🔗 Microsoft Windows Isn't User-Friendly


First published: .

In the year 2000, I installed Debian GNU/Linux on my desktop computer, removing the existing Windows 98 installation that was on it. I knew about Linux for a few years by then (I still remember my father installing a Linux distribution several years earlier, which didn't last long for him), but wasn't ready to take the plunge yet 'till then. The end of the '90s and start of the '00s were the days of CGI (not the CGI you know from movies and television), when the World Wide Web was quickly turning from a largely static medium to a highly dynamic one, and Free Software/Open Source was where most progress was being made (and still is). I tought myself to code in Perl—which ruled the dynamic web—and became a web developer. Everything was pointing me towards Linux, so eventually I took the plunge, and never looked back.

Since then, I tried dozens of different Linux distributions. I also worked with Solaris, FreeBSD, OpenBSD (on which this website is hosted), NetBSD, and others. For the most part, however, I have been an Arch Linux user since at least 2004. For a few years, I also had a Windows XP installation that I only used for LAN parties with a group of friends.

What I'm trying to say is that I haven't used Windows in many, many years. That's also true for every job I've had during my professional career. Even if our standard issue workstations were Windows, my first point of order was to reformat the hard drive and install Arch Linux. As such, I was very much out of the loop when it came to what newer Windows versions looked like.

There's a general consensus that Linux is not beginner-friendly (which I plan to address in a subsequent rant), and that Windows is user-friendly and easy to use and understand. "Windows gives you a good experience out of the box," I often hear. Given that I haven't really used Windows for so long, I did not doubt that argument. Until recently.

Last year I bought a new computer for my aunt. Suffice to say, she is not a tech-oriented person. She really only needed a web browser and an office suite, so I figured I could install a Linux distribution that is a bit more user-friendly, such as Mint or Ubuntu, and that's it. By now I don't really remember why, but something or someone convinced me to install Windows 10 instead. So I did. And I wouldn't call what I found "user-friendly" if Steve Ballmer had a gun to my head.

It begins with the installation process. Most of the process has you staring at a black screen with a rotating visual that gives you zero indication as to whether anything is actually happening. I was convinced the process was stuck for quite a while, because absolutely nothing seemed to be happening, all there was was a rotating gif. That, and four unexpected, unannounced restarts. I can't believe after all these years, Windows still needs to restart itself multiple times during the installation process. A Linux installation, in comparison, can be bootstrapped with zero restarts.

After those four restarts, and a lot of patience, the Gods of the OS world finally take you to the next step of the process: answering a ton of annoying questions and configuring a bunch of unnecessary shit. The privacy settings screen—whose existence in an OS installation is already a giant red flag—is purposefully full of text, knobs and choices specifically designed to tire you into ignoring the ~15 different "privacy-related subjects" and just clicking "Next" to allow Microsoft to track any and all things about you.

When the installation process miraculously ends, and you reach the Windows UI, it's even more mind-boggling that this operating system still rules the desktop world. The "start menu", which used to be a simple menu to launch your applications and execute some common tasks, now takes up a significant chunk of the screen's real-estate, about 40%, or even more, depending on your monitor's resolution. The worst part is that about 75% of the start menu itself is ads and assorted crap that isn't even installed on your system. I just can't believe that Microsoft chose to make what is arguably the most important part of the UI completely unusable in favor of more ad real estate.

What the ever loving fuck is this?

And it's not that uninstalled crap is only limited to those ridiculously large squares on the right. Most of the software listed in the small list of actual software on the left are ads for uninstalled software too. It's truly hard to believe this was a concious choice made by such a high-value company.

The system settings are also a joke. There's two different screens for them: one that is easy to access, has the same design as the rest of the OS, and only includes some of the things that you may need. The other one is the "Control Panel", which is mostly hidden, still looks like it did back in Windows 98, and exposes different configurations than the System Settings, or the same things in different ways. There are other windows in the OS, by the way, that use the same design from older versions of it.

The system tray was also taken over by ads, randomly and regularly popping up notifications that have nothing to do with anything, encouraging you to install some spyware, or trying to make it look like you need to press that "Yes" button in order to prevent some disaster.

The task manager is also trash. It's a bunch of squares with nondescript icons that make navigating between open windows a chore. And what happened to "My Computer?" It used to be an easy way to get a list of all your drives, and accessing general information about your computer. Now every time I need to get to that information I have to relearn the alphabet. Where the hell are you hiding that information?

It's also great to see that Windows Update is continuing to destroy dreams. Windows Update reminds you why Microsoft chose to remove a progress bar from the installation process in favor of an ever rotating gif: they have no idea when shit's gonna end. I'm a programmer, so I know measuring progress is difficult, but it's absolutely hilarious that Windows still spends more time after it already shows 100% progress than it did before that. And running that 30-minute update for you when you're just trying to shutoff the computer and go home, well that's just fan-fuckin-tastic.

Windows also still has the same issue that virtually any other operating system has solved years ago: finding sources for software installation is hard. If I want to install p7zip on Arch Linux, I just do pacman -S p7zip. If I want to do the same on Windows, I have to do a search through my web browser and pray to God the website I'm downloading the installation from is legit, and I'm not installing a third-party wrapper that also installs some spyware.

The net result is that my aunt is now scared of her computer, as it keeps bombarding and distracting her with "yes/no" questions. And people like my aunt will prefer to click "yes" to everything, because they believe that clicking "no" will mean the computer won't work anymore. It took me a while to change that mindset for her, but what happens now is that she calls me for every message that appears on the screen to ask whether she should click "yes" or "no".

Microsoft Windows isn't user-friendly, it's user-hostile. I absolutely regret the decision to install it for my aunt. Had I known Windows was no longer an operating system but an ad platform, I would have gone with something more user-friendly like FreeDOS. It's a common joke to say "in Linux it wouldn't have happened," but in this case, it's true.