Right now, I'm lying on the floor in the upstairs office/playroom, monitoring the endless process of setting up my mother-in-law's new computer, an HP desktop running Windows Vista, purchased at Best Buy the other day for about $400. The last computer I set up out of the box was the Mac PowerBook on which I'm currently typing (and which I love inordinately), several years ago. Being a Mac running OS X, it was pretty damn easy to set up; I was up and on the (dial-up!) internet within a few minutes of plugging it in.
The opposite is true of this machine and Vista. I probably burned about five hours a few nights ago with the initial start up, which required me to boot the machine, then ignore it for at least an hour (maybe 90 minutes) while Windows arranged itself. A couple dialogs popped up for handling, and then the machine went back underground for another near-hour. After all that, I actually got to the desktop, and then lo and behold I was asked to register Vista, the computer, the copy of Norton anti-everything software, etc. etc. etc. And since the computer doesn't come with a wireless card installed (because I'm sure HP doesn't know any vendors who could arrange some bulk purchases of $25 network cards), I had to shut down the computer to haul it upstairs and hook it directly into my router.
So here I am, two hours into it, waiting for the registrations to process, for at least three multi-MB updates to download, for the computer to chug along. (MS Explorer is totally hung, and can't be killed despite the fact that it last responded about an hour ago.) I'm literally supine before the computer and before the awesome idiocy of Microsoft. The waiting isn't the hardest part, though. I'm using the time to cut away some of the underbrush, like stupid toolbars that are turned on automatically in the operating system and MS Explorer, or making the system look as much like her current machine as I can. (That computer runs Windows 98, so I'm not going to get too close.)
No, the worst thing is the ludicrous number of "Yes, Allow" dialogs that pop up in doing just about anything. In trying to download the vaunted "Google Pack" of software designed to make Wintel machines a little more friendly and safe, for instance, for instance, I've had to click at least two - oops, now three! - separate dialogs to allow downloading, to open the .exe file, and so on. Each time one of these things comes up, the screen blinks black, then comes back on with the dialog front and center. It's not at all unlike that hilarious Apple ad ("Security") where PC is asked, "Cancel or allow?" anytime he tries to do anything.
Shannon walked by as I was doing all this registroprocessuadownloadation, and asked whether I really had to do all of it. I said I felt I did because otherwise my mother-in-law would probably never use the computer: there's so much garbage in the way of just using it to do things. My mother-in-law is a bright woman, but not someone who likes computers or figuring them out: she just wants to check her email, surf the web a little bit, and play Solitaire. By launching an operating system that is so baroque as to be almost unusable unless you already know about it, Microsoft is making it essentially impossible for users like her to be users. It's not insanely great, just insane.