[A (shockingly) bad stock photo I took years ago.  It isn't a laptop, but it sums up my feelings on this matter.]

[A (shockingly) bad stock photo I took years ago. It isn’t a laptop, but it sums up my feelings on this matter.]

When I got to my desk this morning and fired up my laptop, Windows practically reached out and demanded that I run updates.  To be fair, I haven’t done it in weeks…or maybe months.  The last time I installed them, they broke my laptop’s ability to print.  As in, at all.  I had to do a system restore to recover, so you can imagine how happy I was about that.

But this morning I gave into the badgering notification.  And for the next four hours, that was the end of my laptop.  No kidding, it took that long, starting with the hour-long search for new updates.  Now maybe I’m just obtuse, but if you tell me I need to apply updates, I kind of expect that you’ve already formed a list.  But nope.  An hour to finally give me the list of updates, and three more to download them, install them, and perform the dreaded, time-sucking restart.

Now some of you might be thinking, “Well that’s just how it works.”  So let me give you some data for comparison.  While my Windows laptop was doing this, I pushed it aside and transferred my wireless keyboard/mouse combo and second display to my Linux Ubuntu laptop.  And for comparisons sake, I ran updates on it as well.

In Ubuntu, there’s a perfectly good graphic-interface for installing updates.  But I’m a geek, so I like doing it from the command line.  Six commands searches for updates, installs them, and cleans up after them.  The entire process, from start to finish, took less than five minutes.

Including a restart.  Which is a rarity, since Ubuntu only requires restarts when it updates the actual core Linux files.  I’d say 4 times out of 5, I can run an Ubuntu update without a restart.  The whole process is quick, runs quietly in the background, and is totally painless and doesn’t interfere with my work.

[My default Ubuntu image.  I actually really like this background, and have it on my phone and tablet, too.]

[My default Ubuntu image. I actually really like this background, and have it on my phone and tablet, too.]

Want to know who does it even better than that?  Google’s Chromebooks.  Granted, they aren’t a complete laptop replacement, and they don’t work for everyone in all situations (they don’t handle any aspect of photography well, for example).  When a Chromebook needs to install an update, it also gives you a notification.  You click on it, it takes control of the computer and installs the update during a restart cycle.  When it’s complete, you log back in and it restores everything.  Everything.  Whatever tabs you had open, whatever apps you were using, all of them are put back the way they were.

A Chromebook update takes two minutes or less.  So I go get a cup of coffee and when I come back, I log in and am right back where I left off, no hassle.

What I’m really getting at here is that Windows is a mess.  A convoluted, time-sucking, frustration-inducing mess.  It sucks.  It blows chunks.  However you want to say it, the plain truth is that it simply isn’t a very good OS.  But if that’s the case, then why does everyone use it?

Because it’s familiar.  Because pretty much since the demise of DOS, it’s been the most accessible and most widely-used OS by the enterprise segment.  And because people are familiar with using it at work, it becomes their default choice when they purchase a home computer as well.

I don’t believe that it’s a choice made out of loyalty to a good product.  I don’t even think it’s a terribly informed choice.  I think it’s just what people know, and it’s what’s sold in crappy stores like Best Buy, and so that’s what people end up with.

Unless you’re an Apple user (and are therefore willing to pay three times as much per device as an alternative to Windows).  Or you’re a tech-savvy person who knows about and was willing to learn to use something like Linux, or Chrome OS.  But in my experience, most people don’t even know those options exist, and they certainly don’t know that Ubuntu gives them a complete, user-friendly OS at a whopping cost of $0.  Based on their experience, there are only two options: Apple and Windows.  So you pick the one you know better, the one that sucks the least.  (Hmmm, sounds just like our two-party political system.)

[Another version of the burning phone photo.  I don't have any images that really relate to this post, but these ridiculous shots bring back some memories.  I spread model glue on the phone and lit it on fire, on the countertop in my college apartment.  Not my best moment, in retrospect.]

[Another version of the burning phone photo. I don’t have any images that really relate to this post, but these ridiculous shots bring back some memories. I spread plastic model cement on the phone and lit it on fire, on the counter top in my college apartment. Not my best moment, in retrospect.]

For kicks and giggles, I took another laptop that’s on restricted duty – all it’s USB ports were trashed – and updated it to Windows 10.  Up to now I’ve stayed firmly in the Windows 7 camp, as it’s the last really decent, stable release.  But just like Windows updates, I keep getting nagging notifications reminding me that my free upgrade to 10 is waiting.  So, what the hell.

What the hell indeed.  After an unsurprisingly long upgrade cycle of download, install, restart, and setup – all spaced out with a lot of waiting – I get to see Windows 10.  Visually, it looks like Window 7 with some graphical changes.  The desktop and toolbar are still there as expected, the start menu is dorked up but not impossible to use.  Somewhat humorously, the desktop icons for “This computer” and “Recycle Bin” are almost painfully retro, like a flashback to Windows 95.

But when I dig a little deeper, the truth becomes clear.  The whole premise of Windows 10 is a control grab.  It doesn’t really want to let you micro-manage the system anymore.  It’s going to download updates whenever it wants – and by default wants to perform restarts whenever it wants – and there’s no way I’ve yet seen to go back to the Windows 7 version of “Notify me when updates are available, but let me choose when to download and install them.”

During it’s setup it tries to get you to just agree to it’s default settings on everything, including privacy options.  The option to see what exactly that means and make changes is called “Advanced settings” and exists as small text that tries to blend into the background – it isn’t even a button.  And when you get in there and see just what Windows is trying to do, it’s off-putting.  Microsoft essentially wants to collect data on everything you do.

Now I know this is nothing new – devices have been doing it for years, and Google and Apple are just as bad.  But I can’t help but feel that between my Android devices and Window 10, it’s Windows that tries to be sneakiest about it, and makes it the most difficult to control.  And I am definitely not in favor of owning a computer where I am unable to fine-tune its behavior.

Granted, I’m not the average user.  The average desktop drone is probably happier if the computer just does everything itself.  But I can’t help but go back to Ubuntu for comparison.  Want to get every bleeding-edge OS update that’s released?  No problem.  Or maybe you only want the approved, stable releases?  Or only the official Long-Term Support releases?  Or maybe you don’t want updates at all?  Set it however you want it.

I’ve said it before, and after today’s experience I’ll say it again: when my Windows 7 laptop dies, my use for Windows will die with it.  I will gladly give up Microsoft, Windows, and Adobe and become a full-time Ubuntu user.  And I can’t think of a single aspect of Windows that I’ll miss.  It’s really not that good.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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