Microsoft is dead, long live GoogApple

Microsoft may own the desktop, but Apple and Google will bury it everywhere else -- a long-overdue development, says Cringely

I recently had an experience that epitomizes everything that’s wrong with Microsoft and why it is rapidly being tossed into the Recycling Bin of history.

I have a Vista laptop, and as I’ve recently learned, I am powerless over it. (Just saying that makes me feel like I should belong to a 12-step group. But I digress.) A few months back Vista went completely into the toilet and I had to restore it, using my Gateway notebook’s Recovery with Automatic Data Backup option.

[ Another Microsoft issue: The head honcho himself, as Cringely proposes in "Microsoft's real problem is Ballmer" | Stay up to date on all Robert X. Cringely's observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

That actually worked. Vista ran again, though fitfully. And the reason it was so fitful is because that data backup soaked up nearly half of my notebook’s 80GB hard drive. Essentially I now had two complete copies of everything, giving me precious little left over for data or Vista’s insatiable appetite for cached memory.

After a few weeks I couldn’t take the sluglike pace of my laptop anymore and decided to delete the backup, which consisted mostly of programs I didn’t use anymore and a complete copy of Windows Vista.

Deleting my unused programs was easy. Deleting Vista, or any part that came with it like Internet Explorer or Windows Calendar or Windows Defender, was impossible.

My machine would cycle through 20GB worth of files in my backup Windows folder, and then after 15 minutes would conclude “You do not have permission to perform this action.” Would I like to retry? Sure. Only the same thing happened -- time after time.

I had administrative rights over this laptop. I am its only user. But that wasn’t good enough for Microsoft. I still could not be trusted to not do something totally stupid, even though I knew it wasn’t totally stupid and I’d paid for the laptop.

Surely, I thought, this is some kind of bug -- but no. A search on the “you do not have permission” phrase turned up entries on various (and mostly useless) Microsoft support forums proving this was a feature. Microsoft did this on purpose.

Now, it is possible to regain permission to control files on the laptop that I nominally own. However, the process for granting myself permission to delete files, and then the power to have “total control” over them, is completely and utterly insane -- requiring trips to the Command prompt and a string of DOS-like instructions I haven’t used since Windows 3.0 was a puppy, followed by reboots and multiple jaunts between various tabs on the Windows Explorer Properties Security Advanced dialog box. 

I will spare both you and me the agony of repeating the ugly details, but you can find some of them here.

After getting no help from Microsoft’s online “support,” I sent out a plea for help on Twitter. My prayers were answered by old friend and ZDnet blogger Ed Bott, who took time out of working on his upcoming book ("Microsoft Office 2010 Inside Out," due out this August) to guide me through the thicket. It only took four hours before I could finally hit Delete and actually delete something. Glory be.

Ed is a lot friendlier to Microsoft than I am. He’s written a dozen or so books for Microsoft Press, and I think you should buy them all. (Do it now -- I’ll wait.) He blames Gateway for assigning this level of security to a Windows backup. Me, I blame Microsoft for inventing this insane process in the first place

This is Microsoft in a nutshell. Its biggest problem is that the people who work there think like engineers, and engineers tend to divide the world into two camps: a) other engineers, and 2) people too stupid to be trusted. So everything in Windows is either maddeningly condescending and repetitive or completely incomprehensible. There is no middle ground. And Vista, with its User Account Controls and arcane permissions process, is the ultimate expression of that dichotomy.

Apple, by contrast, has plenty of engineers, but the company doesn’t think like one. It thinks like Steve Jobs, who more than any CEO on the planet has an innate feel for what people will respond to. Google has plenty of engineers too, and while it can get pretty geeky, it also understands what people want: speed and simplicity, above all.

That’s why the future belongs to Apple and Google, and why Microsoft is dead. Oh sure, Microsoft will dominate desktops and enterprise software for years to come. But it’s lost the race for the non-desktop space, which as a market encompasses everything that isn’t the desktop or a desktop substitute, like a notebook -- in other words, the other 90 percent. Even if Ballmer falls in some kind of internal coup d’etat (one can always hope), it will never dominate any new market again. It’s finished.

Me, I find hope in that. How about you?

Do you think it’s time to stick a fork into Microsoft? Post your thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This story, "Microsoft is dead, long live GoogApple," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog.

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