"I found me in a gloomy wood, astray Gone from the path direct..."
- Inferno, The beginning of Dante's descent into Hell
I started out running Windows 98 and Debian Linux. I could play Counterstrike and browse the web, but it kept locking up. Strange, unpredictable lockups every few hours. It wasn't a software issue because it happened with any program. It wasn't a hardware issue because linux ran just fine. I decided to install Windows XP so that I could both play CounterStrike and have a stable system.
First off, there's wizards for everything. Want to configure your network card? A wizard pops up. Want to connect to the internet? A helpful wizard tells you all about the beauty of Hotmail. Anytime now XP will start to check your web searches and pop up search wizards:
"I see you're searching for the following words: 'llama', 'sex', 'leather', 'farm implements'. The Microsoft porn wizard will help you refine your search to get the best results. Just select one of the following disgusting perversions and click Next to continue. This is done without sending any information to Microsoft. Honest."
Everything is integrated. It's no longer possible to tell what's part of the operating system and what's an external program. XP comes with MSN messenger pre-installed, and it starts each time you log on. Explorer lists song titles and artists for mp3 files.
There's some kind MSN Passport program that takes care of passwords for all Passport sites. I don't know if this is built into Windows or Explorer or if it's its own program. Windows Media Player is set up to play all your mp3s for you. The lines between the OS, your computer, your data and the internet are getting blurred.
It used to be a joke that Microsoft was trying to spread its tentacles into everything. A novice computer user who installs XP will probably go with the path of least resistance and end up using Internet Explorer for web browsing, Hotmail for email, Media Player for mp3s and Instant Messenger instead of ICQ. Did I mention mention Media Player also plays DVDs? Well, not really, you've gotta provide your own decoder. So you still have to have your own DVD software but new "feature" is you get to use Media Player's bloated and annoying interface. You get all the drawbacks of media player with none of the convenience! That's a 1-2 punch you can't beat!
Remember that "My Documents" folder from Win98? These kind of folders are even more common and easier to access than the rest of your hard disk. Now novice computer users will find it even harder to understand how their computer really works. These kinds of "features" only serve to confuse you as to how your data is organized.
To be fair Win XP does have its benefits. It's stable, and in more than one way. Not only does it not crash as often, it's also more resistant to driver and configuration screw ups. Just as importantly, it now allows more than one user to be logged in at the same time. These features have been long in coming but they are finally here.
Now I'm resigned to a triple boot setup. Win XP, Win98 and Linux. Not one of the OSes does everything I want it to do. Win98 crashes, XP doesn't have OpenGL drivers for my video card and Linux doesn't have a proper browser. I just wanna go back to DOS.
ICQ messages received by Goatboy:
01/10 - I installed XP today. It's very pretty. Seems to have a lot of nice stuff.
02/10 - All the wizards that pop are getting annoying. Just leave me alone, dammit. I'll tell you when I want help!!!
03/10 - Got sick of XP and tried to reboot to Linux today but for some reason the partition is corrupt. It's pretty strange... Have you ever had this happen to you?
04/10 - I woke up at night because I kept hearing a child's voice asking me "Why do you hate me?". I was pretty scared and it took me a few minutes to realize it was just a dream. I noticed the computer was on even though I always shut it down before I go to sleep. I turned it off and went back to sleep. In the morning, when I woke up, it was on again.
05/10 - Wanna hear something funny? I can put CDs into my computer but they never come back out. I played with the power saving / hibernation options to see if I can fix that strange problem with the computer turning itself on. I think I've got it taken care of.
06/10 - Disabling advanced power management had no effect. Now even pressing the power button or asking it to shutdown does nothing. The power cable seems to have welded itself to the electrical socket and to the computer. The strange noises coming from my speakers at night are keeping me awake so I'd like to be able to turn it off. I think it has one of those weird themes where each action has its own sound effect. But these sounds aren't... well they're just strange...
08/10 - The night before last I woke up in the middle of the night because I heard that child's voice again. It could have been a dream, but I heard it say it would suffocate me in my sleep if I didn't give it the love it deserved. I lay motionless in bed until morning because I was too scared to move. All night I saw strange shadows shifting around the room, in the dim light of the screensaver. I know for a fact I disabled the screensaver when I installed XP. In the morning I took some clothes and went to a friends house. He thinks I'm imagining things but let me spend the night there.
09/10 8:03 - I slept in the living room but all night I heard the doorknob to my room being played with, from the inside. Sometimes I woke up and I could see the light coming from underneath the door change, as if something was moving around in there. I also heard sounds... I don't know how to describe them. Just before morning I heard the door to my room slowly creak open and I stayed up the rest of the night. I know that at least some of it wasn't a dream because in the morning the door was still open.
09/10 16:44 - My friend thinks I'm crazy and I'm no longer welcome to sleep over. I decided to skip work and put a deadbolt on the door so I can lock it from the outside. During the day my room is perfectly normal and the computer runs perfectly, it's almost like it knows what I want to do before I do it. No strange sounds, no screen saver.
09/10 18:15 - It'll start to get dark soon. Before I head off to bed I'm taking the precaution of locking up all the knives and sharp objects from the kitchen. I'll also make holes in all the grocery bags I have in case any of them find their way over my head while I'm asleep. I'm bolting the door to my room shut and sleeping against the living room wall where I can see everything that happens.
Konrad the Bold is an expert on operating systems as well as the world's undisputed champion in full contact solitaire. He has never been convicted of crimes against nature.