You can almost feel the bipolar sense of anticipation and dread building: Microsoft is about to release a major new version of Windows, the operating system software that makes most of our computers run -- or halt, depending on the operating system's whim. We'll be getting lots of new housekeeping functions in Windows XP, some "enhanced reliability," and probably an improved Internet browser, depending on the U.S. Justice Department's capriciousness.
That's all just keen. But will we get the improvements we really need? Well, let's see. I've got 18 years of MS-DOS and Windows operating system experience under my belt, so I've got some consumer background in the field. And if I was designing a new version of Windows, I'd have a short list of tall orders. My Top 5 new features would include:
1. Instant on. As anyone who's ever booted up a Windows PC (or a Mac, for that matter) knows, loading the operating system and thereby making the computer suitable for human use takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r. With each new rendition of Windows, the problem seems to get worse. No surprise there, since Windows gets bigger with each version as Microsoft ardently attempts to bury competitors and/or offer the consumer more. (Insert your own Microsoft bias here.) You can simply leave your PC on 24/7, but that's an energy-wasting cop-out. What the world needs is a version of Windows that's partially or entirely encoded on a chip, so your PC turns on as quickly as your television. And there's no reason why operating system upgrades couldn't be as simple as inserting a new memory card into a slot.
2. Self-analysis. Improved reliability (read: doesn't crash as much) may be the single best thing about Windows XP. But borrowing the better programming from Windows 2000 hardly scratches the surface of what an operating system could do to prevent meltdowns. Forget the so-called soft landing stuff about shutting down programs or drivers that aren't behaving properly. Let's analyze and change the behavior. Nearly every time I've had a serious problem with Windows, I've spent an hour or more on the phone with Microsoft technicians who check my settings, analyze the problem, and, usually, fix it. My question is, why aren't my gigahertz computer, advanced operating system, and high-speed Net connection doing this? If this analytical ability and knowledge base is within Microsoft's walls, why isn't it in my OS?