Why I've all but given up on Windows

Why I've all but given up on Windows

Summary: After more than two decades of being a dedicated Windows power user, and having invested tens of thousands of hours into mastering the platform, and run versions spanning from 3.0 to 8.1, I've now all but given up on Windows.


These are words I never thought I'd be writing.

After more than two decades of being a dedicated Windows power user, someone who over that time has installed and supported countless systems running versions of Windows spanning from 3.0 to 8.1, I've now all but given up on the platform.

It might sound odd, but writing these words actually makes me sad. I devoted my 10,000 hours to mastering the platform, plus thousands more, and got the point where there wasn't a file, registry entry, or command line trick that I wasn't familiar with.

I knew how to make Windows work.

But now, other than for test systems and virtual machines, I carry out my day-to-day work on a variety of OS X, iOS and Android systems. I barely give my Windows PC systems a second glance. My primary work system is a MacBook Pro, and in the ten months I've had it it's flawlessly done everything I've asked of it, from run Microsoft Word to render 4K video. I've lost count of the number of notebooks I've owned over the years, but this MacBook Pro is, by far, the most reliable system I've owned, and I put part of that down to the fact that it doesn’t run Windows.

Sure, I've downloaded and installed Windows 8.1 onto a number of systems for testing, and I've put an awful lot of hours into getting to know this latest release of Windows, but I see nothing in this new version that excites me sufficiently to tempt me back into the Microsoft ecosystem. If anything, the effect has been the exact opposite, confirming my belief that parting ways with Windows was the right thing to do.

So what's brought me to this point in my tech career?

Support fatigue

I've spent almost my entire adult working life involved with PCs, and the more PCs you are around, the more sick and dying PCs you encounter. And I've encountered a lot.

I've also cajoled and coaxed countless ailing systems back to life, but during that time I've come to realize how fragile the Windows operating system is, and how something small and insignificant as a bad driver, incorrect settings, or the stars being in the wrong position can bring a system to its knees, and result in hours of work searching for a solution. That's great if you're being paid by the hour to solve PC problems, but if you're dealing with your own systems, and you have better things to be doing with your time, then you want to get them up and running as fast as possible so you can get back to real work.

Troubleshooting is costly, time-consuming, and frustrating, and while I once used to relish the challenge, I now try to avoid it whenever possible.

Of all the desktop operating systems that I've used, the modern Windows operating system is by far the most fragile. It didn't used to be like that. I had Windows NT 3.5/40 systems, and some Windows 2000 machines that were rock solid. Partly this increase in fragility is down to the vast ecosystem of hardware and software it has to support, and partly it is down to the years of legacy that each version drags behind it. But part of the blame also lies at Microsoft's door for not putting enough effort into hardening the system, reducing the effect that faults – in particular software faults – have on the system, and providing better information when things go wrong.

Adding a :( to the Windows 8 BSoD screen isn't enough.

Windows systems keel over, and most of the time the only clue you have as to why is an ambiguous error message, which may or may not be a red herring. This sends you to Google – or Bing – in search of others before you who have suffered a similar problem, and whom you hope may have found a solution, which might be in the form of an updated driver, a registry tweak, command line incantation, or patch.

Sometimes you get lucky. Other times you have to try a number of things before you're successful. And sometimes you end up deciding that it's quicker to nuke the system and start from scratch.

And all the while I'm doing this, precious time is flowing through the hourglass.

The shift to post-PC devices

Another reason why Windows has been relegated to the sidelines at the PC Doc HQ is the proliferation of post-PC devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Now I've been using mobile devices for years, and remember Windows CE and the like running on devices with exotic sounding names such as iPAQ and Jornada (remember those?), but these devices were, without a doubt, companion devices. Basic operations such as installing software or moving data required a PC, and so these devices spent a lot of their lives tethered to a Windows PC.

Then Apple changed everything, first with the iPhone, and then with the iPad. Here were devices that were standalone, leveraging over-the-air software downloads and updates, and cloud storage.

I found that I could do more and more with less and less. Tasks that once required a full-blown desktop or notebook PC could be carried out faster and more efficiently on a smartphone or tablet. Unless I want to use full-blown applications such as Microsoft's Office or Adobe's Creative Cloud suite, then I can make do with post-PC devices. What's more, I can usually get things done faster since I'm not tied to my desk.

And the great thing about these devices (and I'll throw Android in here with iOS) is that they're there when I need them. I've had an iPhone and an iPad for years, and I can only remember a couple of times when they've let me down.

My experience of Windows on tablets closely resembles that of my ZDNet colleague James Kendrick. Bottom line, they let me down too much to want to bother with them. Why would I trade a reliable iPad or Android tablet for an unreliable Windows 8.1 tablet? Why trade a tablet that just works for one that regularly sends me on quests, roaming the Internet looking for the right elixir to fix the system?

Any hopes I had that x86 versions of Windows would be more stable on tablets have gone. In fact, in my experience, the user experience is worse. Sure, most of the time the problem comes down to a rogue drivers or a configuration thrown out of whack, but a problem is still a problem, and these are problems I don't experience with iOS or Android.

Bill Gates was right, there was a market for tablets. Unfortunately, most of those tablets would be powered by operating systems made by Apple and Google. But then, Apple and Google didn't try to shoehorn a desktop operating system onto tablets.

Windows RT is certainly a better choice for tablets, but that's because what you have is the illusion of Windows, rather than the real thing. If Windows RT had come out at around the same time as the iPad, and the software ecosystem matured at the same pace, then Windows RT would be a real contender, but as it stands right now there's little reason to choose it over iOS or Android.

Unless, that is, you want something that looks like Windows. Which I don't.

The increasing irrelevance of the operating system

Once upon a time, the operating system was the platform on which people ran applications, but as more and more local applications have been replaced by services running on remote web servers, increasingly the browser has replaced the operating system as the primary platform.

Twitter, Facebook, Gmail and countless other web-based services look the same whether I'm using Windows, OS X, or even Linux. On smartphones and tablets, I have the choice of accessing most of these services either through a web browser or a dedicated app.

It doesn't matter what operating system is running my browser, so I'm free to choose the platforms that give me the least headache.

Change for the sake of change

One of the biggest problems I have with Windows is the way that it inflicts change on the user for no logical reason.

For me, Windows 8 was the peak of "change for the sake of change," removing the Start Menu and pushing the Desktop into the background. Yes, I understand why Microsoft needed the Start Screen (because the Start Menu would be too cumbersome for tablet users), and yes, I understand that Microsoft wanted to give apps center stage, but for hundreds of millions of users running Windows on a desktop or notebook PCs, these changes did nothing but hurt productivity.

Compare this to OS X or even Linux distros. Here you feel a progression from one version to the next. Yes, sometimes there are changes that are disliked, but overall there's a smooth progression from one version to the next. Jarring changes are best kept to a minimum because they have an adverse effect on productivity, adding unnecessarily to the learning curve.

Microsoft backpedaled on some of these changes with Windows 8.1 (which must have been a pain for users who had gone to the effort of learning how to use Windows 8), but for me the damage was done. It's clear that Microsoft is going in a direction that's incompatible with the one I want my operating system to go in.

No appreciation of power users

Microsoft's decision to end the TechNet program, a service which gave power users, enthusiasts, and those whose job it is to test and support Microsoft products cheap and easy access to products, is a strong indicator that the company no longer values what people like this bring to the platform.

Windows is now the expensive option

Windows is now the only operating system I use where I have to pay to upgrade it.

While I don't begrudge paying a fair price for something I need, paying big upgrade bucks for something I can do without makes no sense. PCs easily outlast the lifespan of the Windows operating system, and the idea of paying almost a hundred bucks per system to keep it updated is hard to stomach when it doesn't bring me any tangible benefits.

Going the Mac route might seem like an even more expensive option, but having owned a number of systems, including the MacBook Pro that that become my go-to system, the additional cost of the hardware (plus the additional AppleCare warranty) is offset by the fact that these systems have given me months, and in some cases years, of additional hassle-free use. I've not had to mess around with drivers.

I've not had to go digging through the configuration settings. I've not had to surf the web looking for solutions to obscure error messages.

Shift to console gaming

I used to love PC gaming, but then I got my first console.

While the graphics don't match up, and the gamepad is no substitute for the keyboard and mouse, the years of hassle-free gaming that a console offers, free from driver and patch headaches, more than makes up for the deficiencies. Not only that, but when I consider how long I've had my Xbox 360, it's outlasted several gaming PCs, which has saved me a ton of cash.

Pick the game I want, insert the disc, and BOOM! I'm playing the game in seconds. No patches to download and install, no  graphics card drivers to mess with.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that outside of a few edge cases, Windows isn't for me. If it works for you, then that's great. Stick with what works for you. I for one certainly won't sneer or look down on you or go all fanboy.

After all, I remember – with fondness, and more than a hint of sadness – a time when it worked for me.

Personal preferences are, well, personal.

Can I see a time when I might go back to Windows? Maybe, I'm not ruling anything out, but for the time being, I see Windows playing a smaller and smaller part in my day-to-day computing.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, PCs

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  • I'm with you.

    Well written article and good to hear someone say what needed to be said.
    • Is Zdnet a serious web site ?

      This is one of the most infantile post I’ve read here. Me like this, me don’t like this… booohooo. My 13 year old daughter controls her emotion better.
      • Is that your best retort?

        AKH declares that the Emperor has no clothes, so you resort to derision.

        Did you ever stop to consider that he may have a point (or two...)? And that other Windows power-users might feel similarly, regardless of what you think?
        • ?

          I can see very clearly why your 13 year old daughter would prefer to control her emotions. She has no choice!
          Alvaro Zapata
          • Congratulations

            Congratulations, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes.

            You'll feel much better now. A weight off your shoulders.

            Now, someone should write an article about how Microsoft will manage to keep financing the development of future versions of Windows, when more and more people are deserting the OS in favor of post-PC devices.
          • It will get worse... More specifically, the feeling of resentment for MS.

            The change happens slower for some, faster for others. When you really start looking at windows, even those versions from the good old days, you realize it was always designed to crash. Log files and temp files that are designed to keep filling up until they literally break the OS and force you to do a fresh install, cr@ppy DLL files that should have been shelved long ago, an afterbirth of a registry that is convoluted, clumsy, and buggy on the best days. This has nothing to do with Apple, it’s just a fact that becomes clear once you really start understanding how windows is designed. Apple is simply the best choice at the moment and the MS fan boys need to get a clue and buy a vowel. (When windows 3 came out, I was telling people Windows was where they wanted to be, by OSX 2 (Jaguar), I was telling people that OSX was where they wanted to be. Granted 10.2 was still a little rough, but then again, so was windows 3, and 3.11 wasn’t much better.)

            If you were/are one of the few that are actually familiar with UNIX/Linux, then you know there are operating systems that can almost run forever without crashing. Back in 2000 when Apple announced that they were going to a UNIX OS, I said, “Whoa!!!, This is going to be a major game changer”. Those of us that had a clue knew exactly what was about to happen, and we knew it would just be a matter of time before the clueless caught up to the rest of us (and yes, most of us bought a lot of stock, AAPL). Welcome to reality Adrian. I thought you were going to get here sooner, but perhaps you don’t have the UNIX background that some of us had (and your work environment might have contributed to the delay). For the record, the Windows operating system isn’t “fragile”, it’s designed to break on purpose. And when that really sinks in, then you really start to resent troubleshooting an OS that is breaking and glitchy by design. When it affects your life enough, you really start to develop a foul taste in your mouth every time you have to fix something that should have been designed better. OSX isn’t perfect by any means and still has a lot of room for improvement, but it beats the snot out of windows by a country mile in every way possible.
          • BS. Nothing about it was designed to fail. At worst they gave isvs

            too much credit and they abused it. I have a surface rt and and a Lenovo x1 carbon. Both have run windows 8 flawlessly without a single crash or hang the entire time Ive had them, almost a year. Both flawlessly updated to 8.1, for free, and continued working flawlessly to this point. I suspect if akh had put window 8.0 on his beloved MacBook pro he would have had exactly the same flawless experience pre and post 8.1 upgrade. Farbetter than if hed installed macos on some whitebox clone. If you plug in a usb stick you find on the ground in a parking lot, visit a porn site and click ok when youre prompted to to install and run malware, install java or anything from apple,then youre going to get the binary stds associated with that type of risky behavior. Just the same as if you let a google play store app have access to all kinds of permissions it has zero business needing on android. And btw the W8 desktop is great, I spend all day everyday in it. It's not pushed to the background or in anyway confusing. Its just a faster better version than in W7 and I use the start screen for what it was designed for, being a bigger better version of the start menu that comes up when I press the windows key to launch whatever infrequent app I don't already have pinned to my taskbar.
            Johnny Vegas
          • Ohhhh... Really??? Almost a Year???

            Run it for 20 years and get back to me on that Johnny Clueless. Yes, there are real UNIX boxes that have been running for 20 years without a reboot and have been running fine. That doesn't happen with Windows of any flavor, it can't happen with windows of any flavor, windows is engineered to implode...

            Here is a little test you can run... After you finish installing your next batch of MS Updates, clear any caches and temp files and the check your free space and baseline your windows machine... Use that machine for a couple weeks, then clear any caches and temp files and check it against your baseline... Gee, your footprint keeps growing and growing? Gasp!!! Say it isn't so!!! Your machine gradually uses more and more ram? Gasp!!! Say it isn't so!!! No matter what you do, you can't stop it from growing fatter and fatter and using more and more resources to do the same job??? Surely it can't be designed to do that? That would be as moronic as a clueless fan boy like you...
          • Where are these non-stop-for-20 years Unix boxes?

            Come on-- you are just itching to tell us, right?
          • Unix running for 20 years.

            Well, in my company we have a Unix machine running SCO Unix since 1992. It has been running an in-house MRP system. Except for prolongued power outages, it's been running without interruptions since then.
            Mexjames HK
          • Bill Shirt

            what happened to "non-stop" or "without a reboot" ??
          • Watch out Sissy_Troll, your ignorance is showing...

            Ever read ARS Technica?


            Now that server ran non stop without a reboot for 16 years. There are Universities all over the US that have unix boxes that have been running for 20+.

            What you tools fail to realize is that you can apply security patches to a UNIX box without rebooting. And providing you don't have a failure that causes you to take the box down and you have a decent UPS/ backup generator, you are good to go for as long as the hardware will last. And some of that older hardware was built to last, much like the Centennial Light (and if you are clueless about that, google it).

            The longest you should ever run a Windows Server without a reboot is 31 to 90 days (provided MS didn't release a patch that requires a reboot). So go put your shrimp on the barbie and suck it Aussie_Tool.
          • Ben

            You cant update your kernel ( which includes most of your non mod drivers) without a reboot..non kernel / driver windows updates havent needed a reboot since ME.

            I have seen plenty of Windows servers run over 180 days without a reboot.

            I bet if you left a windows server running some small program like most Unix Servers do it would run for 20 years as well . Why ? Because OSX , Windows and Linux all run pretty much the same design kernel. The diffirence is only in the applications you use .
          • I don't know about 20 years, but...

            At one place that I worked in the late '80s and early '90s we had a Pyramid that I know for a fact ran continuously with crash, reboot, or other interruption for nearly six years. It even had a rather robust UPS, so even power outages didn't phase it.
          • Not 20 years but . . .

            . . . I have on old eeePC 900 netbook attached to a couple of 2TB USB drives I use as a file server and NAS for rsync backups. I had over 240 days without a reboot, 116 days until a couple of days ago. Never had a crash on it, I've just taken it down twice to do a couple of home repair projects. Lubuntu 13.04.

            If you want it to work, day in and day out, you choose Linux.
          • they're everywhere

            The P4 box in my garage was rebooted three times in 12 years. It was my firewall, home file server, email box, and a nameserver for about a hundred domains. I replaced it this summer with a Raspberry Pi running essentially the same OS (Debian GNU+Linux) and apps. And the Pi turns my sprinklers on and off too.
          • bs

            So you are telling me that there are unix boxes running problem free for 20years? What hardware are they running?
          • Do we have to spell it out....

            Bleed4me - there are far too many examples of UNIX systems running for years on end without issue. Any UNIX admin will have example after example. Any Windows admin will struggle to provide examples that aren't commonly rebooted.

            In an ideal world, all systems have to be patched and kept up to date. The reason there are so many examples of UNIX systems that run for 10 years + is simply because the systems are so business critical, that it's just impossible to get any downtime for them to either migrate to later OS version, patch or migrate to new hardware.
            In the end, the main reason for migrating is the skyrocketing cost of maintenance on old hardware that the manufacturers don't want to support any more.
            It's true that without much change, the UNIX systems can just keep rocking on without seeing too much in performance degradation.
            The same certainly cannot be said of Windows systems.

            Suppose an example I have is of a Sun Ultra 5 (came out in 98), with Solaris 6 that's been running since 99. Still going.

            Suppose best example would be to find uptime of current box I'm on.....
            Okay it's a UltraAX-i2 with "up 642 day(s)". Not too bad. But I've seen greater than 1000 days commonly.
            Glenn Stewart
          • Not bad I guess if its true

            Microsoft Server instances can do it as well. Depends on what you do on it. If you run the pre-installed services on the server it will have a better chance. If you start to run 3rd party software you will run into issues. I have server 2012 running 3 or so VM's which I ran for months without any issues at all. I only just turned it off then as I wish to try VMware's ESXI for virtualisation of my network roles instead of 2012 hyper V. Who cares! Servers are designed to run constantly without interruption. My main argument was 20yrs? That's what I called BS on. No power failure? No changing UPS? No hardware failure? Would have to be prehistoric hardware. Not debating which is better as Unix definitely has a stronger Server presence than Microsoft Server. I think there have only been a few really good versions of Server (2003, 2008r2 and 2012 - My fav)
          • Windows Server (2003, 2008, 2012)

            Now, I understand you might be happy with your brand new Windows Server installations.
            But you simply cannot compare their reliability of the time tested UNIX installs of more than 20 years ago. Simply because Windows Server 2003 is only.. 10 years old.

            Windows Server has not been around long enough to make any kind of statements like this.

            Not arguing which is better, because that definitely depends on the intended usage etc. But I know this: if something happens with Microsoft, Windows Server will be no more. Yet, UNIX will continue to live as a platform. Therefore, the logic dictates that the investment in UNIX skills is more useful.