By Tom Cole
Written Fall Semester 1998
Go Back to OLD GEOCITIES Memoirs Page

I was showing someone my Swift Audubon 8.5 X 44 Porro Binoculars when I unexpectedly gained insight into how people defend MicroSoft products like Windows or "Imitation Mac" as I call it. We were at Elliot and Cooper Roads bird watching when I saw a poor man using a pair of cheapo ten-power 50's. I decided to let him have a look through some real binoculars - no, not to discourage him but to reveal to him the wonderful world of decent optics.

I did a good deal of reading on binoculars before I bought my Swift Audubons and that is not bragging because it wasn't tough research: it was just fun to read and learn about my next big purchase. The reviewers wrote: "The Swift Audubons offer optical excellence unmatched at any price." And "No matter what you use after the Audubons, it feels like a step down. You miss that edge of clarity and those extra yards of reach." And "You can use them all day without a hint of eye fatigue or mind fatigue." And so on.

I knew my binoculars were superior to anything I had used before because I would sometimes have difficulty making out details with them and then I would find that I was attempting to search up the face of a cliff a half a mile away. Through those binoculars, the coots in the pond look as big as dinosaurs and any outing with them gives the whole day the feeling of having spent it gazing through crystal clear water. Why take up skin-diving if it's only a beautiful view you're after?
The guy handed back my binoculars and said, "Well, I don't see much difference."

"Are you mad?" I wanted to shriek. "Those babies list for $550 and their street price of 300 bucks makes them the best buy since my mom bought me that plane ticket to Rio!" But I just mumbled to myself.

He let me look through his binocs and it was as I suspected. They were ten-power monsters with the image jumping around like Arcturus through a Mattell telescope on a cold clear evening. I was unimpressed with the tiny field of view with its ragged, unfocused edges.

The Audubons, on the other hand, have a 430-foot field of view at 1000 yards and in comparison the binoculars he was using provided a view somewhat akin to looking through two toilet paper tubes. You'd be worn out in no time trying to fight for a decent look at birds with those things. Believe me, I know and I'm not judging him; I've got plenty of binocs like his -- but I wouldn't use them anymore if I were in a hurry to be struck dead.

 Now, it is true that the image from those cheap ten-powers was slightly bigger and the man that owned them was used to them and liked them because he hadn't really found out what it was like to get real work done using the Audubons. His ignorance was bliss; he didn't know his productivity was cut four fold and he thought it was a normal, acceptable condition to be all worn out after doing a day's normal field work with his binoculars. But let’s get back to the subject.
A Windows user, I submit, is a great deal like a man with inferior optics. Doing any kind of real work on the Windows platform is twice as tiring as on the Mac platform and is less productive by a factor of four. Minimum. Yes, I pulled that number out of thin air, but just the same, I will prove to  you how and why this is a scientific fact.

I have been using a Windows machine for years at work. I start it up and go for a cup of coffee. When I return eager to work, the machine is not ready. Instead of a bright screen, I am greeted by a tiny whimper. My machine is whimpering much like the main character in the final scene of the Science Fiction movie classic The Fly.

"Help me!" it says in a tiny anguished voice.


"Heeeellllp me!"

"What's wrong?"


"A disk?"

"There's a disk in my disk drive and I can't move. I'm stuck."

"So am I now  -- thanks to you, you piece of...." I eject the disk and restart. I'm behind schedule already.

"Why don't you do what your cousin Mac does?" I ask my DOS machine as I wait for it to reboot.

"If you can't find the system on the floppy, eject it yourself and try the hard drive."

"Cannot do it!"

"Why not? Would it shame the family or something?"

"Yes! Shame family! Cannot do!"

MicroSoft Imitation Mac starts up and I try to focus my eyes on the sallow imitation Mac folders. They look like dead yellow warblers through that guy's 10-power WalMart Binoculars. I remember that I have to copy one of those folders onto a floppy, so I stick a floppy in the drive. No sign of it appears on the desktop. It's there though - I think, so I drag my folder over to the drive icon and a cute picture appears showing files moving from one folder to another, an illustration that does not really depict what is actually happening and so in addition to being overly cute is also bad pedagogy. I also would bet money that just putting on that little show makes the copying process twice as long.

I wait. There is a lot of information that I wish to copy. The disk drive, a lazy grinding pig of a device, groans on. It can't read a Mac disk and it can't even read a double-density disk, facts which cause all kinds of delays and misery for users. Don't get me started.

Finally, I hear my computer complaining again.

"Oh, man!" it says.
"NOW what?" I ask.
"Oh, man. Like you ain't gonna believe this."
"TELL!" I shout, although I'm already pretty sure of what is wrong.
"Like, I tried to copy all that stuff you gave me, man. And, like, when I started I didn't actually like LOOK to see if there was ROOM and I was almost finished when I like ran out of space, man."
"You didn't look first?"
"No, I didn't, man. The disk is like completely FULL. With half of what you wanted to copy and all of what was there before! So do you like want to try again?"

"Try again? What? With the same floppy you just told me doesn't have enough space? "
"Yeah! Want to try again?"

I defy anyone to tell me that this is not a mentally challenged platform. It becomes a three-act play just to copy a file to a floppy. But this is just one of hundreds of preposterous features that stymie you every inch of the way, harass and harry you, and devour your substance as you attempt to accomplish the simplest of tasks on the Windows platform.

Remember that Imitation Mac is a soft system sitting on top of the hard wired DOS. DOS, as most educated people know, stands for "dumb operating system" and it imposes its dumbness into Windows -- dumbness which Windows never really puts up a decent fight to resist. This is why Windows users have only very recently been able to even name their files.

Oh, you will say that they could name them -- with eight letters, but this is not naming in any real sense. "Fall Cycle 1 Book List 1998" becomes "fc1bl98" with only one letter to spare as does "Memo to Dennis May 1" "Memodm1," and even if you didn't have hundreds of files coded this way it would still be impossible for you or anyone else to read them and this, I contend, does not constitute naming.

Instead of naming files and proceeding with their work, all DOS and preWindows95 users spent more than a decade inventing creative ways to code their files with eight letters. They derived satisfaction from this special  and ultimately worthless skill, but their time  could have been put to better use by doing real work.

Today, of course, Windows users can use many letters to name their files and it is my pleasure to congratulate them on finally catching up with the prehistoric Apple II. Of course the DOS platform still has its way in this in the end. When you copy to a floppy say goodbye to your file names as you wind up with a tilde and a number after each eight letters. What a joke.

But back to my work day: I try another disk but get a message saying that the "media is (sic) invalid" or some such and that I am denied "access to the folder such and such." I give up the idea of copying, frustrated.

Folder, media, disk -- they all can mean the same thing (or quite different things) in MicroSoft talk. All the nomenclature is a absolute disaster. This means if you are working in many programs you had better be careful if you choose Exit or whatever in a menu. You see, "Exit" can simply close a window or it just might be the kind of "exit" that shuts down the application. You'll learn where it means which by trial and error as you go along -- but you will always be prone to making time-wasting mistakes because you'll be lulled into vulnerability and forgetfulness as you choose Exit twenty times and it only closes  windows and then, suddenly, the twenty-first time the program suddenly shuts down and has to be launched all over again. The nomenclature problem is so bad that there are no key commands for many simple actions such as shutting down the application. CONTROL E might simply close a window or it might shut the program down or produce the image of Elvis Costello for all you know. Because of this lack of planning and this sloppy design, users are not afforded some handy key commands where they need them most.

MicroSoft products come from the DOS mindset if "mind" here is not too loosely defined. You could always see from the design of the software that the techies that made DOS products were not even touch typists. I don’t know if they ever learned to type, but they did later learn about icons from observing the Mac platform and they started making zillions of them in every product. In fact, they made so many that now no one can figure them out and so  you have to hold your pointer over them until their name comes up and you can see what the heck they are. Kind of makes you wonder what icons were for in the first place.

If you use MicroSoft Access, you'll find that the icons for the forms, the reports, and the queries are all practically identical twins and so you have to stare pretty hard to see where you are what's in front of you. And if the icon in the corner of a window is clicked it will just close the window Mac-like unless it is a table icon in which case MicroSoft Access shuts right down in your face and needs to be restarted. Even seasoned Access users with years of practice do this by mistake every day. This really is an excellent example of MicroSoft's poor craftsmanship.

All MicroSoft products are designed this way. The Windows product itself has numerous icons in the corners of the windows. Some look like folders and if you click on them they will close the window or they just might do something else. There's no consistency and no way to tell what will happen and you are forever lulled into forgetfulness even as you begin to learn.

Try to rename a word processing file Mac style by just selecting the name under its icon and typing in something new. You'll often be admonished with non sequiturs like: "Access Denied. Check to see if the disk is write protected."

"But I'm renaming a file on the hard drive," you'll say.  "Whoever heard of a write-protected hard drive? Do you really believe there is a little plastic write protect tab on the hard drive like there is on a floppy? What gives?"

Soon you learn that the real reason you can't change that file name is because you currently have the file open and running in your word processor and have to close it first before renaming. Windows, however, doesn’t know this and never learns. It just gives you a possible cause for your misfortune even though that cause is absolutely impossible. When Windows 95 came out, it did learn a little and mentioned that the problem could be that the file was open OR that the disk was write protected. But it still doesn't know for sure and as usual it's up to you to do the thinking -- well, either you or the "System Administrator" that it always insists that you contact. Whenever anything goes wrong, it screeches for you to seek help from this mythological entity:

"Get help!" it cries. "Get the System Administrator!"

Oh, thanks for the tip.

Remember the ancient five and one quarter-inch floppy disks? You'd stick them in the old fashioned disk drive with that little handle that they stupidly called a "door?" Well Microsoft Windows still remembers too. In fact, when something goes wrong it still warns you to be sure to close that door even though such "doors" have not even been manufactured for many years and no machine capable of running Windows has one.

Simple tasks can be completed on MicroSoft products. Simple word processing can be accomplished, for instance, and you will only have to fight the machine five or six times to write a short paragraph and get it printed. An hour and a half should do it.

You'll start to write a letter and a cutie pie paper clip will appear frisking on the screen and saying, "Can I help? Hmmmmm?" Now, let's remember that this paper clip guy is basically the same guy who was convinced that the hard drive was write protected and if he knows as much about letter writing as he does about hard drives he isn't likely to be that much help. It takes two or three clicks to get the dancing paper clip out of your face. The first two clicks don't ever seem to take.

Try Print Preview in Word and scroll through the pages to find the area of your document you need to work on. Found it? Great. Close print preview and you're immediately sent back to where  you started. But wait: maybe you remember some words from the page that has been lost to you so you make a word search and the dialog box jumps in your way. You can't see, so you move it and search again and it's back in your face blocking your view. Click. It's back in your face! Can't see. Drag it away. Look. Click. It's back in your face! Can't see.  Drag it away. Click....

You'll type a list of scores or figures in MS Word and when you're done, you'll notice that Word has happily changed the entire list to perfect numerical order without even asking permission. The numbering feature kicks in whenever it even looks as though you’re trying to number things and you've got to turn it off again and again and again as you work. It's defaulted to kick in without even a polite note informing you of the project.

All of MicroSoft's defaults are similarly idiotic. MS Word's spell checking default ignores all caps. This handy default helps your spelling errors be more obvious because all of your uppercase titles and headings will not be spell checked. Word's Find File feature is defaulted not to search sub folders. I kid you not. This means that it will search all around the folders where there are likely no files instead of in the folders where files are normally kept. Then it will regretfully give you the sad news that the file you were searching for does not exist.

MS Access defaults the text search to Whole Field only. This means you will constantly be changing the default so you can type in Von instead of Vonhenderschleppen Und Von Horst, Ph.D. and find your friend Wolfgang without typing his whole name and his degree as well.

Access, like all MicroSoft products also has a color palette whose default colors are like something out of a drug addict's nightmare. Look around the university and you will see everywhere lime green and chartreuse and other tastefully color-coordinated databases. The colors can be changed but the the process is steeped in deep mystery.

Color has always been a problem for MicroSoft. All of the dialog boxes are a dreary battleship gray with "tube blue" borders. ("Tube blue” is an old art major's term for the color that comes directly out of the paint tube. Artists that use it without mixing it with other colors are perceived to lack skill and finesse.)

There is, however, one color -- and one only -- that doesn't look that bad on the Windows platform. It's the turquoise that is the default for  the Windows desktop. I've just finished the Windows version of my Mac software game FISH TREK. I'm not even going to fool with the color wheel. The windows platform has me exhausted and the game will appear with the familiar turquoise background.

Anyone who uses MicroSoft knows very well that the selection and scrolling  features are broken. The products are simply faulty. As most people know, Windows never knows were your screen begins or ends so you have to constantly be resizing your windows and I have the feeling that this has to do with the broken scrolling in MicroSoft products. Let's say you are working in a word processor and wish to select some text. You'll drag your selection towards the bottom of the screen as you used to do on your Apple II, selecting text as you scroll along. However, in MS products, once you attempt to scroll the selection beyond the visible screen, the selection rockets clean to the end of the document in a flash and everything from Maine to Albuquerque is selected and you're stuck on the last page with your usual MicroSoft-induced befuddlement and unhappy brow knitting. Word processor, database, spreadsheet -- they're all busted this way.

Windows enthusiasts will point out that it is possible to use the 1984 Mac command of Shift and Click to accomplish beyond-the-visible-screen selection without  disaster, but the fact that a jury-rigged solution --compliments of Macintosh -- exists doesn't mean much. The software is still broken.

Now, all Word97 users will also note that even the basic text selection has become faulty. Put your cursor in the middle of a word and drag to the left to select that part of the word. No dice! Against your will, the remainder of the word to the right is selected as well. More clicking, more extra actions, more lost time, more fatigue, less productivity.

When you’ve finally finished working on a Word document you may want to save it under a different name in a different place. You choose “Save As” and try to save in another folder and you notice that the folder is empty. You look around frantically. Where are all of your files? You wanted to save it right next to the letter to Mary Brown, but you can’t see that letter or anything else. Finally you realize that you originally saved your file in Rich Text Format and therefore MS Word has decided all on its own that you have absolutely no interest in anything on earth except Rich Text Files and makes anything else in your computer completely invisible. This is done for the sole reason to keep you as beleaguered, lost, and weary as humanly possible. Oh, it is a strange and eerie feeling to see all those empty folders. It is a great deal like the tale of the Eskimo Village:

     Captain John Black approached the Eskimo village. “Mafatu! Dookie!” he called, but there was no reply. Where were the happy piping children who always so eagerly greeted him? The women? The Eskimo men? Only the dogs ran out yapping.
     Captain John Black ducked into an igloo. The coffee was still hot on the Franklin stove and a needle still stuck in a tunic gave the impression that it had been left there in mid stitch. Even the Eskimos’ rifles were left behind.
     All of the other igloos were the same: the same abandoned guns, the same needle in the tunic, the same hot coffee. There was no sign of foul play. But where were all of the Eskimos? Where? It is only today that we have begun to realize the awful truth.

Laziness is the trademark of software designers these days. Here at ASU you can see examples everywhere. MicroSoft has taught designers that it is acceptable to create an interface that is confusing, unintuitive, and idiotic. Why bother to do it halfway right? Shoot, MicroSoft doesn't. Why should I? Use the web for a library search and you'll find your 500 search results are ready to view. There's a tiny button to advance and a tiny one to go back. Then there's one as big as New Mexico that lets you jump to record 500. Well, you might want to go to the end; after all, there's a one-in-500 chance that the record you need is there. But why the huge button?
If you have ASU mail, try this experiment: type into your browser. Then follow the directions to the letter. Your attempt to log in to your mail will fail. Always. Here is why:

The techies who designed the page took their cue from MicroSoft and followed the line of least resistance, putting in the very minimum of effort to complete their work. You are told to type in your asurite id and hit return. You do so, and a dialog box comes up telling you to put in your user name. "User Name" is the same as "asurite id" and if you didn't know that, now you do. Try to remember it. Anyway, you do this and enter your password as requested and you get "Authorization Failed!" This is because you failed to read low on the page the instruction that says when you are asked for your username, you  are actually to type "asurite\username" instead of your user name alone.

This is a perfect example of techie jury rigging. Instead of taking the time to fix the problem, they prefer to just say, "Hey when it asks for your user name, type in your shoe size instead." But here's the capper: I said follow the directions to the letter  and your attempt to get your mail will always fail. It will. You see, these DOS-bred techies are also generally slovenly and sloppy. They typed "asurite\username" (with a backslash) instead of "asurite/username" (with a slash). So it's really your hat size that you're supposed to type in. And if you follow their directions you will never be able to log on though the sun rise and set for a million years.

Now, don't think I'm too crass here; everyone's entitled to make a mistake. But I know the system. For years everyone's ASU  personal home page addresses were e-mailed to them with an underscore after the slash instead of a tilde. No amount of pleading could make the techies correct this or even jury rig it by saying "Hey, that underscore should be tilde. Enjoy your new address." No way. No one ever got their correct address and they had to rely upon word of mouth street knowledge to get their pages up and running -- and to do a great number of other really basic computer related tasks. They still do.

This is all because of the DOS mindset. Revealing information about the computer is taboo. It loses techie jobs if the public isn't confused. I remember how upset a team of techies were when years ago I said, "Heck I'll get a book and write the HTML myself for our home page." It turned out that I didn't need a whole book -- just a sheet of instructions from a friend. Shoot, a ten-year-old could do it -- and those Windowfied techies had been lording it all over us!

Well, I have hardly even scratched the surface of what I don't like about MicroSoft's products and the bad attitudes they foster. I have not enjoyed waiting for the DOS machines to try in vain to catch up with the Macs and I have not liked seeing the Mac getting dossified by MicroSoft products and bad Karma. I use Virtual PC on my Mac and so I  have two computers for the price of one. With Windows on my Mac, I can jump between the two platforms at will. I can enter the sad, smoggy world of Windows anytime I need to and jump back to the Mac side where absolutely none of the horrors I have described even exist.

Yes, there is a world without those horrors and if that one fact does not prove that the Mac Platform is intrinsically superior to the DOS-based one, then you can compare the two yourself. Hey, you don't  even have to buy a new machine, just wait for the soft version of Mac to come out for your PC and then compare the two. You'll  be able to order nice cold snowcones from hell at the same time. I rest my case.