Saturday, January 21, 2012

A message to Windows

Dear Windows,

When I gave you permission to automatically download and install updates I do not remember giving you to restart my computer without my knowledge or consent, I definitely don't remember saying you could do that without saving anything first.

I understand that you theoretically give some kind of ten or fifteen minute warning but that is in no way sufficient. It is, in fact, completely unacceptable.

Sometimes one steps away from a computer, notices that there is snow outside that needs to be dealt with, identifies it as the sort of light snow that can be dealt with with a broom, and steps outside to deal with things only to discover a giant block of compressed snow and ice about the size of an adult human being curled up into a ball if that human were a giant has found it's way into the middle of the sidewalk. Then, after failing to budge it, gets a long sturdy piece of wood to use as a lever. When the wood brakes it is obviously natural to realize that one should check for knots before choosing which side to apply pressure to. Stick switched the lever works and the giant block of ice become separated from the ground.

Due to the postion of the ice the lever is now useless as an aid and the only thing to do with the giant block of ice is to roll it up a snow pile. Initial tries fail as the ice is too heavy and the ground slipery enough for one's feet to slip out from under them.

The snow pile is modified so that a step now exists for the giant block of ice to be rolled onto, feet again slip on the slippery ground. Much effort is expended. The ice catches on the step. Much more effort. The ice is rolled upright. It is stable. It is left there.

Sweeping resumes. The sidewalk is cleared.

Once back inside it is discovered that you restarted without so much as a pop up message asking if you could.


It was not always thus. There was a time when an automatically run update that required a restart would be accompanied by a message saying something along the lines of:

This update requires you to restart your computer, please select one of the following:

[Restart now]
[Remind me later]
[I'll restart when I'm good and ready, don't do a damn thing until then.]

That worked, and it worked well. I have no idea why you changed it but it wasn't worth it.

This new, “I'll close every program the moment you look away,” policy is not good or right or just. It is not bringing sunshine and light into the world. Nor is it bringing welcome shade or restful dark. It is instead restricting itself only to the unlikable parts of the visual spectrum. If it were a light it would be a harsh light that sears one's eyes, if it were dark it would be the kind of dark that left one straining and frustrated.

It's not good is the point.

Not everything that one does in a session ought to be saved, many things, once done, need never be returned to and so saving them is nothing more than a waste of space. But that doesn't mean that ending the session in the middle is ok. Just because something was never meant to be saved doesn't mean consigning it to oblivion without the user's permission is ok.

Also, not everything can be saved. Late last year my computer was engaged in deep religious meditation that took days. Three days, if I remember correctly. The program was running the entire time, and it was using so much by way of resources that the computer could do little else.  There was no way to stop it and save it's progress in the middle, it ran once beginning to end. In the end it worked like a dream, though the input could have been better and thus the output suffered as a result.

When I consider that even if your attempt to restart without permission is caught and halted it can't be delayed for more than four hours I shudder to think what could happen any time a lengthy program is run.

To stop you from ruining that run I would have either had to restrict the running of the program to the hours I could watch over it and make sure to delay your destructive impulses every four hours, which would have multiplied the length of time the computer was occupied with that project unnecessarily, or I would have had to wake up every four hours for the duration just to tell you not to restart. Neither of those is a desirable situation and I count myself as lucky that you didn't go on one of your destructive sprees for the duration.

That you cannot conceive that a computer might need to be used for more than four hours is absurd. You are software. Running computers is what you do. Can you not imagine yourself doing anything productive for more than four hours straight?

I also note that you've been trying to install the same four updates for months now. You kind of suck at it. I hope they're not as critical as you claim because no matter how many times my computer is restarted, with my permission or without, you have yet to succeed in installing them.


I wonder if part of the problem with our relationship is that you think I have nowhere else to go. Someone I know and respect has recently switched to Mac. I do fear for her because the last bug I heard about from the Mac side of the computing world was more catastrophic than anything I've ever so much as heard rumors of in windows, but the time that has passed since then is evidence that, while the bugs may be apocalyptic in nature, they appear to be rare. It might be like moving to somewhere with occasional earthquakes to get away from the cold winters. It could be conceivable.

I probably won't switch to Mac because they don't seem to be nice people, they appear to be auditioning for Big Brother, and I don't mean the TV show, they break their contracts, their record on human rights makes me want to cry, and as near as I can tell they're in favor of polio (only some of the previous sentence is, strictly speaking, true) but I have other options.

Ten percent of the people who visit my blog use Linux, perhaps I could look into that if you continue to be unkind.

You seem to think that because I've been using you for so long I can't make do on anything else. You're wrong. You aren't my first. You aren't even my second.

When I was young I used a Commodore 64. It's still around. It's in the basement with the reel to reel player. If you don't shape up I'll hook it up, plug it in, and find a way to hitch it to you and it can tell you about how things were when it was your age. Do you really want to hear that lecture?

The TI is down there too. You probably think they just make calculators and components because you don't pay attention.

You're young Windows, younger than me. And that's saying something when it comes to computers. I will get the older generation to come out of retirement and give you a talking to if I have to. And don't think I lack the resources. I have floppy discs that are actually floppy.

Back somewhere in your distant memories, from older versions back before you were Windows 7, you should have some vague recollection of what that means. Discs that go flop. Now think about what it would be like spending all day, day after day, talking to computers who thought that that's the height of external storage. Think about all your shiny modern game technology, and then imagine a long rambling speech about Donkey Kong from old Commodore and you with no choice but to listen to every word.  (And remember how slow Commodore talks.) Because I'll do it.

I will make you listen to them.

And then, if you still don't shape up, I'll dump you and get another operating system.


  1. If it helps, on my Windows 7 computer (and my mom's, after this happened to her three or four times), I've managed to find a security options menu in the control panel that lets me choose "Don't even think about downloading or installing updates until I tell you to", at which point I can either do that when I'm ready to restart, or I can keep telling it not to ask me to restart indefinitely (though the fact that you can't put it off for more than four hours at a stretch is ridiculous).

    Anyway, that's not to say Windows doesn't have some serious problems. But maybe this might help?

  2. I pick the "download but don't install" option there (which saves time when I actually choose to do the installation part.) It's worked well to date on all my Windows computers (especially my work computer, where I *cannot* afford to have an unexpected restart.

  3. Linux is much easier than people expect it to be. I like Debian.

    Windows programmers are too often in the mindset where going a whole day without having to reboot is something to be celebrated.

  4. If you need to give the thing a heavy duty chat, I can always send you my Z-X Spectrum. My old man spent enough time queuing for that piece of kit, even the iWhatever fans would shudder.

  5. Chris, this brought a big grin to my face. I had a similar conversation with Windows a few months back when it rebooted when I was in the middle of a dozen things. Heather is right -- there IS a way to disable it -- but boy howdy do they hide it, and I'm sure the NEXT os update will hide it even better. *headdesk*

    You write beautifully, as always. I'm in awe.

  6. This is truly awesome and has me giggling at work. I love the idea of the Commodore giving the computer a talking-to, especially since the games were better then.

    By the way, Windows is even more absurd when hooked up to a hard-core security system meant to protect nuclear secrets. I have a temptation to bring my computer over to NASA, where they still have tape and punchcard-based computers. (Seriously. I believe their opinion is "It works, and do you want to be the one to transfer that data?")