Why Does Microsoft Keep Changing Stuff?

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If you know me—at all—you know that I use a lot of different forms of technology, from different providers. This gives me the foundation to be able to tell you authoritatively that it is not just Microsoft that keeps changing stuff.

Let’s start by saying that, although a horse and buggy is an adequate way to get around and works for some situations, it is not the best way to get from Miami to Seattle, and it just won’t take you from New York to London. Some folks like a horse and buggy just fine, and are not likely interested in going from Miami to Seattle or from New York to London. If you use a computer at all, you probably also use some form of motorized conveyance. That motorized conveyance, it is fair to guess, does not use the same wheels that the horse-drawn buggy uses. Wheels have been developed that make it possible to travel at higher rates of speed, turned by the power generated by the engine and transmitted to the axles. Buggy wheels simply would not withstand my 35-mile commute on the interstate at 70 miles per hour for most of the way.

So with computer hardware and software, change is not only likely, it’s inevitable. Research provides opportunities to produce better hardware. High-intensity users like gamers and engineers drive that research.  Programmers take advantage of the improved performance to get the software to ask more of the hardware, and because the hardware can handle tasks more efficiently, other features can be added because the hardware is capable of producing them.

So this is all good; we like it when more stuff, cooler stuff, better stuff, can be added.  As long as…

As long as it all works with all the other stuff we aren’t ready to replace, and as long as it’s easy to incorporate into our existing routine, and as long as it doesn’t have a steep learning curve…

I agree that some things were better left not done. There have been times when I have shaken my head and wondered “—Just WHY did they do that?”  The Unity interface in Ubuntu…Windows ME….the way reminders work in iOS 7…and especially, to name one very recent one, the “Metro” interface that Windows 8 is using, in a misguided attempt to create a uniform experience across various devices. All of those examples notwithstanding, there comes a time when good things, even some great things, must come to an end.

Graphical operating systems brought computing to “normal” users. All of a sudden using a computer didn’t require a knowledge of a programming language. And ever since then, Windows users have been complaining about the changes. I didn’t like Windows 95, it was “different.” That was, of course, before I knew what I was talking about. It WAS different. But the things that were different about it were good things.  It was the introduction of an operating system that didn’t rely on another operating system. It wasn’t just a pretty shell that resided over a DOS system. And that was what made it so good! And then along came 98, which added a bit of stability to 95.  NT—remember NT?  Rock solid and built for business. And Millennium Edition (ME) looked so much like 98, but wasn’t, in a lot of ways. It bombed. Horribly. Windows 2000, NOT to be confused with ME, built on everything good in NT. But it wasn’t until XP that we saw another round of real innovation. And boy, did people hate XP. It was different!  Even with the ability to change to a “classic” view, it was still different. What wasn’t clear to the average user was how much better it was under the hood. XP was able to take advantage of a lot of hardware improvements, and XP was ready for the latest networking technologies. XP was able to win over the masses, but it took several years.

And then along came Vista.  Look, I know most people hated Vista, but given time, Vista became a fine operating system. The biggest problem was NOT with Vista. It was NOT with Microsoft. It was with the developers of the software that was supposed to make Vista work with older hardware. Many of them underestimated what a fundamental change the Operating System Kernel had undergone. When “legacy” (read that “old”) printers and scanners and stuff wouldn’t work, people blamed their nice new computer.  For a year or so, Vista wasn’t fabulous.  But when Service Pack One came out for it, a lot of the little quirks were handled and Vista became remarkably stable. I have one machine that runs Vista, and it almost never gives me any trouble. And Windows 7 gave Microsoft a chance to make Vista what it really should have been all along, without the stigma of the Vista title.

But look, XP came out in 2001—going on 13 years ago.  That’s a very long time for an operating system to be as popular as XP has been. And for the most part, XP has been stable and solid. However, it has also been plagued with security issues. The very things that have made it unpleasant for some people trying to adapt to Vista and Windows 7, and now Windows 8, have been the things that have plugged some security holes. Let’s face it, the bad guys aren’t stupid, and if they find a vulnerability, they will figure out a way to exploit it.

How long should Microsoft be expected to support —how many operating systems? Right now, they are supporting Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and for a few more months (till April of 2014), Windows XP, plus several server operating systems. XP is never going to catch up with the latest innovations in hardware, it simply can’t. It was built for the hardware of its time. Microsoft had to decide if it was going to throw resources at supporting an older system or put the effort into keeping up with advances in hardware. I think it made the right decision.

It’s never just Microsoft that does this; one of the podcasters I listen to is stuck at Apple’s Snow Leopard; he can’t upgrade to Lion because his podcasting software won’t work on it. He could probably buy the version of that software that will work on Lion, or he could probably use some other software. That’s not what he wants to do, so he is going to stay with the older operating system. I was stuck at older versions of some of the apps my iPhone uses until I got a newer phone, because the newest phone operating system wouldn’t run on my old hardware. I did not expect Apple to continue to develop the operating system to take advantage of the improved hardware and still run well on my older hardware. It is simply too difficult to reach indefinitely in both directions.

If your horse and buggy serves you well, keep using it. You are aware that getting to Seattle from Miami will take a while, and you are aware that your horse and buggy simply will not take you from New York to London without a whole lotta help. If doing those things isn’t something that has value to you, you’re good to go.  But you might want to source a wheelwright, in case one of your wheels breaks. Those don’t last forever, either.

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