no images were found

Wow. Bill Gates’ last day at work. You have to wonder if the company gave him a watch or something. If not, I think I know where he can get one. Anyway…

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out if EVERYbody hates Microsoft, or if it’s just that Microsoft fans are sorta quiet. Well, I can tell you there’s at least one Microsoft fan out there, and that would be me. Ok, in reality, there are plenty of people who like Microsoft, and probably many more who would if they’d just stop to think about it for a second…

Microsoft has done amazing things for the personal computer industry, including achieving over 91% market share. And contrary to what many people think, Microsoft doesn’t even come close to having any type of monopoly in the PC industry. Aside from Mac, there are abour a zillion flavors of Unix, any of which can be installed on a PC.

But Microsoft’s biggest achievement, if you ask me, is in creating an environment in which people have so much choice of hardware and software and, for the most part, it works pretty well together. Sure, Windows has always had issues with hardware drivers, but there are literally millions of possible hardware configurations for a Windows PC and, for the most part, they work.

Does anybody remember the frustrating days of manually setting IRQs and memory ranges? When was the last time you had to think about that? When was the last time you paid attention to whether or not something was plug’n’play? These days you can go to a Best Buy, pick up a cheap USB peripheral, and often times you don’t even need to install a driver. Windows will recognize it and you can just start using it immediately.

For Windows to be able to work as such considering Microsoft doesn’t control the hardware side of the equation is brilliant.

So what are some other things about Microsoft that have been memorable over the years? Here are a few of our favorites, and least favorites.


no images were found

In high school, I got my first computer, which was…wait for it…an Apple IIe. Yes, I originally started out an Apple fan. And part of the reason for this was that some of the games on the computer were amazing. The graphics were mugh higher-resolution than what you’d find on an Atari 2600 for instance, even if developers didn’t always take advantage of them. But after a while, developers started to reach the limits of what they could do on an Apple II series computer, particularly since they didn’t include hard drives. And believe me when I say swapping out among a bunch of floppy disks while playing Ultima V wasn’t much fun.

In fact, I have to credit Origin Systems for my transition to the PC: The Ultima games were so much fun, so compelling and so expansive with each successive iteration, that it was Ultima VI alone that caused me to spend $3k of my extremely hard-earned cash on a PC just so that I could play it.

Over the past 18 years since then, all manner of games have invaded the PC landscape, and have increased in their breadth and visual beauty along the way.

And the experience of gaming on a PC is, in my opinion, still much more fun than playing games on a console. It’s more intimate, because of your proximity to the screen, and that allows for a much better experience, especially with certain types of games. And role-playing games don’t work as well on a console, without a keyboard.

Although credit for the majority of game-specific advances lies with each developer, Microsoft has done a tremendous amount of good for the game development community by creating a framework that virtualizes the hardware from the software. Again, looking back, it was not uncommon to have to have a sound card or video card that was specifically supported by the game that you were playing. Now, thanks to Windows and technology frameworks such as DirectX, much of that finagling has gone by the wayside.

Of course, the ubiquity of Microsoft operating systems, whether MS-DOS or the various versions of Windows, has done the most good for PC gaming, because it provided a market base big enough for game developers to make some money. And for that, we gamers are grateful.

The Two-Button Mouse

no images were found

While Apple was the first company to include a mouse with a personal computer, their mouse has always had one button. Whether you’re talking about the very first Macintosh computer, or today’s highest-end Mac Pro, Apple’s mouse peripherals have always had a single button.

It was really Microsoft and, later, Windows’ context-sensitive pop-up menus that ushered in the era of the two-button (or more, these days) mouse. Thank you, Microsoft! Sure, function and control keys serve their purpose, but making it that much easier to get to common tasks has been a blessing.

I particularly loved it when MS later came out with the Intellimouse Explorer, with the side buttons (where your thumb rests) pre-programmed for Internet Explorer’s back / forward buttons. I imagine that my life will ultimately have on the order of 34 extra hours of quality time with friends and family (ok, fine, playing computer games) since I didn’t have to keep mousing up to the top-left corner to click back. The funny thing, too, is that Microsoft’s mouse (and keyboard) products have often been best-in-class.


no images were found

Oh dear. I’m sure Microsoft is just thrilled that so many people remember Bob. Yes, Bob was a GUI on top of a GUI on top of a command line operating system, which should have been a red flag to Microsoft from day one. Bob was a way of trying to make Windows 3.1 (and Win95) easier for all those people who just couldn’t get the concept of multiple windows, task switching, multi-tasking, etc.

It was a GUI that aimed to be easy by being familiar. In concept it’s not a horrible idea. In practice it may have actually defined horrible. The problem was that Bob wasn’t so much familiar and easy as much as it was a hidden picture guessing game (with no score or reward) and a series of seriously sub-par productivity applications.

Despite all the pretty graphics (ahem) and cast of characters from which to choose to guide you through how to use your computer…every time you’d use your computer…Bob lasted only about a year, and was then thrown into the pit with the Atari 2600 E.T. cartridges.

Xbox & Xbox 360

no images were found

True, I already said that I prefer PC gaming to console gaming, but one of the things that was so cool about the Xbox was that it didn’t suck. Not only did it not suck, it was actually pretty darn good. I was really looking forward to the Nintendo GameCube, having been a big Mario games fan for years, but instead of something even cooler than SuperMario 64, what we got was Luigi’s Mansion and it’s 54-button controls. Blech. Meanwhile, my girlfriend decides to go out and get me this new thingamabob called the Xbox by Microsoft.

This is one of the many reasons she’s now my wife. That and I somehow duped her into saying ‘yes’ woot!

Anyway, the Xbox had pretty terrific graphics and a cool controller made for guys with big hands (read: adults) which was pretty spiffy. Until they realized that kids weren’t too thrilled and they made those little dinky versions. No matter, the Xbox took off and launched some killer franchises, not the least of which include the Project Gotham Racing games and, of course, Halo.

The Xbox 360 followed up with a nice 1-2 punch, putting online gaming squarely at the center of the X360 experience. That, even more amazing graphics, a strong online community and a collection of solid titles has made the X360 the console to beat for older gamers (Wii takes the cake for the younger set, and the PS3 is, um, a black and curvy Blu-Ray player that we hear also plays games).

Windows Live OneCare

no images were found

I’ll admit it. I never ran anti-virus software my computers at home until last year. It’s not that I think getting viruses is cool, it’s that just that, you know, I know how to not get them. And in the years since my first Windows 3.1 computer, I only had one virus…and that came from a floppy disk from the place where I worked at the time.

But last year before my wife’s old PC gave out (more on that later), she had a nasty bout of malware. Since I refuse to use Norton / Symantec products (too buggy and resource-hogging) and since McAfee erased half of the hard drive of a work PC a few years ago (too hard drive erasey), and after having mixed results with programs from CA and AVG, I decided to try Windows Live OneCare.

And I really, really like it. It set up quickly, protects against viruses, spyware / malware, incorporates firewall functionality AND even facilitates things like centralized backup on a home network and easy printer sharing between Vista and previous versions of Windows. And the better part is that all of it works and works well enough that you don’t even really notice it’s running. It doesn’t bug you with annoying pop-ups all the time, doesn’t seem to use much of the system’s resources, and…oh yeah, keeps nasty crud off your system. All for $50 for a year for up to 3 PCs.

If OneCare has any shortcoming, it’s that the user is removed from the technical aspects of what’s going on behind the scenes a little too much. I’d at least like the option to get in and find stuff if I want to, even if 99.99% of the time, I don’t want to.

Windows Vista

no images were found

Ok, for our final entry here, I’ll say it again. Vista is really cool. When I first bought a new PC from Best Buy for my wife, it was because her old one (that I had built a few years back) had started to crap out on her. The HP I got her was the cheapest one available at the time, at $499 and included a free upgrade to Vista, which was being released to the general public a few weeks later.

When the upgrade CD came, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, as I hadn’t really played around with the Vista betas at all. Surprisingly, the upgrade went swimmingly. Nothing went wrong. No drivers were missing. And on top of it, Vista was really, really pretty. Sure, I was mildly annoyed with the fact that some things were in different places now, but I sorta liked where they’d been moved to.

The Aero interface is nice looking and, even on my wife’s $500 PC, pretty zippy I have to say. And Windows Media Center is very, very cool.

So far, Vista has been almost entirely trouble-free. Almost. In Feb, there were some Windows Updates that didn’t like something in my system configuration and the system would reboot itself once or twice a day. That was resolved by another Windows Update within a couple of weeks. That aside, on five computers (between home and office) in the past 16 months or so, I’ve had zero issues with Vista. And mind you, I’m not running a vanilla setup, either. I have two daisy-chained FireWire devices, including a pro digital audio interface, a webcam, a scanner, a printer and a few other things connected to this machine.

And, granted, although Vista is slower than XP with 1GB RAM, with 2GB-4GB, Vista works very nicely. And RAM is cheap these days.

Is Vista perfect? Of course not. Aside from things being moved around, there are certainly some quirky things about it, like the fact that the Sidebar can “leak through” to some games…and that you can’t tell the Sidebar Contacts widget to use Outlook’s address book rather than the Windows Contacts. But Vista’s the best consumer OS that Microsoft has made and definitely worth using.

Thanks Bill!

So on your last day of work, Mr. Gates, I salute you. True, you’ve had your share of misses over the years, but you’ve also had some hits, and most of all, you’ve created the world’s #1 PC operating system. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.