Main Site

Home page

Acorn History

Virtual Desktop

Wimpbasic Resources

PD Software

RISC OS links

Anti Microsoft home

Computing Heading logo

Thank you for taking a look at this page. What follows is an essay explaining why I have taken a very Anti Microsoft stance. Please take the time to read through.


What is Windows

Microsoft Windows is an operating system with a graphical user interface (GUI) that allows a user to interact with the computer. When personal computing first started the user had to learn commands to get the computers to do anything. The first Icon based GUI was designed in the early 1970's by the Xerox Corporation at the Palo Alto Research Centre. Microsoft would like to think that it thought up the whole idea, even though Apple had a GUI before windows was even a programmers nightmare.

The aim of Windows is to hide the commands needed behind an icon. For example in the past to see the contents of a harddisc you would have typed 'A:' at the DOS prompt. Today you click on a little disc icon in my computer and the computer effectively issues the 'A:' command. (slightly simplified). The idea of the GUI is to make computers easier to use. Unfortunately the way Microsoft has chosen to do things has made the whole thing far more complicated, and has confused the issue somewhat.


Who or What is Microsoft ?

Microsoft was originally founded in 1975 by Bill Gates and his much lower profile partner Paul Allen. Gates and Allen had started out writing software for one of the first home computers - the Altair. Microsoft itself came into being when Gates realized that he needed a company to market his product. The product was MS-DOS. Now MS-DOS came into being because IBM required an operating system for there new personal computers. They first approached a company Digital Research who produced a package CP/M, but unfortunately for the world, the CEO had gone away for the weekend. IBM went back to Gates, who promised he could produce the required software. Microsoft purchased a product from a small company SCP, an Operating System QDOS. This was a derivative of CP/M. Microsoft made a few cosmetic changes, erased SCP from the files and MS-DOS was born.

Outside of the x86 processor family were a host of other platforms, Apple, Acorn, Commodore as well as a number of smaller platforms. Microsoft though had a very big advantage, in that they had a link to IBM. IBM had been around for a very long time selling various business related machines. The company were synonymous with quality and had a solid reputation. With such a major player, Microsoft were able to ride on the 'coat-tails' of an international trading name. It didn't matter that Microsoft had only an average product. Using this as a starting point Microsoft have gradually been able to quash all competition to become the monolith that it is today. Microsoft even turned on it's own partner IBM whilst still pretending to be collaborating with them !


Why is Microsoft/Windows bad?

Lets get one thing straight. On some sites you will see that Microsoft are the most evil company in the world. Well Microsoft is not good news but it certainly isn't evil. As the company has grown, stifling all opposition it has gained near a global monopoly which now threatens to stifle innovation on the computing platform.

Microsoft rarely develops anything new or original. The usual ploy is to buy out a company that has done the development work, then just add minor changes or upgrade it when a new release of Windows is released. The product may have had competition from other vendors, but once Microsoft take over a product, the competition starts to fade as everyone jumps on the Microsoft bandwagon.

Once you have bought your latest PC which is usually fairly cheap you soon find yourself at the bottom of a very long and expensive ladder. The cheap PC over time becomes more expensive as you are forced to upgrade software and inevitably the hardware.

For instance a typical install of Windows takes up around 200Mb of harddisc space, whereas the Operating System (OS) RISC OS takes up 6-8Mb for the basic OS with another 20Mb for additional extensions - that are not necessary for the operation of the computer. Why does Windows take up so much space?

A typical word processor on Windows takes up around 45Mb of hard disc space and requires Mbs of ram to run. A comparable application on RISC OS requires 2Mb of Hard disc space and a mere 752K of memory to run. Yet the RISC OS wordprocessor is far more capable and flexible than Word. Again why should a fairly simple application need 45Mb of Hard disc space?

The answer is slovenly and badly written software with feature upon feature which hardly anyone uses. You think I'm wrong? MSWord has approximately 300 features. Can you name them? Why not sit down and write a list of the features you use regularly. You may be surprised. The list will be around 30 items for the average home user,a nd most of the features will be on the tool bars at the top of the Window.

What does this mean ? Well you pay £2 -300 for a stack of features that you will never use/probably don't know exist.

I hear you shout that Microsoft products have stacks of online help. Well true, but have you used it? Most of it is unintelligible, and you usually find that you can't keep the help screen and the application in view at the same time.


The Microsoft Way

Microsoft increasingly provides Wizards and other gimmicks. These help to stifle the users creativity, because the Wizards work the way that the Microsoft programmers envisage it should be done. More and more documents now look the same, because users believe that the only way to create a document is via a wizard.

Wizards can be useful as a starting point for the novice wanting to gain a bit of knowledge, but beyond that all you get is Microsoft style documents. As styles become ever increasingly tied to Wizard based documents so they become more bland and less individualistic. Why does this matter? If you produce a document, be it a report or a letter you want to entice the receiver to read it. Imagine receiving ten letters all the same and one slightly different. Which one would you notice?

Imagine going into a book shop and all the books are bound in black with white lettered titles. What would happen? You might spend a few seconds browsing before leaving. This is why books have some amazing cover jackets, to entice you to pick the book up.

The point that I am trying to get across is that the human brain is a visual processor. The brain will pick out an interesting book cover long before it has processed the fact that there are other plain books about. The same applies to documents that you produce. The human brain will (perhaps subconsciously) always go for something that looks different.

So when you next go to use MS Word or whatever - forget the Wizards and produce something unique. It may be difficult the first time but as you produce more of your own work it will become easier, and you will start to experiment. Unfortunately you may also find out why Microsoft want you to follow a specified path. The limitations of Microsoft products will start to hit you in the face. After all Microsoft have spent millions writing Wizards to hide the fact the products are generally second rate.

Many consultants trained in the Microsoft way insist on everything being done in Excel or Word. Many a time I have seen a piece of software running that runs within the Excel Visual Basic environment. I've even seen a 'Virtual Intranet', which is slow and doesn't have proper rememberable links. Why was it produced in Excel? Heaven knows.


Industry Standards

It says a lot about industry standards that it fell for marketing hype and the lowest common denominator. Industry argue that we should all learn to use Windows so that we can change from job to job without need for retraining. However my experience of such training has been appalling and glosses over the using the computer. What you learn how to use is the companies pet application. If you are really unlucky you get some half baked training from someone who had the information passed down to him/her by the office techie 4 years ago.

Industry says that Acorn equipment in schools is an irrelevance. However it should be noted that the benefits out weigh the industry view. The equipment runs without too many hiccups, is immune to all but the most determined attack by pupils and a network can usually be run by a part time administrator. The OS, because it is in ROM (a chip) cannot be damaged by rogue pupils that have knowledge, and the whole system doesn't crash because the administrator has added a new application to the server.

Children need to learn about computers on an open flexible system. Imagine your frustration if after several days of work it is suddenly lost due to a crash. A child will be far more distraught if this happens to a terms work, or a vital piece of coursework is lost.

So when you consider purchasing new equipment for the school consider the following :-

  • Initial cost
  • Additional cost of upgrades/frequency of upgrades
  • Amount of time available for the system Administrator
  • Do you want to buy more machines next year or just upgrades?

This final point leads to an interesting thought. If industry want children to be taught on the latest most up to date PC software then do they expect schools to update there systems every year? Most Managing Directors never use a computer, but like to pick up on buzz words and don't know the reality of using Windows.

For instance if a school is stuck on Word 6 and the Microsoft empire has spawned 4 releases since that was released then the child is no better off because features will have changed, been removed etc (As will the Wizards).

By using RISC OS based products the child can learn about computing, how to use a Wordprocessor,spreadsheet etc. The skills once learnt are easily transferred to other platforms. A person that can use a RISC OS product can easily learn the few differences with Windows products and will enter the work arena with an open mind.


Microsoft - Dumbing Down

Microsoft are guilty of dumbing down computing, when in fact if a user is taught a few basic facts the machines can be made far more useful. Microsoft has tried to hide everything under layers of User interface. This has been done partly to hide some of the weaknesses of Windows. In doing this terminology has become confused and intermixed. I'll give you two instances. The first is 'stuff'. What is stuff? Well to the informed it might be data, an application or a game. A Word file is data, MS Word is an application and Doom is a gaming application. Microsoft wants it referred to as stuff or even worse cool stuff (probably for the game).

However what is difficult to remember about data and applications? An application leads to the production of data, which you either create or scan in or the software produces through analysis. There is nothing difficult in basic computing it's just that knowing what data/applications are means you know a bit more about computing and that you may expose Microsoft as the second rate company that it is.

The second point I want to make is the way you store data on the hard disc. Like many, perhaps all of your letters are stored in the favourites folder. Perhaps you have several hundred items listed. Do you spend time looking for that elusive letter you're sure you sent to the bank manager? Then read on.

Your harddisc - the thing that thrashes around blinking it's activity light whenever you do something in windows is a storage device much like a filing cabinet. Within a cabinet you have drawers which are subdivided by folders. You may have folders for letters, invoices or perhaps you have a folder for the electricity, gas water etc.

The hard disc has what is known as a hierarchical structure, which enables you to organize information in a logical way. However windows based applications make this difficult with out a lot of mouse clicks to move around. You also have a very small window with small icons to move around. If you want to create an on the spur sub folder for say 'letters to the bank' you can't without going to my computer. Not very flexible. Having access to the hard disc means that you can create a folder and save the file quickly and easily.

Do not be afraid of organizing your data! Microsoft won't be happy but then you will have learnt more about your computer. Remember using the favourites folder is Microsofts idea of handling files. Find the method of data organizing that suits you. Knowledge is power. Microsoft know this and are happy as long as you don't deviate. If you don't deviate you won't find the flaws in the system and can't complain/move to another platform.

Windows makes data organizing harder than it should be, but with care and some thought you can either reorganise your data or move to a platform that allows you to do what you want.


Industry Standards 2

RISC OS is not industry standard so it's pointless learning to use it. Well RISC OS is more industry standard than most Windows based machines. RISC OS can read write PC/MAC discs. RISC OS can read/write most of the main industry graphic standards as well and import/export most Word files. With the advent of the internet based documents such as HTML RISC OS becomes even more standard. Even here Microsoft has tried to impose it's own standards and squash the open standards set up by the computing industry/community at large.

The idea of an open standard for HTML etc was that a document could be created on any machine and read by any other machine irrespective of what Operating System it used. The problem for Microsoft arose because the open standard would mean that people could move to other makes of machine without being shut out from the rest of the world. End result people would find other machines to play with and ignore Windows.


Have you caught something?

You have probably seen in the newspapers or heard on the tv/radio about viruses that have been written that have attacked a users machine then passed it on via the internet. This problem has partly come about because a whole Microsoft suite has been installed. In the past you may have bought your software from different suppliers. Whilst functionality may be the same different programmers organize storage of data in different ways.

What do you mean?

Take the example of a virus which comes off the internet looking fo MS Outlook. Once activated the virus may look for a file called program/data/addresses. Once it has found the addresses file it can carry out it's dirty deed.

If a company has written another Email system they may have written the address book as program/address/data. The result? The virus is programmed only to find program/data/addresses. As the file doesn't exist it fails and your data is safe(r).

This is a very simple example but the Melissa Virus worked on this principle. This shows you how having a mix of products can prevent you falling victim to those sick people who produce viruses for fun(?)

I have also become alarmed at the layers of additional security required to protect modern Windows Pcs from attack, anti virus software, spyware checkers, and a myriad of other software. The additional layers cripple even the most modern of machines. Why do you put up with it?

Modern machines crippled with security software, take so long to boot up most people leave the machine on standby. This of course has an environmental impact. In standby mode the PCs power consumption is still greatly reduced, but it still consumes power. If millions of machines are left on, this soon has a large impact. My employer has approximately 60,000 machines, all left on 24 hours a day 365 days a year. What a waste!


Last updated
14 August 2007

The contents of these pages represent my own views and not necessarily those of my ISP