Why Microsoft really does suck

All the warm, fuzzy feelings evoked by my gorgeous new laptop went up in smoke when I discovered the evil that lurked inside.

Topics: Microsoft, Linux,

Never mind whether Microsoft actually threatened to cut off Netscape’s air supply, or whether it sneakily ensures that its own software applications work better with Windows than any other company’s programs do, or even if it illegally strong-armed computer manufacturers into including Internet Explorer on new computers. That’s all window dressing, so to speak. I got a fresh view of why Microsoft bugs me a couple of days ago, after I bought a new laptop.

The computer, a Sony Vaio 505TR, is the most beautiful high-tech gadget I’ve ever owned — straight out of my science-fiction dreams, an ultraslim burnished silver objet d’techno-art. I’ll come clean: One of the reasons I bought this model was that I knew that Linux hackers were in love with it; reportedly, it is completely compatible with GNU/Linux, from modem to power management to CD-ROM drive. But all that free-software compatibility, while nice, is nothing compared to the sheer joy I feel every time I glance at this finely engineered marvel. I just want to hug it.

The impulse to hug, however, quickly vanished when I turned on my Vaio. What was the very first thing I was forced to do with my new computer? If you guessed “kowtow to Redmond” you’ve just won yourself a new mousepad. Because before I could so much as twiddle on the touchpad, I had to enter the Windows 98 “Certificate of Authenticity” Product Key — 30 letters and numbers proving that I had the right to start using the computer I had just bought.

Excuse me? Who owns this computer? Me, or Microsoft? I felt insulted, and then angry. Now, I’m aware that technically adept readers will suggest that before powering on, I should have inserted a boot-up floppy or bootable CD-ROM disk, and wiped the hard drive clean before installing a different OS. But I kind of wanted to take a look around — get a glimpse of what software had been installed, find out how fast the processor cranked, take the touchpad for a spin, etc. — before performing major surgery. Instead, I got a bald reminder of just who holds the reins of power in my computer. It’s not me, certainly, not even the computer maker, but the operating system manufacturer.

To the non-technical user, the operating system and the computer may seem one and the same. You buy the computer, it has Windows installed, and you just have to unlock it before you can enter. To me it seemed as if I’d bought a house and the electrical system was demanding to see my deed of ownership before I could enter the door. Basically, it was flat-out rude.

Moments later, Windows prompted me to register online. If I did so, I could get set up for online OS updates without having to clumsily search out and install various patches. Sounded like a reasonable thing to do, so I agreed. But after having agreed, Microsoft informed me that all the personal information I was about to input would be made available to Microsoft “and its affiliates.”

No “check this box if you don’t want your personal information available.” Nope — to get the online software updates, you’ve gotta give up the personal info — that was the quid pro quo, take it or leave it. Now, I’m not opposed to giving something up in return for a benefit gained — but again, this was just plain rude. Microsoft talks a great deal about wanting to serve its consumers — but this consumer just felt like he’d been slapped in the face twice, within minutes of turning on his new computer. A company under as much pressure from its competitors, not to mention the federal government, ought to know better. It ought to be bending over to make my first experience with its software pleasurable, instead of painful.

So, I’ll be installing Linux as fast I can — even though, for my primarily word-processing purposes, Microsoft Word, running on Windows, is hands-down a better experience than any Linux-based operating system can yet offer me. There will be bugs, all kinds of unforeseen complexities, a steep learning curve and plenty of geeky frustration, but through it all I’ll just remember the words that scrolled onto my monitor the first time I successfully installed the Debian GNU/Linux kernel:

“Happy Hacking!”

Bill? Are you listening?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>