Windows is rusting, like cars did in the Midwest during the 1970s. There's another problem, too: Like cars of that era, Windows is fully loaded with user options. The myriad options make quality assurance a very difficult - if not undoable - undertaking.
Japanese automakers — like the Linux world in the Windows scenario — figured out how to not only use better metal in their cars, but also to limit the possible user options to a customer-pleasing high common denominator. Thinking first, then calmly adding things such as fuel economy gave them an arguable lead in quality and market share that still holds true.
Before I could connect my daughter's PC to her dorm room at Indiana University, I had to subject it to Blaster-cleansing CD that IU distributed. It immediately was attacked upon connecting to the network. Even the US Department of Homeland Security alert machine warns of malware and Windows these days.
Microsoft was lucky most recently and used a novel DNS trick to thwart the effects of the Blaster crack. But this isn't the first sign of rust, as there are (by my count) an accumulation of patches and fixes for Microsoft products now totaling 581 (includes Windows 95, 98, 98SE, ME, Windows 2000 Professional and Windows XP Home/Professional) and 392 more if you count Win 2000 Server editions and Internet Explorer. Clearly, there is a quality problem.
Microsoft's quality problems might be killing the Windows goose that laid the golden eggs. A huge cottage industry has blossomed that manages patches for Microsoft's largest revenue-garnering products. The populist revolution that fueled Windows success (and the business model that built Windows-run desktops cost-effectively) is now a group of people who are weary from having to deploy what have become mandatory personal and corporate firewalls. This is done in the hopes that third-party protection (Symantec, McAfee and so on) will beat Microsoft to a fix whenever a new problem is found.
To hold Microsoft accountable would be foolish. Few systems exist with wholly Microsoft software (including drivers) on them. And therein lies the cop-out: Microsoft isn't culpable for problems third parties cause and vice versa. Worse, Windows was designed before the Internet. Software quality standards were different then. Now all Windows problems from its Win 95 and NT heritage are coming to the surface.
The world made Microsoft rich because Windows gave them personal power. But the power is waning as frustration levels mount. What new holes will be found?
As a researcher and reviewer, I feel the guilt of not being able to test product quality in ways that would let me warn readers of things like security holes the size of Chicago. Nothing is foolproof because fools are so ingenious and the possible combinations so many. But part of my new test regimen will be to test every new offering with operating system/network operating system crack suites, like Internet Security Systems and open source groups offer. Products that fail them will lose a significant chunk of the overall test score.
Henderson is principal researcher and managing director of ExtremeLabs of Indianapolis and a member of the Network World Global Test Alliance.