Well, it had to happen: I've been assimilated.
Not willingly, mind you -- I'm still merrily humming away at home with my Quadra 660AV. But my office computer has fallen, a victim to the Microsoft Mentality, and my Quadra 800 has been replaced by a Digital PC clone. The Information Technology guys (outsourced, naturally) insist that it's to increase productivity, though they were surprisingly quiet when I asked them what studies they did comparing Macs to PCs.
Still, when life gives lemons, I try to make lemonade. "How bad can it be?" I asked myself. "If nothing else, you now have a direct, hands-on access to Windows 95. You can be an open-minded observer, weighing the benefits and drawbacks of Windows with facts and experience, instead of secondhand reports and propaganda."
So I put a polite face on things, and after the IT folks delivered my computer and hooked it up, I sat down to see what Windows 95 was really like.
And you know? It's still not as good as a Mac.
* * *
First, let me clarify what this essay is not. I'm not going to say that a Wintel PC is all but useless, or that it's a waste of metal, or other such propagandistic hyperbole. When you get down to it, a desktop PC running Windows 95 is still a computer, and thus it can compute -- you can write documents with it, you can calculate spreadsheets with it, you can surf the world-wide web with it.
On the other hand, that's not saying much. A Yugo and a Mercedes are both automobiles, yet you don't hear people calling the two comparable and equivalent. There's a difference in quality between the two, the difference between a cheap box on wheels and a precision-crafted driving machine. As with a lot of things in life, it's the little things that make the biggest differences.
I'm also not going to talk about the technical differences between the two operating systems. Yes, Plug & Play is still a joke on Windows 95, and the Macintosh still doesn't have pre-emptive multitasking. But it doesn't matter; for this essay, I'm going to look at things from the view of an everyday user -- the John and Jane Smith of Anytown, USA, who's buying a pre-loaded computer for their own use. After all, how many times in a week do you deal with "geek issues" like cache speeds or bus width?
What I am going to talk about are the day-to-day annoyances of Windows 95 -- the grab-bag of glitches, quirks, and nuisances that make my typical Wintel PC workday feel like an eight-hour struggle with a temperamental mule. These are almost all problems with the Windows 95 GUI (graphical user interface); not surprising, actually, when you consider that the GUI is the part of Windows that people work with the most.
By nature, these irritations could be considered "nitpicky" or "minor." That's not too surprising, either, because any major problems in Windows 95 would have been caught and removed before the product was shipped (yes, I'm ignoring the comedic potential of that line, I know). But to dismiss this essay as a collection of trivial hair-splitting complaints is to miss the point, as I will explain later.
And remember, these aren't second-hand rumors or whispered nightmares; these are all firsthand, honest-to-goodness complications in Windows 95. I can't go through a day at the office without hitting most of these problems -- and neither can most anyone else, I'll bet.
* * *
With all that in mind, take a peek over my shoulder as we sit down at the PC and explore Windows 95...
Let's take a look at the Recycle Bin. Drag a file from your hard drive to the Recycle Bin, and you can pull it out again before the bin is emptied (not that this will impress any Macintosh user). But wait! Drag a file from your floppy disk to the Recycle Bin, and it doesn't get stored -- it's deleted! You can adjust your settings so you're warned before the file is deleted, but that doesn't justify the inconsistent behavior.
And if that's not silly enough, drag two folders with files in them from your hard drive to the Recycle Bin. Now try to get one of them out. Surprise! The folders are gone, and all of the contents are dumped in the bin, unceremoniously mixed together like so much electronic gumbo. If you're going to toss away several folders, better make sure you get the right ones -- otherwise, get ready to go fishing.
Renaming files in Windows 95 is one of those innocent little quirks that gets progressively more annoying over time (almost like Marmaduke). To rename something on the desktop, you have to click on the file, then click on the filename, and then type away. Doesn't sound so terrible at first, but if you have to rename several files, all those clicks add up -- think of how often your hand has to move from the keyboard to the mouse and back again, going click, click, type, click, click, type, click, click, type... If you think that would slow you down, you're absolutely correct. In contrast, a Mac user can rename dozens of files in the same directory from the keyboard alone.
Oh, and when you're renaming those files, make sure you don't type in any Windows-unfriendly (read: DOS-unfriendly) characters, either. Slash, backslash, colon, asterisk, question mark, quotes, greater than, less than, and vertical line are all no-nos. What turns this from a quirk into a genuine annoyance is that Windows 95 won't do a blessed thing about the unwelcome characters -- you have to go back and manually change them, which can become tedious for longer filenames. At least the Mac is smart enough to automatically change colons (the only character not allowed in a filename) into dashes, a small-but-handy time-saver.
Speaking of filenames, file extensions are another nagging irritation. Because Windows 95 is built upon MS-DOS, the only way to identify a file's type is by its three-letter extension at the end. That means all the old extension-related nuisances of DOS are still present in Windows 95; rename an Excel spreadsheet (.XLS) to a plain-text (.TXT) extension, then double-click on the file and watch Notepad try to open it. Duh.
There's an option to hide extensions, and some Windows users use this to avoid this nit. But that brings up a new grouse -- you can now have multiple files with the "same" filename! With extensions hidden, PICTURE.GIF, PICTURE.JPG, and PICTURE.BMP all appear as PICTURE on the desktop, happily sitting in the same directory! And since most Windows graphics programs will associate .GIF, .JPG, and .BMP to the same program (and thus file icon), you'll have a fun time trying to sort out which is which. Worse, with the extensions hidden, there's no easy way to access (or change) them, so you'll have to do things the long way.
With either extensions on or extensions off, you're caught between a rock and a hard place.
In a related vein, some programs will force their own extensions on your files; this causes a frustrating sense of helplessness, and can create even more headaches later on. For example, say I'm in the middle of writing a letter in Microsoft Word 97 (.DOC extension), and I want to save it in Microsoft Word 5.1 format (.MSW extension), so I can finish it on another computer later tonight. If I save it as LETTER.MSW, Windows 95 won't recognize it as a Word document, so double-clicking LETTER.MSW yields nothing. And if I try to save my document in Word 5.1 format with the name LETTER.DOC, Word 97 will instead save it as LETTER.DOC.MSW -- leaving me with the same problem and an (even more) unwieldly filename.
If you think that above example sounds confusing, it's no less clear doing it live. And that's one of the recurring themes of Windows 95; you are forced to work the way the computer wants you to, instead of what best suits your own style -- the machine controls you. It may sound somewhat Orwellian, but that's all part of a typical day with Windows 95. I won't even begin to ask about what long-term effects this sense of helplessness might induce.
Let me amend that last complaint (and share yet another grouse) -- Microsoft Word 97 will only force extensions on you in some situations. Saving a file in text-only format but changing the extension to .DOC doesn't cause any headaches. Why is Word so tolerant with the text-only save, but so inflexible with Microsoft Word 5.1? Your guess is as good as mine. I'm sure most readers can imagine how frustrating it is to use a program that cannot be consistent with itself. While this is fundamentally a flaw with the program itself and not Windows 95, I must also add that if Windows 95 wasn't reliant on MS-DOS's extensions, this problem would have been moot.
And I feel obligated to reiterate that this is not a sloppily-written garage-brewed program, but Microsoft Word 97, the flagship program of the most influential personal computer software developer in 1997. Is it that unreasonable to expect a company of Microsoft's size and scope to make their own product work elegantly on an operating system that they developed? (Feel free to provide your own punchline)
The lack of consistency and standards is a major problem throughout Windows 95; each program has its own set of behavior characteristics, and even the most common operations will result in a different interface, a different set of cautions, or a different way of behaving. Depending on which program I'm using,...
These are just a few examples, of course. Needless to say, a Mac user never has to deal with this sort of inconsistency or risk. Identical operations work the same way in all programs, so there's less time lost learning Yet Another Interface, and fewer changes in mental gears in the middle of a job.
Another thing that I no longer take for granted on my Macintosh is the difference in appearance between windows and dialog boxes. With the Mac, they are obviously two distinct items, easily discernible at a glance. With Windows 95, however, the differences are blurred; apart from three extra buttons in the title bar (minimize, maximize, and the control menu), a window and a dialog are otherwise identical.
Why is this a big deal? Because they don't act the same, but the similarities mean you'll probably confuse the two. For instance, you can close a dialog box by pressing Alt-F4 -- but if you did that with a window, you'll end up stopping your application instead. If the two aren't going to work the same way, why do they look the same?
And to add insult to injury, even dialog boxes don't always work the same. To use an example, the "Find..." dialog in Word 97 can be covered by windows from other applications -- but the "Help Topics" dialog supersedes everything on the screen. Why? Don't ask; it's Windows.
I'm a pretty fast typist; if I'm writing directly (e.g., off the top of my head, not entering printed material), I can reach top speeds of over 100 words per minute.
On my Mac, anyway. On the PC, my flying fingers are often interrupted by the keyboard's ALT key. Y'see, the ALT keys are right next to the space bar; if I'm not careful, I might accidentally brush one of them while I'm typing. This immediately throws Windows 95 into "menu mode," where my keystrokes stop going to my current document -- and activate the menus. If I'm lucky, I only have to stop typing, press ALT again (to exit menu mode), and continue from where I left off. If I'm unlucky, my next few keystrokes might throw my work into a tizzy -- maybe I pressed the keys to open a new file, or repaginate the document, or change the formatting of the characters.
(Some Windows users actually dare to call this nuisance a "feature," since it lets you access the menus without a mouse. I'm hard-pressed to buy that argument when I remember that I've yet to have any mouse for any computer die on me after all my years as a user...)
To be fair, this annoyance was introduced back in the days of Windows 3.1. But instead of correcting the problem, Windows 95 compounds it! In addition to the dreaded ALT key, my extended keyboard also features a "Contextual Menu" key and the "Windows 95" key -- all of which have the same horrible one-touch behavior! The bottom two rows on my keyboard now form a minefield of work-interrupting panic buttons.
Worse, the price for all of these keys are paid by my ever-shrinking space bar, which now barely exceeds a minuscule three inches. I'm sure all the touch-typists in the audience are shivering already.
In fact, the whole "ALT-menu" paradigm often means fewer keyboard shortcuts for users. In Netscape Navagator 3.02, for instance, to go back three pages requires me to press ALT, then G, then 3. Sure, it's "only" two extra keystrokes, but think of how many extra keystrokes I'll be accumulating in a few hours' worth of web surfing. And then there are all the other extra keystrokes accumulated after a day of work in other programs...
Here's a problem that's easier to show than to describe: first, open up a text document in Microsoft Word, one large enough to hold several screenfuls of text. Now, say you want to select a few paragraphs, and the first one is near the bottom of the screen. By standard GUI-intuition, you position the mouse at the start of the first paragraph, hold down the left button, then drag the mouse down the screen to highlight the rest of your desired text.
Guess again! Unless you're running a very slow PC, Windows 95's window manager will bite you by scrolling the window downward at MACH 6. By the time you come to a stop, you'll find that you've seriously overshot your intended ending position, and highlighted a lot more text than you wanted. With any luck, you'll then waste even more time finding where you were originally and re-doing your selection.
This problem is so bad that I've completely given up on using the mouse to select blocks of text, though I do occasionally forget and get stung again. My officemate wishes he had a slower computer, so he won't have to deal with this aggravating nuisance. It's not the computer, Mark -- it's Windows 95. Macintosh users don't have this problem, since the Mac's smarter (and friendlier) windowing system handles scrolling selections at a more humane speed.
Pop quiz, hotshot: you have a file icon on your Windows 95 desktop, and you want to make a copy of it (let's say it's for safekeeping before you try a major change to the original). How do you go about doing that?
If you're a Windows novice, your instinctual response may be to click on the file, then use a "Make Copy" command from the menu. Sorry, but there's no such thing. There's a "Copy" command, but it simply copies the file icon into the clipboard and doesn't duplicate the file. Slightly more savvy users may try right-clicking on the file, in hopes that the contextual menu will have an answer. A good guess, but you're still out of luck.
The correct answer? Drag the file with the right mouse button. After you finish the drag, a second contextual menu will appear, and one of the operations there is "Copy Here." This is the only way to duplicate the file, and if no one had told you the answer, you could easily spend days or weeks without tumbling to the answer. Needless to say, I can't remember for the life of me when I have ever encountered anything that obtuse with the Macintosh.
There are lots of these "hide and seek" games peppered throughout Windows 95, so be prepared to spend some time finding them all. For instance, the "Sound" control panel does not let me change the volume of the sound output; for that, I have to hop over to the "Multimedia" control panel instead. And yet, something as important as the Associations list (which tells Windows 95 what file extensions go with what program types) doesn't even have a control panel to take care of it. Instead, the controls are hidden in the "Options" dialog box, under the "View" menu for directory windows.
When I asked a long-term Windows 95 guru why these controls were laid out in such an unintelligible manner, his only response was to shrug hopelessly and say, "I can't tell you." On the other hand, it explains why those "Windows for Dummies" books are so popular; they reveal the counterintuitive places where these features are hidden...
I could go on and on (like the graphics glitches, or the simple-minded behavior of shortcuts, or -- believe me, it wasn't easy deciding when to stop the list) but I won't. There are more than enough examples above to demonstrate my point, which is that Windows 95 is loaded with countless inconsistencies, peculiarities, and annoyances that -- while they're not downright "user-hostile, certainly fall into the category of "user-antagonistic."
* * *
When the Windows PC was installed in my office, I also got a booklet from the IT staff -- "Surviving Week One With Windows 95." It's a fair-sized book, covering the differences between Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 in everything from manipulating windows to saving files. Steve Jobs was right; this isn't an operating system upgrade, it's a brain transplant. Perhaps Microsoft could have eliminated a lot of confusion if they had simply called Windows 95 a totally different name...
And, of course, the title is rather daunting, don't you think?
* * *
As I wrote before, none of the aforementioned problems are crippling or severe. They range, at best, from trivial idiosyncrasies to small quirks, with a few minor predicaments tossed into the mix. And indeed, to pick any one of them and use it as an argument against Windows 95 would be considered trivial nit-picking by most people.
The thing to remember, though, is that these quirks are not in isolation. Instead, they're all present, all the time, ready to interrupt the flow of your work with their haphazard demands. And don't be fooled by the apparently minor nature of these problems. If you're using the Wintel computer for work (as I am), then you're spending close to (if not more than) forty hours a week playing with these peculiarities. If you use a Windows PC at home as well, add in another twenty-five or thirty hours to the mix.
It doesn't take much brain power to realize that all of these factors quickly add up. Just think about your own computer use in a week -- how often do you type on the keyboard, or rename a file, or use a program's "Open" and "Save" dialog boxes? And if you're going to be using a computer for up to seventy hours a week, do you really want to spend all that time tiptoeing around Windows 95's wanton collection of screwball demands and work-interrupting nuisances?
* * *
Whenever I talk to my Wintel-using friends and co-workers about these problems, their responses fall into three general categories:
"I've gotten used to Windows' problems." This is the most common answer, one that I've dubbed the "Surrender Response." Translated, this person is saying, "You are right, Windows has lots of problems, but there's nothing we can do about it." Which is obviously a silly answer; unless the computer salespeople are forcing you to buy PCs at gunpoint, no one is stopping you from using something else. If you ask me, I'd recommend a Macintosh (hey, this is a Mac-advocacy essay), but even Linux or OS/2 are workable alternatives.
(And please, let's not hear that old myth about the dearth of software for Macs. For most everyday uses -- the types of tasks that John and Jane Smith of Anytown, USA would require for their own needs -- there are more than enough choices on the Mac to fit their needs. And on the off-chance that there's a program you must run that's only on a PC, there are software emulators and hardware cards that let you do the job, many of which run Windows 95 software better than a PC can.)
"You're just expecting the computer to work the way you want it to." Well, of course I am -- I'm spending almost forty hours a week with this PC, it better work the way I want it to. Engineers customize their work areas to have their references where it's best for them, and choose their tools according to what they're more efficient with. Why should computers be any different? Darn right I want the computer to work the way I'm expecting it to; how else can I be the most efficient?
"Deal with it." This is the macho equivalent of the Surrender Response; it usually comes from the self-proclaimed grizzled veteran of the office, the one who remembers life before personal computers. This is a response that sneers at all criticisms as pampered whining, and says that "real men" (women never say this) don't need luxuries like ease-of-use or intuitive design.
This argument falls apart at the inherent hypocrisy involved. If these "real men" don't need such comforts, why are they using computers in the first place? Toss out those spreadsheets and compilers and word processors -- let's give these digital frontiersmen their punch cards and abaci and typewriters already! Not that they would surrender their PCs, of course; the whole point of using computers is to do things better and faster and more efficiently than you did before. But then, why shouldn't an operating system/user interface be subject to the same demands for improved efficiency?
* * *
Users of Windows computers are often confused at the loyalty Mac users show their computers, and now I see why. After all, if my only experience of computing was with a temperamental, unpredictable, and eccentric machine like a Windows PC, I wouldn't feel any affection or respect for it, either. And I may very well assume (incorrectly) that Macintosh computers were just as unreliable or irritating, and then wonder why those Mac users were so faithful.
Of course, Macs aren't as erratic or counterintuitive as PCs are, and that makes all the difference.
The numerous flaws in the Windows 95 interface are a constant reminder to me that the PC on my desk is little more than a glorified appliance, and a flawed one at that -- the controls for a typical microwave oven are better designed than the Windows GUI. And while the Macintosh interface isn't completely perfect (ejecting disks before System 8 was rather quirky), it doesn't have even a quarter of the snafus that Windows does. In countless ways, the Macintosh behaves as you'd expect a computer to, unobtrusively removing the little irritants so you can do things better, faster, and easier.
Actor Richard Dreyfuss said it best: "There are no psychological gestures of failure in [the Macintosh]. It has only your good will at heart."
* * *
Some of the skeptics in the audience may be asking by now, "The PC can't be that bad, Robert. Surely you are getting some benefits from your new computer, right?"
That's hard to answer. As I wrote above, when you get down to the basics, the Wintel computer in my office is a computer. And it can do things a computer should do -- I can send e-mail, and write a report, and compile programs, and access files on the company network. But again, there's the same difference between a Yugo and a Mercedes; they'll both take you places, but one does it with fewer hassles and problems than the other.
And while the new PC is faster than my old Mac (naturally, what with 233 MHz versus 33 MHz), I certainly don't feel more productive with it. If anything, I suspect the increased number of interruptions I now experience in a typical workday may have lowered my productivity somewhat. At the very least, I know my morale hasn't improved any...
I'm sure that there will be some people who enjoy their PCs; just don't count me among them. I have better things to do with my time than to decipher the latest Windows quirk, and I'm willing to pay a little extra for that privilege (you get what you pay for, as the old saying goes). With my Mac, I work better, get done sooner, and feel less frustrated in the process; who wouldn't want to be in a situation like that?
(Windows users, apparently. *Grin*)
* * *
Oh, wait. I've just thought of two benefits that I've reaped since I got my new Windows PC:
Any vestiges of workaholism have been wrung out of me -- now I'm genuinely glad to leave the office at the end of a day.
I appreciate my Mac more.
by Robert A. Jung
February 1, 1998
After I had finished writing "The Death of a Thousand Stings," I decided to share it with the readers of Evangelist, just to have an audience for the darn thing. I then disappeared for a week to go on a business trip, so I didn't think much about the matter for a while.
When I returned home, my e-mailbox was literally overflowing with feedback. Sure, I had expected some comments, but this was almost 200K of material! It took me several hours just to sort through the initial batch, and I'm still getting the occasional letter two weeks later. Now I know how Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame felt after opening that grain bin in "The Trouble With Tribbles."
Anyway, this update is in response to that mountain o' mail. There are some matters that need to be addressed, and so I'll use this to address them -- I certainly don't want to give the impression of trying to build my case on false pretenses, after all. There are also some insights and observations worth sharing, enough material to warrant another look at the matter.
With that in mind, let's dive into the mailbag...
* * *
First, a couple of corrections need to be made. The most significant one, as many readers pointed out, is that right-dragging a file is not the only way to duplicate it with Windows 95. In a trick that's also on the Mac, dragging a file with the Control key held down will make a copy at the destination point.
But that's really more of a shortcut for savvy users. For a casual user, the preferred way (according to Windows 95's help screens) to duplicate a file is to:
My first reaction to this was a bewildered, "Excuse me?"
I realize that it makes sense in a roundabout sort of way, but it's certainly not an obvious or intuitive one. Extending the cut-and-paste metaphor to desktop objects opens a whole new can of worms; for instance, if I can use cut-and-paste to duplicate a folder and its contents, why can't I use it to duplicate a disk (no, you can't)? It's an inconsistent use of the metaphor, one that could have been easily avoided. Really, would it have been that difficult for Microsoft's programmers to include a "Duplicate" command in the menu?
* * *
Several readers also wrote in with suggestions on how to rename files from the keyboard.
I admit that I'm a little embarrassed at not thinking of the first solution: highlight a file, then press Alt, F, and M. This selects the "Rename" command from the window's File menu (though I have no idea why M is used for "Rename," since R is not used). While this is more convenient than using the mouse to double-click on the name, the extra keystrokes still makes it fairly cumbersome. It's also an imperfect solution; the Alt-F-M sequence doesn't work for icons that are directly on the Windows desktop, since there's no encompassing desktop menu bar to work with.
The second solution is a minor variation of the first: press the "Contextual Menu" key, then M. A little better, though still a little awkward.
The best and most efficient solution, though, is to just press F2. Don't feel bad if you think this is an obscure answer, though; of all the letters I received on the topic, only one person knew of this trick. And the others can't be blamed for not knowing it, either, since I can't find any references to the F2-rename shortcut with my computer -- even Windows 95's own built-in help system doesn't know this! As with a lot of things involving Windows, a user has to either hope someone will teach him the arcane secrets, or continue to work in inefficient ignorance.
Oh, and when you're renaming files, be careful about when you press Enter. If you press it when the file is highlighted (instead of the name), Windows 95 will try to open the file instead -- which means extra gyrations on your part to get out of the program and resume renaming...
* * *
A few Windows 95 users questioned my assertion that dragging folders into the Recycle Bin tossed all of their contents into "electronic gumbo," as they could pull folders out of the Bin on their PCs. I tested the matter with a half-dozen computers, and they all had the same unceremonious "throw the contents into the bin" behavior. Fortunately, Chris G. had the answer:
They've sort of fixed the Recycle Bin with the Internet Explorer 4 desktop enhancements installed, but it's still not perfect. Now, when you open up the Recycle Bin, you see the actual folders; however, you can't display what's in those folders. So you can only restore an entire folder now. Depending on one's intent, this could be considered worse than before.
So I can either choose to have all my files mixed together, or have a bunch of folders whose contents I can't look at? Lovely...
A few others also pointed out that you can select a file in the Recycle Bin, then use the Contextual Menu's "Restore" command to put it back where it was. Unfortunately, this doesn't address the problem I raised -- that is, retrieving the contents of a folder from the Bin. You can't "Restore" an entire folder, since folders don't (normally) appear in the Recycle Bin to begin with...
* * *
Elizabeth B. reminds me that Windows 95's Alt-menu-access system is not absolutely pointless -- for handicapped users, it's a convenient way to use the system when they can't work a mouse.
Sounds good, but I still have to ask, why can't I turn the feature off? At least Apple's Easy Access control panel (which allows one to use a Mac strictly with the keyboard) lets me enable or disable it as needed. Perhaps something as simple as this is beyond the abilities of the programmers at Microsoft.
* * *
Most of the responses I received were supportive and positive; the only hostile letter came from one person who berated me for focusing on "minor trivia" (thus proving that he hadn't read the essay in detail, since I already explained why I was focusing on the little things).
Almost half of the letters came from disgruntled Windows 95 users, who felt that my list of annoyances wasn't long enough. Like a therapy group, my list of quirks encouraged these folks to share their most-hated nuisances.
Here are some of the more bothersome ones...
One of the most common Windows complaints is the jumpy mouse cursor. As Derrick F. writes:
The one thing that absolutely sticks out in my mind, as someone that does a fair amount of graphics work on computers, was "Why is the damn mouse so jumpy!?!" To this day, I don't get smooth pixel-by-pixel control of the mouse on a Windows machine like I get on the Mac.
The easiest way to see this problem is to set the mouse speed to "Fast," and then to set the screen to a small resolution, like 640 by 480 pixels. On the Macintosh, you can still get pixel-perfect control of the cursor, but Windows 95 turns it into a hair-tearing experience.
Simplifying the issue a little, the problem occurs because the Windows 95 mouse driver is ignorant about mouse acceleration: while it can detect movement, it's dumb at sensing how fast or slow that movement is. The MacOS, on the other hand, is smarter; it senses when you're moving the mouse slowly, realizes that you are trying to do precision movement, and then scales down the cursor's speed accordingly. Another example of how the Mac's elegant design provides benefits that are often taken for granted.
James D. submits another annoying Windows 95 inconsistency:
The "drag a file to move it" metaphor is inconsistent depending on the type of file. If the file you are moving is a .EXE [executable program] file, then instead of moving or copying it, it creates a shortcut at the new location. Further complicating this: Since the as-shipped windows 95 default is to hide extensions, you can't tell when this is going to happen.
To be fair, you can look at the icon as you're dragging it -- if you see the little curly arrow (indicating a shortcut), then you know you're moving an application. Of course, that begs the question of why this inconsistency exists in the first place. The answer, of course, is that it helps cover up Windows 95's ignorance; if a user can easily move programs around, he'd confuse the system in various ways when it wonders why PROGRAM.EXE is no longer in the C:\APPS\UTILITY\ directory...
A Windows 95 annoyance that was carried over from Windows 3.1 is windows-within-windows, the behavior where an application runs in one big window, with all of its document and child windows are contained within it. As David S. explains, you can't stagger windows to access other applications through the gaps on the diagonal, you can't get one window large without making the whole application window blanket the screen, and you can't easily put windows from different applications side-by-side for comparison or review.
I didn't include this in the original essay because I dismissed it as a matter of personal preference; as annoying as windows-within-windows was for me, it didn't affect my productivity enough to merit a complaint. But David also points out a valid problem with windows-within-windows: it makes it harder to access a program's menu bar. You have to position the mouse along the X and Y axes to reach a Windows menu -- and since the menu bar is less than twenty pixels high, that's a pretty small target to aim for!
In contrast, since the Mac has all menus at the top of the screen, a user only has to worry about positioning the mouse along the X axis. And because the mouse can't go off the top of the screen, a simple upward push is all that's needed to hit the menus. No mess, no stress.
And as with many other things in Windows, though, this is also a regular source of inconsistent behavior. For instance, Netscape Navagator avoids windows-within-windows behavior by spawning separate programs for web surfing, sending mail, and reading news. At the opposite end of the spectrum, other programs (like the LView graphics viewer) avoid the issue by only letting you open one file at a time...
Despite Microsoft's marketing claims, Windows 95 is built firmly on the foundations of MS-DOS. For those power users who want to go to the DOS prompt, Maarten L. gives this warning:
Imagine I had the following files:
I decided to keep "program.java" and get rid of the older "program.jav" version ... [so I] delete the one with "delete *.jav" from the command line. Guess what? Both got deleted... "Delete" does not know about long file names and just strips it off the file and processes it. Also, you could have guessed that the file did not appear in the [Recycle Bin] either...
I admit, this is not the kind of everyday situation that John and Jane Doe of Anytown USA would run into. On the other hand, it does sort of dampen the claim of Windows 95 advocates that it's "more powerful" than the MacOS. I know of several command-line interpreters available for the Mac, but none of them are this lobotomized...
Going to the opposite extreme, here are a few harmless-but-odd behaviors with Windows. John B. asks, "How do you shut down Windows? Well, you first click Start, then... (Does it make any sense in the world to put the shut down command under the Start menu?)".
And Ben B. (no relation) notes that, on a Windows NT computer, you first log in by pressing Control-Alt-Delete -- the same three-fingered keystroke combination used to reboot a Windows computer when it crashes beyond recovery! Maybe someone at Microsoft has a perverse sense of humor...
Kevin L. shares this subtle nuisance:
One thing you didn't mention about Win 95 that irritates me concerns creating new folders in open/save dialog boxes. You can create a new folder, but when you do you have to [then] open it within the dialog box to save your file there. ... When I create a new folder in this situation, it's because I want to save my file there -- isn't that obvious?
I dunno, Kevin -- maybe Windows users like the idea of creating folders that they aren't going to use? *Grin*
Here's a fun one: unplug your mouse, then plug it back in.
If you're using a Mac, this is No Big Deal (though not something you should do frequently, as there's a very small chance of damage). For most Windows users, however, this is a disaster -- Windows 95 will probably lose all knowledge of the mouse, and you're stuck up a creek without a paddle (results will vary depending on what mouse and mouse driver software is installed). Instead, you'll now have to use the keyboard to move around, as nothing short of rebooting the computer will bring the mouse back.
When I first heard this, my reaction was to dismiss this as a harmless quirk. After all, who's going to unplug their mouse indiscriminately? But John B. points out when this can be a major annoyance -- when you're using a mouse plugged into a laptop, a common convenience for people who don't care for trackballs or touchpads. As long as you're not going anywhere, you're all right. But as soon as you need to move anywhere (say from the kitchen to the bedroom), you'll have to deal with the mouse dangling off your laptop, and pray that you don't accidentally disconnect it.
As John puts it, "If I used a Windows laptop, I'd be rebooting with every move. My Mac does not punish me for being a klutz."
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The rest of my mail have been notes of encouragement and thanks. More than several people have already made plans to pass the essay along, whether to show their Wintel-using colleagues why Windows is a pain, or to dissuade a friend from making a Microsoft mistake. There were also some sympathetic letters in the mix, from other "assimilated" users who needed to vent their discomfort at their daily wrestling matches with the office Windows computer.
And then, of course, there are the anecdotes and observations...
Robert B. writes:
I hear you ... all too loud and clear. New job -- and I have to suffer through a Pentium and W95. My officemates and I have contests trying to see who can crash (Code Blue!) most often doing absolutely ordinary things ... so much so that "printing a second document before the first clears the print queue" crash has now been termed a feature, not a bug, and therefore not a candidate for our sport.
Bryan G. wryly observes:
On The New Keys: I have friends that have ripped those keys off because they get in the way. I thought that was funny.
I've forgotten almost everything about improving the aesthetics *hah!* of Windows 95 since I swapped to the Mac, but because I do tech support on high-end music software for both platforms I still have to know the essential stuff. I think you will find it unsurprising to note that in 99% of cases I have my Mac clients fixed within an hour of arriving. My PC customers are less fortunate. I rue the day Cubase VST was released for PC.... the last job took me 8 hours. One of the many problems was solved by having to write in a text editor, in the SYSTEM.INI file a command to force static cache buffering. This was a brand new, custom built, all SCSI, Pentium II with the best of everything. I won't bore you with more details, but... the horror, the horror...
Patrick G. notes:
The thing I find so interesting about Win 95 is how many of our IT folks mutter under their breaths about the system as they are trying to debug a problem on it.
Brad K. elegantly comments:
Windows 95 is not a Yugo, but more of a Cordoba -- it's feature set is the equivalent of Corinthian leather--if you believe in its benefits over real leather you're a victim of some shrewd marketing.
The truth is you shouldn't have to be a mechanic to drive a car, but at its core a PC has an arrogance towards users who don't understand it from the ground up. The common expectation of people I know who don't use computers (yes, I know some) is that they are difficult and hard to learn. ... The trials and tribulations of using a PC are considered par for the course, and we humans take it on the chin with every "user error" we encounter. The bottom line may not be that Mac users love their computers so much -- perhaps Mac users know what it's like to be loved by their computer.
Glenn G. gives a quick lesson about making assumptions for Windows support:
One co-worker [who bought a PC] ... stated, "If I have problems, I'll call my brother." Well, three weeks later he was complaining to me that his brother wouldn't come to his house to fix his machine and it was unusable. What a shame, considering all he did was install Quicken.
Keith P. sent me a long list of "likes and dislikes" about Windows 95 (with the "dislikes" outnumbering the "likes," not surprisingly). Since most of his more salient dislikes have been noted above, I'll share instead his analysis of why Windows 95 does things in such inconsistent and inelegant ways:
Microsoft has been a copier ... However, to avoid being sued or even noticed as copiers, they make slight changes to what they copy and thus, since in this case the 'other company' has already done a brilliant design job, the Microsoft product turns out to be inferior on average.
My personal favorite, though, and the one I'll end with, comes from Elizabeth B. again:
I passed your URL around to the members of my department. My department is a mostly Mac shop, and we're currently fighting efforts by the PC Support crew to get us to switch over. One guy likes Win95 better, and he told me he thought most of your criticisms were just whining. Today (three days later) he confessed that he is noticing that he has hit the Alt key by mistake a few times. :-)
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Remember, it only seems like "whining" to those who settle for flawed goods...