Every once in a while I have to drop out of open source land and use Windows for a period. When I do, I tend to keep notes of my experiences. Some of these experiences are positive; some are not. So I finally decided to list 10 things I have learned from my work with the Windows operating system. Just remember, these come from a Linux user of nearly 15 years. With that being said, let's dig into the lessons brought to me by Microsoft.
1: Printing still has a long way to go
I don't care if you're using the easiest operating system on the planet, printing stinks. It breaks, it lacks anything close to universal support, print spoolers are flaky, and when a driver goes bad on you, you sometimes have to dig around within the Windows registry to resolve the issue. If printing is flaky in Windows (which most consider to be the most user-friendly platform), imagine how bad it can be in other environments. Someone needs to kick printing in the pants.
2: Locking down the average user isn't a bad thing
Most average users are button pushers. When things go wrong, they just start pushing buttons hoping they'll magically push the right one and correct their problem. Thing is — that never works. This is why it's smart to have certain areas of the operating system locked down. Sure, I love the freedom Linux gives me. But some of the desktops in Linux-land (think Enlightenment) offer way too much freedom for the average user. Windows, on the other hand, doesn't have nearly that level of freedom and can, in some cases, keep average users from fubar'ing their desktop.
3: Windows can quickly devolve into chaos
How many times have you had to support an end user, only to encounter a mass of icons and files on the desktop? I see that too often. Click on the Start menu and you'll see a hierarchy that is just a step away from chaos. Windows is a bit too loose with its structure and enables users to quickly make a mess of their desktop.
4: The UAC was broken out of the box
I get it. I know what Microsoft was attempting to do with the UAC, but it simply doesn't work. What it wants to do is block users from doing stupid things. But when a feature can be easily disabled or just clicked through, it's not really security — it's just a frustration. Microsoft was never (and is not presently) known for security and shouldn't pretend to be experts in the field. It should really take a lesson from UNIX/Linux in the area of security.
5: The Windows command line is horrible
This is one area UNIX and Linux win hands down. Having a system of global commands (and the ability to easily add new commands) along with the number of global commands included, makes UNIX and Linux light years ahead of the Windows command line. Although Windows does have a system of global commands, it's limited in scope compared to UNIX and Linux. (But take this bias with a grain of salt, as I am a heavy command-line user in Linux.)
6: I understand why Windows is so prone to attacks
Many people say the main reason Linux hasn't suffered the scale of attacks that Windows has is that it has less exposure. They contend that there just aren't that many Linux users out there. Well, that's not necessarily an argument that can be proved. But since Linux is king in certain server circles and is growing exponentially worldwide, that train of thought is derailed. The main reason Windows is so vulnerable to viruses and attacks is simply that the platform itself is vulnerable. Users can run anything, applications can open third-party software behind the scenes, and most users don't understand the dangers that await them under the surface.
7: Everything easy is not a good thing
Making everything incredibly easy for users isn't always the best idea. When users can easily access administrative tools, they can easily create problems. I understand making the UI user friendly. But when curious users dig deeper than the standard issue interface, they are begging for problems — and they'll get them. Once end users get to a certain level of administrative tasks, they should be challenged by more than a simple click of an OK button.
8: Windows and hardware sure do like each other
Thanks to the marriage between Intel and Microsoft, the Windows platform certainly performs well on modern hardware. This is not speaking just to compatibility but also to performance. Yes, Windows 7 has fairly significant requirements, but hardware is cheap these days — so the average PC is far more powerful than it used to be. Out of the box, Windows 7 can outperform most other platforms on similar hardware. Of course, other platforms can easily be tweaked to blow past Windows, but most users aren't tweaking that much.
9: Virtual Shadow Copy is a great tool
This is one of the most valuable tools Microsoft has ever created. With the ability to easily roll back a file or folder to a previous version, VSC makes Windows an amazing platform for end users. The Virtual Shadow Copy server is a lifesaver of a tool when backups have failed or you just need to restore a local file/folder quickly.
10: LDAP could learn a thing or two from Active Directory
If LDAP ever wants to compete in the world of business, it needs to do two things: Make it as easy to set up as Active Directory and make it easier for machines to join an LDAP network. As it stands, Active Directory is easier to use for both administrators and end users. LDAP, on the other hand, is a nightmare on both ends. If the developers of LDAP could start focusing on ease of use, that particular open source tool could give AD a serious run for its money. As it stands, no way will that happen.
I've learned a lot more than what's included here, but the above list gives you an idea of what it's like being a longtime Linux user who has had to, now and again, dip his toes into the murky waters that is Windows. I often bash Windows, but I can accept the fact that there are some things that Microsoft has certainly done right.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.