Beware of geeks bearing gifts

By Simson Garfinkel

By Salon Staff
Published August 8, 2000 7:45PM (EDT)

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I think Garfinkel got everything right in this piece, except one: "The Windows graphical user interface is vastly better than any of the interfaces available for Unix or Linux."

I have found the Windows interface one of the clumsiest, most rigid, most obfuscated things I've ever used. For example, its flexibility is zilch: Just try changing the keyboard focus policy to "follows pointer," or setting a function key to raise or lower the window that has the focus, or changing the colors or fonts in an application on the fly -- and have the changes work consistently among applications. Any of the X Window System-based interfaces on Unix/Linux systems allow users to configure the system to their taste in ways that Windows can't even begin to mimic, and without rebooting the system. And if one interface isn't palatable, there are plenty more to choose from. Unlike Windows, which forces users to work the way IT wants to work.

-- Dave Woodworth

Simson Garfinkel is right: Versions of Windows that have been based on DOS are depressingly unstable even five years after Windows 95 (which, like 98 and Me, still runs DOS underneath it all in order to deliver maximum backwards-compatibility). But Microsoft's NT line of operating systems (which includes the badly named Windows 2000) is nowhere near as unstable. Case in point: I'm a software developer, and right now my copy of Windows 2000 Professional has been running uninterrupted for 66 days! No reboots, restarts or crashes.

Microsoft has a good product -- but unfortunately it's not the one that sells well. It's not even pushed to consumers.

-- P. Obbard

The implication that Unix and Linux are reliable because they don't support backwards compatibility could not be further from the truth. The whole point of Linux/Unix reliability is slavish devotion to the architecture of Unix, which is much older than DOS or Windows. Indeed, during the evolution of Windows, Microsoft routinely made Windows incompatible with previous versions, forcing users to buy all-new Windows application software. They only became "devoted" to compatibility after Windows became successful, and there were significant numbers of customers to annoy.

If you want to look for a really BIG example of backwards compatibility, look at the IBM System/390 mainframes, which will execute a program written for a System/360 from back in the mid '60s. (Indeed some of my own code from that period is still in use at IBM.) The continuity of the mainframe architecture is what keeps the economic engines of Western Civilization turning. Where do you think Y2K came from?

-- Russ Holsclaw

Salon Staff

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