Windoze /Win’doz/ v. 1. To be completely and utterly screwed, usually by Microsoft. Ex: My operating system just crashed (again). I sure am Windozed.

Given a world of approximately six billion unique individuals, it never stops amazing me that so many people are such total lemmings. Granted that the wide variety of forces—cultural, historical, etc.—which play upon human beings enforce a certain amount of homogeneousness, but sometimes I think we’d see more intellectual diversity by observing penguins.

Case in point is the latest consumer operating system, Windows Millennium Edition (also known under the retch-inducing moniker of “Windows Me”) from beleaguered Microsoft Corporation. Despite a litany of operating system disappointments leading all the way back to the DOS 5.0 era, consumers are once again flinging themselves—though perhaps which a certain degree of ambivalence by now—over the cliffs of despair onto the sharp rocks of Windows Me.

Two intriguing and germane questions immediately arise: (1) Why would people—some of whom are otherwise pretty bright folks—continue to subject themselves to such pain?; and (2) Is Windows Me as bad as the previous Microsoft operating systems or a whole lot worse as most everybody seems to think?

Why People Will Upgrade
Many people will upgrade to Windows Me because they are forced into it. New PCs already come with it pre-installed (99 percent of PC manufacturers allowing no option because Microsoft allows them no choice). Over time Window Me will become the dominate operating system by default, which is one reason why Microsoft deserves to be splintered into several competing companies.

Another is in the way it ties its technology into the OS. Remember the browser-in-the-operating system trick of Windows 98 that led to the Justice Department case? Windows Me gives us more of the same, only this time with Windows Media Player, a competitor of Real Networks RealPlayer and Apple’s QuickTime. Windows Me forces users to install Windows Media Player and offers no uninstall option. How do you suppose Real Networks RealPlayer and Apple QuickTime will compete against that? (See Microsoft crosses the line for more info.)

[Quick aside: Even the perpetually PC-fawning PC Magazine called the Windows Media Player “more crash-prone than anything else in Windows Me.”]

One can only speculate that current PC owners upgrading to Windows Me are either masochists or morons. Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE have all proven unstable and bug-ridden. How many times can a user be tricked into upgrading before he or she gets the clue that Microsoft simply cannot be trusted? The probable answer (“once more”) is a sorry commentary on human nature. If it’s true that one definition of stupidity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results, then, well, you get the idea.

Let’s Talk Quality
There is, perhaps, some debate over nuances in the word. But when reviewers say that Windows Me is “crap,” it’s a safe bet that none of them mean it’s a great piece of software. But don’t take the word of some Mac-loving, Windows-hating end user like me. Read for yourself:

  1. “In true Windows fashion, Millennium Edition will add a few new features, along with more bugs than an industrial-strength ant farm.” —You’ve Been Windowed. Also see interesting reading is the follow-up, Awash in Dirty Windows.
  2. “A bug hunter named Andrew Griffiths has announced he has discovered a vulnerability that allows attackers to crash or reboot a Windows Me computer running a TV software package by sending the computer a certain type of data over the Internet.”—Reports of Windows Me Bug Already Rolling In.
  3. “Windows Me [is]…the final, sputtering iteration of the aging consumer Windows product line that last saw a really significant release five years ago….At one time, Microsoft had far more ambitious plans for this Millennium release. It was supposed to have a dramatically simpler interface and to have such major stability improvements that the tentative marketing slogan for the product was: ‘It Just Works.’ That bold claim was dropped and the plans scaled way back to leave a minor Windows upgrade I can’t recommend for existing PCs.” —Walter Mossberg, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 7, 2000

Some Windows Me highlights (besides the aforementioned) Windows Media Player debacle:

  1. Slower. Testing shows Windows 98 Second Edition—already slower than Windows 95—to be anywhere from 3 to 16 percent faster than Windows Me. What’s even worse, this was on tests tweaked to give Windows Me better scores. More dire still, if you load Internet Explorer 5.5 onto Windows 98 SE (in the first tests Win 98 SE used its default IE 5.0 browser), it turns out that any speed improvements shown by Windows Me are in fact coming from the 5.5 web browser. So Windows Me isn’t a winner on speed.
  2. Decreased functionality. Windows Me eliminates real-mode DOS mode—DOS being probably the most stable OS Microsoft has ever shipped. This means no restarting in MS-DOS mode or booting to a DOS prompt. Programs which access DOS directly will not run under Windows Me.
  3. Decreased reliability. And you thought that wasn’t possible. The regular installation nightmare, a regular feature of Windows upgrades, is still there in spades. A couple of comments from the ZDNet story Reliability Concerns:
      …[I]f your system includes cutting-edge broadband and firewall software designed for the Windows 9x TCP/IP stack, you may be in for trouble.” [In other words, all Windows firewall software breaks under Windows Me.]

      …When the system upgrade was complete, the system ran smoothly for a few hours but then became unstable. Even the System Restore wizard didn’t help—and crashed when it tried.”

      …If you insist on upgrading an existing system, you may want to wait for the inevitable service pack.”

Also worth noting is Windows Me: Let the Blames Begin where the opening line is: “One day after Microsoft’s retail launch of its new consumer OS, users have more complaints than kudos.”

Or how about Windows Me isn’t MS’ shining hour which begins with the following:

    Like so many other suckers, I purchased Windows Millennium Edition last week and spent the weekend installing it. I can save you the reading of the rest of this column by offering a single word of advice: Don’t.”

This highly informative commentary concludes with words that could just as well have been yanked from a Windows 98 review: “This is a cynical attempt to get your money. Make Microsoft work harder for it.”

Given all this, you’d think that alternatives like the Mac OS and Linux would see their marketshare begin to grow dramatically. And what do you know? They are. So perhaps fewer people will be Windozed by Microsoft in the future. For humanity’s sake, let us all hope so.