The bane of unmaintained Windows PCs

Metaphorical representation of tech journalism by BinaryDreams on Flickr

I've been rudely taken to task for implying Windows is frustrating and a lot of work to maintain, so I will clarify what I meant!

Creative Commons photo by BinaryDreams on Flickr.

What he/she/it said

After over 3200 entries and 1000 comments, I can count the number of times I've had to delete someone's comment on one hand, but this was one of those times. I will address his crudely worded concerns however, and encourage him to comment on this post if he can tone down the uninspired, primary school insults ;).

The commenter took issue with this statement I made on my post about cleaning a Windows 7 laptop (A Windows 7 cleaning saga:

I told him that while it was possible for average users to keep Windows machines running smoothly and securely, its frustrating and a lot of work, ultimately for little gain.

I'll acknowledge firstly that the post in which I wrote that statement was incredibly biased and highly tongue in cheek, though I really do dislike Norton AntiVirus and their dodgy practices to scare their customers into giving them more money once their trial periods are over. That's really Not Cool.

That said, I stand by that comment about Windows.

Explanation sounds like expletive

As someone who grew up on Microsoft operating systems and only moved off Windows in the early 2000s (which was last decade now, how creepy is that!?) I've seen Microsoft's abject apathy towards the security of their systems gradually turn into well intentioned bumbling, then finally some progress. I acknowledge this.

Aside from its awful Aero user interface, my primary concern with Windows isn't that its not secure, but the fact that takes far too much work to keep it that way.

I know plenty of computer professionals who run Windows and write software for it. They take all the appropriate precautions for their privacy and security, they run the right software, they perform periodic maintenance and patching. Like the mechanic who's car is always kept at the peak of performance because they're competent enough to know what they're doing, its clear these folks love their computers and put the effort into keeping them running great.

Of course, in the real world…

The problem is, much like most people aren't mechanics and put up with random rattling sounds from their cars as long as they start, most people aren't computer professionals. Windows 7, for all its well intentioned security improvements, is still far, far too easy to corrupt and turn into a cesspool of crap in the hands of average users. Forgive the bad imagery, but it fits.

If you're "the computer guy/gal/robot" for your friends and family as I am, maybe this story sounds familiar: what starts out as simple fix ends up being a complete data backup and system reinstallation because of the terrifying horror of what you find. Mysterious toolbars in IE, icons on the desktop to applications that shouldn't be there, error after error after error, spyware up the wazoo, and maybe even a couple of tasty worms dutifully recording credit card numbers and responding to botnet requests. Its all so insidious the only way to be sure you've removed it all is to reformat and start clean.

Compare this to Macs and Linux machines that family members and friends have had installed and set up for them, and the story changes. In the hands of average computer users, they simply don't attract the level of crap Windows machines do. Of course I can only offer anecdotal evidence of this, but I've worked on hundreds of machines and this has been the case every single time.

But wait, it gets better

Ultimately what terrifies me isn't that I'm constantly working on compromised Windows machines owned by well meaning people, but that there are so many more out there that aren't being given any attention by people like you and me. And those machines are being used for email. And for internet banking. It quite literally sends chills down my spine.

Say what you will about the IT departments of various companies, but at least they have some input into the maintenance of their clients' Windows machines. For home users, Windows is the Wild West, and without a competent Sheriff keeping the peace, it can be a scary world in there. This is why I encourage people I know to get Macs, or to install Fedora or Ubuntu on their existing machines so at least I can be more assured of their privacy and security when I'm not there checking up on them every day.


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