Advantages of using Windows:
- Ease of use. Users familiar
with earlier versions of Windows will probably also find the more modern
ones easy to work with. This is ascribable to everything from the
standardised look and feel of almost all programs written for Windows to
the way the file system has been presented ever since the days of MS-DOS
(disk A:\, disk C:\, etc.). This is one of the main reasons why Windows
users are often reluctant to switch operating systems.
- Available software. There is
a huge selection of software available for Windows. This is both due to and
the reason for Microsoft's dominance of the world market for PC computer
operating systems and office software. If you're looking for an application
to suit your business needs, chances are that if it exists there will be a
Windows version of it available somewhere.
- Backwards compatibility. If
you're currently using an older version of Windows and need something more
up to date, but you don't want to loose the use of some older programs that
are only available for Windows and are critical to your business needs, the
chances are good (although not a certainty) that those programs will also
work with a newer version of Windows.
- Support for new hardware.
Virtually all hardware manufacturers will offer support for a recent version
of Windows when they go to market with a new product. Again, Microsoft's
dominance of the software market makes Windows impossible for hardware
manufacturers to ignore. So, if you run off to a store today any buy some
random new piece of computer hardware, you'll find that it will probably
work with the latest version of Windows.
- Plug & Play. As an
operating system for the average home user, Windows still has an edge over
the competition in the area of Plug & Play support for PC hardware. As
long as the right drivers are installed, Windows will usually do a good
job at recognising new hardware. Other operating systems also offer Plug
& Play functionality, but to a lesser degree and more frequently
require manual intervention.
- Games. If you crave the
latest in PC gaming technology, then you need Windows. A plethora of
gaming titles are available for Windows, as well as lots of special
gaming hardware that's supported. Some of the most popular games are also
available for Linux, and even more for the Mac, but there's really no
comparison. It must be said, though, that not all of the old games that
were written for Windows 95 and 98 will also work with XP.
- Compatibility with MS driven
websites. After Windows had become the world's most popular
desktop operating system, Internet Explorer (IE) became the world's most
popular web browser soon after Microsoft began bundling it
with Windows 95 in order to squash competition from rival Netscape's
Navigator browser. Since Netscape's demise, Microsoft have introduced
more and more proprietary features into their web servers that can only
be taken advantage of with Internet Explorer. Obviously, these sites are
less accessible with other browsers − sometimes not at all. This,
coupled with the fact that the latest versions of IE are only available
for Windows, has made Windows the only choice for those who want to take
full advantage of those websites that use Microsoft's technology.
Disadvantages of using Windows:
- High resource requirements.
As opposed to the makers of other operating systems, Microsoft requires its
customers to invest the most in their computer hardware: a faster processor
(the CPU), more internal memory and a larger hard disk. Microsoft have always
maintained that this is due to all the extra functionality that they've
added, as demanded by their customers. Actually, few people make use of many
of those features, yet everyone is still forced to contend with the
additional overhead that is the result. (Ref: CNN)
- Closed Source. Troubleshooting
problems with Windows would be so much easier for users and support personnel
if only they knew what was actually going on. Unfortunately, only Microsoft
has full access to its software's source code, and since no log files are
generated its users are left to try and deduce what causes their problems by
trial and error alone. At best this is time-consuming, while at worst it can
make a program impossible to work with. See also: "Shared Source".
- Poor security. Compared to
other operating systems, Microsoft security is weak. According to their own
developers, their products "just aren't engineered for security." The
result is that Windows computers are more likely than other
systems to be hijacked and used to distribute everything from spam to
pornography (Ref: Inquirer) to hate mail. Even worse, any such activity only
points to the computer that was compromised: since Windows does not generate
log files, the owner has no way of proving anyone else's involvement.
Another aspect of this issue has to do with internal security from an
administrative point of view. Configuring any computer is time-consuming and
Windows is certainly no exception. Therefore, it's better if users can be
prevented from making changes to certain parts of the system, whether on
purpose or by accident. Unfortunately, only with great difficulty is it
possible to achieve a level of fine-grained administrative control on
Windows systems, which is why it is rarely seen outside of larger
organizations. What all this means for businesses is that Windows systems
require a lot more time and effort to maintain than other systems. Failure
to do so will only result in more lost productivity or worse.
- Virus susceptibility. This
subject is usually regarded as part Microsoft's general problems with
security. However, the susceptibility of any of Microsoft's operating
systems to computer viruses has always been pronounced; nearly all computer
viruses target Windows computers and regularly wreak newsworthy havoc.
Indeed, if it wasn't for Windows, the multi-million dollar anti-virus
industry as as we know it would be virtually non-existant. Viruses on
other platforms, save for perhaps the older Mac operating systems, are
strictly a rarity. What this means for businesses, is that that they have
no choice but to keep investing in anti-virus software for all of their
Windows computers, as well as to keep up with the almost daily release of
Microsoft security patches.
- Outrageous license agreements.
Most people never bother to read the EULA, or End User License Agreement,
that must be agreed to before any Microsoft product − including service
packs and security updates − can be used or installed. Most people
simply regard these screens as an irritant that must be to clicked through in
order to install the product. However, if they did take the trouble to read
the EULA, many would probably be a little more than irritated. For instance,
Microsoft's EULA for Windows XP was radically ammended for people who
installed a security update in mid-2002 that fixed an obvious and potentially
dangerous security leak in Windows Media Player. It states explicitly:
So, along with a routine security patch, Microsoft also slipped in this new
agreement that gives them the right to install any software on your computer
that they see fit − including software that "may disable your ability
to ... use other software on your computer". Basically, this amounts to
giving Microsoft 'Administrator' rights on your computer (so much for privacy).
No doubt Microsoft would say that this measure is only meant to target
pirated software, but the EULA is vague insofar that it does not exclude the
possibility that software acquired legally from vendors other than Microsoft
can be disabled as well. In other words, at the very least, this agreement
gives Microsoft the final say on what software may be run on your computer.
You agree that in order to protect the integrity of content and software
protected by digital rights management ('Secure Content'), Microsoft may
provide security related updates to the OS Components that will be
automatically downloaded onto your computer. These security related updates
may disable your ability to copy and/or play Secure Content and use other
software on your computer.
And just in case you think all of this might be a little exaggerated, know
that Microsoft has been a big booster of the UCITA − a horrible law that
Software publishers to change the terms of the contract after purchase.
Restrictions that prohibit users from criticizing or publicly commenting
on software they purchased.
Software and information products to contain "back door" entrances,
potentially making users' systems vulnerable to infiltration by
Software publishers to sell their products "as is" and to disclaim
liability for product shortcomings.
Sound familiar? That's right − they're already doing this! Or, at least
they're trying to, despite loads of criticism. Naturally, this is why
Microsoft is pushing for a law to be passed that would be on their side.
- Poor technical support.
Few of Microsoft's support staff truly understand security or high-end
enterprise issues, and even less have access to or understand any of the
source code. Extremely high-volume accounts get special treatment, but for
others the odds of getting good support on truly difficult problems are
extremely poor. To make matters worse, the free support provided to end-users
has been dramatically reduced over the years. For businesses that depend on
Microsoft products, this translates into greater risks and higher costs.
These days, all Windows users rely heavily on the automated Windows Update
system that applies all the necessary patches to Windows computers via the
Internet. Unfortunately, this update system is not very reliable; it's had
all kinds of problems. Recently, for example, it was giving computers
that were in need of critical security patches a clean bill of health. So
much for Microsoft's much vaunted Trustworthy Computing Initiative.
- Hostile treatment of legitimate
users. In an effort to curb software piracy, Microsoft includes a scheme in
Windows XP that involves sending them a "fingerprint" of your PC's hardware
configuration that allows them verify whether your license is still being
used on only one PC or not. The moment they detect that your license is
running on another machine, your copy of Windows will cease to function. The
only way you can get it to work again is by asking them for a new activation
code. To some, this may sound reasonable at first, since I'm sure we all
agree that software piracy is a bad thing, but what happens if you want to
upgrade your entire machine? That's right: you have to call Microsoft for a
new code. What's interesting is that Microsoft knows this would really annoy
IT managers in big corporations (who normally pay anyway), so they give the
bulk licenses a back door round this protection. The rest of us are are
considered guilty until proven innocent.
Another long-time method that Microsoft uses to harass legitimate users is
through the Business Software Alliance (BSA). This is a non-profit
organization that was set up to fight software piracy and is sponsored by a
number of well-known software companies, but mainly by Microsoft. Of course,
they spend their time looking for organizations (and even individuals) who
they suspect might be using Microsoft's software illegally, but they're
equally zealous at targeting those that might not be able to account for all
of their licenses in time for an 'official' BSA audit. Actually, unless they
are invited to come by to talk about 'software licensing', which is what
they like to offer, they have no legal authority to enter onto anyone's
premises. Still, that doesn't stop them from sending threats of hefty fines
and even jail time − even to those not using Microsoft's products!
Again, everyone's guilty until proven innocent. Interestingly, the moment a
mea culpa is made, the BSA will arrange for people to buy Microsoft licenses
rather than force them to pay fines.
- Extortionist prices. In the
past, when Microsoft was asked on numerous occasions why it was raising the
price of its Windows licenses yet again, the standard reply was that it was
necessary to offset the development costs of their latest version. However,
after the the Enron and Worldcom scandles, Microsoft decided to overhaul its
reporting structure in an effort to achieve more transparency in its earnings
information. The results are quite revealing. What people long suspected was
the case is now known to be fact: that Microsoft's profit margin for Windows
is huge. According to their earnings report filed with the S.E.C for the third
quarter of 2002 (Ref: S.E.C.), it was a whopping 85.8% of $2.892 billion in
revenues. Their 'Information Worker' division, which includes the Office line
of applications, took a 76.8% profit on sales of $2.385 billion. In other
words, Microsoft's high prices are mostly 'monopoly tax'. Interestingly,
though, while their server division also turned a profit, all the others ones
operated at a loss. It looks like Microsoft is using the profits from its
monopoly divisions to pay its way into new markets.
- Additional expenses. After
setting up a series of Microsoft computers, or even a single one for that
matter, sooner or later customers invariably find themselves in need of
additional software. For example, a virus scanner is mandatory nowadays, but
many also believe a spyware blocker is essential as well. But, that's just
the cheap stuff. If you run a Windows-based website, for instance, you may
find yourself investing a lot of money in development tools, most of which
are Microsoft products. The costs of applications that can run on your web
site are usually higher than that of other systems. For example, you can
find loads of free scripts and applications to run services such s web
boards, chat rooms, web statisics and email for Linux-based web sites, but
you won't find many free applications in the Microsoft world.
- Poor stability. For people who
are used to dealing with Windows, rebooting and re-installing are such a
regular occurance that most don't even give it a second thought. However, that
is by no means an excuse for such poor performance: Windows should not freeze
up and reboot simply because Word or Internet Explorer was being used. And
yes, this is because Microsoft products are full of bugs − no matter what
Bill Gates says (Ref: Cantrip Corpus). Nevertheless, it seems most people have become
largely desensitized on this issue − as if it's a natural consequense of
the complexity involved. But, it doesn't have to be that way: every other major
operating system available today has a better track record.
- Vendor lock-in. Also referred
to as 'vendor dependence', Microsoft is infamous for promoting brand loyalty
among its customers in this manner. One way for a vendor to establish
lock-in is for it to gain control of both sides of an otherwise open and
standard client/server model by adding proprietary extensions to the
standard communications format. Customers can then no longer switch to
cheaper, alternative client or server ssoftware without losing fuctionality,
having to finance a complete migration to different products, or both.
Microsoft, being a manufacturer of applications and operating systems for
both workstations and servers, is in the ideal position to create such
situations. Indeed, they have taken this concept and made it into a fine
art. For the customer, poor quality and high prices are inevitably the
- Backwards incompatible file formats.
A well-known drawback of using Microsoft applications such as Office
(Word, Excel, etc.), is that their file formats are not backwards compatible.
For instance, this means that a document created in the MS Word 2002 format
cannot be interpreted in any way by someone using Word 97. Microsoft has
always maintained that this is because of all the new features that have been
added to each new document format, but the truth is that it would have been
easy for Microsoft's developers to create a common file format that would
have allowed all versions of Word to simply ignore any new and unrecognised
formatting features. No, they chose to do things differently because their
method is the one that keeps their customers upgrading.
How does this work in practice? Well, most businesses buy into Microsoft's
product lines because they believe everybody else does. An important benefit
is that, if all the latest versions are used, they will always be able to
read files sent to them by other organizations that also use Micosoft's
products. Everything's fine until the next version of the software hits
the market. Customers then find that, first of all, the longer that upgrade
has been available and they delay buying it, the more often they'll find
themselves receiving documents in the new file formats that they can't read.
Second, if they postpone their move to the new version for too long, Microsoft
will no longer consider them eligible for a cheaper upgrade option and force
them to buy a whole new license instead. Finally, upgrading the applications
often forces you to upgrade the entire operating system as well.
- Poor support for older hardware.
Legacy support for older hardware is gone in Windows 2000 and
Windows XP. Microsoft claims this was necessary to increase the overall
stability of their systems, but if other systems with excellent reputations
for stability include much better support for older hardware, where does
this leave Microsoft's argument?
- Poor remote access. As
opposed to many of the alternatives available, MS-DOS, and thus Windows
after it, were never designed with remote access in mind. That's not to say
that it isn't done − it is, because it's a great way to save on
administration costs − it's just that the solutions have always left
something to be desired. They're unreliable, insecure (especially via the
Internet), expensive, need too much bandwidth or require extra Microsoft
network components to work. Invariably, it's a combination of these
- High Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
The fact that Microsoft charge so much initially for their software
is one thing, but what most salesmen fail to mention is that, if you want to
stay with this platform in the future and keep all the benefits (application
and file format compatibility), you'll have to upgrade every two to three
years. Also, Microsoft make upgrading more expensive for customers who lag
behind. The other major reason for the high TCO, is the intensive maintenance
required by modern Windows systems. Vital Microsoft security patches are
published so often, that it seems even Microsoft can't always keep up. As
a result, their systems were also affected when the Slammer worm struck
in late January 2003. They would not have suffered this humiliation if
they had only remembered to install one of their own security patches
many months earlier (Ref: News.com).
Last modified: 2010-04-25, 22:06
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