vehicle that brought computers into our homes. This would be what, the mid-1980s?  

Microsoft occupied the home computer field early, but they were not alone. There was another company with something that was ready to market. That would be Apple, and Apple’s big selling point was the mouse. Controlling everything from the keyboard is still possible, but it was always unwieldy. The mouse enabled the user to point to icons and click, greatly simplifying the computer experience. Apple correctly recognized the marketing potential of the mouse driven computer, but they badly overestimated the public’s willingness to pay for Apple products. They threw away their market advantage in favor of limited sales at high prices, and, as so often happens, someone stole their good idea and undercut their prices, achieving market domination. That was Microsoft, which released their mouse driven computer as Windows. Just point and click! What could be easier. The Apple product was always more advanced, and the user experience was always more comfortable, but Windows would do most things just fine and it was a lot cheaper. The Windows machines sold like hotcakes, while Apple almost went broke.

It was all Windows, but DOS hadn’t gone anywhere. Windows was built on top of DOS. And then newer versions of Windows were just added to the stack. So, it was all the way up through Windows 95, Windows 97, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8, and now Windows 10, and all of the other Windows in between, either released or stifled at birth.

The problem by now is that the foundation of Windows 10 is rotten. It is staggering along on life-support under the weight of all of that cut-and-paste coding.

Disclaimer: I could be wrong, of course. I’m not a tech writer, nor am I some kind of hacker. I’m just an average Joe who has used computers extensively since the mid-1980s, and I’m a guy who reads extensively about many subjects that interest me, and computers is one of those subjects.

My first real computer was an IBM clone with an 8088 processor and less then 20 MB of storage. I used it for word processing only, while I was in law school. Working as a lawyer, I moved on to newer machines on a regular basis. I often worked as a one-man office, and I did everything myself, including all document preparation. I became proficient in Word and Word Perfect, and I purchased, installed, and ran various programs for specialized document preparation. I am in no way an expert, you could not even say that I was particularly good at it. But I am experienced.

And what I can see about Windows 10 is that it does less than older versions of Windows, and it does most things more slowly. My new Windows 10 machine will not recognize my Samsung phone to import photos. “No files available for import.” I tried to copy Word files to CD, and even something as simple as that was time consuming and counterintuitive. The machine simply will not import songs from CDs. Not only that, it also seems to get worse every time it updates itself, which is two or three times per week at great expense of time and attention.

Each new version of Windows 10 brings new problems. The touch-screen feature seems to have driven the entire Windows jalopy off of a cliff. The ancient code at the core of the operating system seems to have risen in rebellion against the demands that are being placed on it.

I think that part of the problem is that people use computers to play games these days, and the games require lots of computing power and sophisticated video drivers, which all make great demands on the machines. I play no games on the computer, except for the odd chess problem, so I don’t need all of that extra RAM and shear power. I’m pretty sure that I’d be happier, and my computing experience would be enhanced, by a return to Windows XP and Word 97. Every single up-grade since that period has been nothing but trouble.

My point is that Windows 10 is a patchwork of the new, the not-so-new, the old, and the ancient. Bangkok is exactly the same mix of ingredients. It works fairly well for a city, all things considered, but even with cities it brings problems. The streets were laid out for traffic that consisted of pedestrians and vehicles drawn by horses or human beings, so moving around the city is very slow and inefficient. The main difference between Windows 10 and Bangkok is: entirely replacing Bangkok from the ground up would be impossible, while the need to replace Windows 10 with an entirely new operating system is something that should be obvious to everyone.

Will Microsoft write an entirely new operating system? I’m not holding my breath for that one. Will someone else? Google, perhaps? Android? Amazon?  A better question is: does anyone have a financial incentive to come up with one? Here, there are people much better qualified to answer that question. But we can consider it. Microsoft already has a monopoly on home computer operating systems. They’ve got us over a barrel, and so why would they want to invest the time and money? They don’t want to, that’s the obvious answer. Apple has chosen the high-end/ high-art niche, and the Google Chrome Book has its niche, but Microsoft equips most of the home computers in the world by far. A separate problem is that none of these big companies plays well with the others. Apple has always insured that other software will not run on its products, and now Microsoft is following Apple’s lead.

Consumers are getting the short end of the stick. We make those companies and their owners rich, and what do we get for our money and our trouble? “Here, pal,” they say, “take this, because this is all you’re gonna get.”

Well, I’ve got that out of my system. I should feel better, but I don’t.

No comments: