B.F. Sparrow Weblog

Upon Control

Published 10 February 2017
Republished on new host 28 April 2019 (unaltered except for the removal of an irrelevant and misleading header and best-guess cleanup of mis-displayed characters [they seem to be malfunctioning smart quotes, if you must know] from an obsolete encoding) Typos and bad grammer may be corrected in the future.


The uproar surrounding Windows 10 seems to have died down.  People have come to accept the new world order in which Microsoft receives regular updates about, as that tiresome homunculus Joe Belfiore passionately insisted in a now-famous interview, the "health of the system".  Unlike some tinfoil hat-wearing  "privacy advocates", I am not here to split hairs about the extent of Microsoft's knowledge of users' systems, nor to rail against their doing this.  It's probably harmless, and neither I nor any rational person should have reason to doubt that Microsoft is as good as its word when it comes to the type and quantity of the data collected.  Instead, there I would like to write about a much more pernicious problem that I have observed in Windows 10, which not only portends ill for the future of personal computing, but also just makes me a bit mad.  That problem concerns attitude.


Windows 10 is the only OS I have ever used which, seemingly just for sport, insults my intelligence.  In order to illustrate this, allow me to walk you through a typical day with Windows 10.  Every time I boot up a Windows 10 system configured to my liking, I am greeted by a friendly reminder that Cortana is available should I want her.  This reminder does not disappear on its own, but must be dismissed.  Now, the fact that I have not wanted anything to do with Cortana for the past 500 days or so makes no impression upon my oh-so-eager OS.  It is quite certain that if I only knew how Cortana could make me, to quote the setup screen "awesome, or just on time", then I my fingers would stumble over one another in a mad scramble to be the one to throw the switch.  This is only the beginning.  After I have dismissed this reminder for the millionth time, I might open up Chrome.  My homepage and default search are both Bing, and therefore, just as reliably as the gas bill, when I open Chrome, I will be greeted by a reminder that follows something along the lines of "Wanna check out Microsoft Edge", or perhaps it's "Bing works best with Microsoft Edge", or it might be, "Get paid to surf with Microsoft Edge".  Whatever the exact wording, it is written very much in the same tone as the Cortana reminder, the gist of it being,

"If only you, you poor, ignorant man, knew the bountiful joys to be had by using Edge, you wouldn't toil in medieval ignorance, running a browser with a vast extension library, the universal standard rendering engine, and built-in flash.  No, you'd leap with both feet into our half-baked science-fair project of a browser.  In fact, we want you to love it so much that we�ll pay you the princely sum of a half-cent per hour for using it."

Microsoft is, in fact, so certain you�ll love Edge, that I have heard reports of its changing the default back after major system updates, although I have never experienced this myself.


Pushiness is one thing, but one of the more irritating aspects of Windows 10, as well as the recent iterations of Microsoft Office, is the subtle, cloyingly conversational, buddy-buddy tone that is taken in communicating information to users.  Instead of simply giving the user the pertinent information in, for example, tool tips, Microsoft insists on infusing Office and Windows with "personality".  This in spite of the fact that they are nothing more than tools, albeit complex, multifaceted tools.  This complexity is no excuse, though.  I do not want my Swiss Army knife to wink at me every time I open the corkscrew element.  I see this tone as excusable only is Cortana, which is meant to have a measure of "personality" since it is meant to be an approximation of a person, a highly solicitous yet not-very-bright person.


Finally, there is the matter of forced updates.  This, perhaps more than anything else in this article, bespeaks the arrogant and condescending attitude that Microsoft has assumed of late.  The reason given is a suitably altruistic one, to preserve the security of users' systems and make the use of Windows a better any more complete experience by pushing feature updates.  Why, though, must this be forced?  Why must Microsoft dominate everything?  Under Windows 7, the default Windows Update option, and therefore the option the overwhelming majority of users selected, automatically downloaded and installed updates, prompting the user only when a restart would be required to complete the installation of new updates.  If you recognize this as the way Windows 10 behaves, you should, because they are exactly the same except that the restart could be deferred indefinitely, but I cannot imagine that most users would defer the update any longer than their in-progress work demanded they do so.  The tyranny of the default is the only tool needed to make novice users fall in line, but experts and power users need not chafe against defaults when other options exist.  The current restriction upon Windows 10 Home and Pro, however, insults Microsoft's most knowledgable users while providing no added benefit for novices.


By way of contrast, the other major proprietary OS, that of the Macintosh, nags me about features once a year, and only that often if I install the new annual OS update.  If, by the way, was the operative word concerning OS updated, because Apple never forces you to take either point updates or new versions.  Furthermore, Apple retains security support for old versions of the OS for two years after they are supplanted.  Microsoft, with the Windows 10 rollup scheme, doesn't support old versions two weeks after something new comes along (unless you're using the Enterprise version which you, dear reader, likely are not).  Finally, Macintosh dialogues are the politest, most genteel dialogues in the world, bar none.  They were even better under the classic Mac OS, about which you can read more in next week's article.

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