Ed Word: Profile of an Adolescent OS

Nathan Edwards

Let’s face it, 2007 was a crap year for operating systems. Vista pretty much stinks, and even the almighty Apple has had big problems with Leopard. But I think I’ve figured out what’s causing the issues plaguing Windows and OS X: They’ve finally reached puberty. As near as I can figure, operating systems mature at a slower rate than humans, so after a process that took some 20 years, things are starting to get awkward for these pimply-faced piles of code.

The early days of Windows were an analog to the formative years of a human infant. Windows 3.1 had a new fresh face that always kept us entertained (“A file manager! Amazing!”) and was even good for a few useful tasks. But 3.1 also needed constant maintenance to keep working—in much the same way a baby can’t care for himself.

The consumer PC reached early childhood with Windows 95. Like a rambunctious 4-year-old, Win95 could get around and communicate, but you had to keep it away from things that could badly hurt it (to Win95, the Internet is the equivalent of a fork dangling from an electrical socket). Like a 4-year-old, Windows 95 could almost take care of basic maintenance by itself but still needed supervision to avoid “accidents.” And like a child just learning the nuances of the language, you could hold a real conversation with Win95—just as long as you kept things simple.

Windows 98 represented late childhood. With support for modern hardware, it was vastly more capable than Win95, but it still required hand-holding to cross the street safely. And, like a rowdy 8-year-old, everything in Win98 was better after a midafternoon nap.

And then came Windows XP, the respectful 12-year-old who works at his dad’s office. Unlike the hormonal know-it-all teenager that would be Windows Vista, you could treat WinXP like a full-blown adult. Hell, WinXP did everything we needed—quickly and effectively without any lip. Unfortunately, however, its status as a quasi-adult eventually caused WinXP problems. It was smart, but not wise and experienced. Like a 12-year-old, the OS will hop in damn near anyone’s proverbial van, despite constant warnings to be wary.

And now we come to Vista, the gawky 14-year-old. It knows what it wants to be and what it wants to do, but somehow it just can’t get everything working well enough to make it happen.

What will Windows 7 bring in 2012? Will it be a meth’d-out, convenience-store-robbing 18-year-old? Or will it be a cool 22-year-old go-getter, just starting his first real job and looking to take on the world? Only time will tell, but I’m hoping that Win7 ships with a plan to solve world hunger—and not a switchblade.

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