Jun 012013

The difference between Windows 7 and Windows 8? Think Ford versus Ferrari.

A twenty-something Microsoft technician, patient and unfailingly polite, and I were chatting. From Bangalore, he had taken over my Windows 7 computer, my main machine, to try to root out some unseen malady which had prevented all Office programs as well as Skype and Skydrive from running properly. Every time I tried to sign in to my Microsoft account to use one of these programs, a crash ensued once I had entered my user name. I could not get to the required password screen.

As one of those interminable “please wait” screens familiar to anyone who has ever tried to repair or re-install Windows whirred away, my young friend explained to me that once you’ve driven a Ferrari you will never go back to Ford. And it really isn’t that hard to learn to drive one. You just need some training. The product is far superior.

But, I rejoined, a billion people or more know how to drive a Ford, and only a microscopic percentage of them will ever have the chance to get behind the wheel of a Ferrari, much less own one. I don’t need to start with lessons when I go to rent a car. Why can’t Microsoft make software that, in the words of CEO Steve Ballmer, “just works.”

My young friend was unpersuaded.

Two punch lines.

1. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Microsoft has decided, in it infinite wisdom, that you will not have to learn to drive a Ferrari to use Windows 8. Windows 8.1, including something resembling Win7’s “Start” button, and the ability to boot to the familiar desktop rather than the new-fangled tile-based Metro interface, will be widely available as a free Windows 8 upgrade by the holidays. Whether Microsoft crying “Uncle” so late in the game is enough to arrest the steep slide in PC sales remains to be seen.

2. After roughly a dozen hours of tinkering under the hood by two Microsoft techies in Bangalore, I have my Win 7 computer back. It’s a relief.  But, you know what? I plan to spend most of my time running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. Right from the web, this free OS works fine on my three-year-old Lenovo ThinkPad. As far as I can remember, it has never crashed.

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