• Matt Ferguson

Windows 11: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss




In 2015, the nascent Windows 10 was heralded as a return to form for Microsoft's Windows division, after a frustrating couple of years with the touchscreen-focused Windows 8 tarnished its brand. Windows 10 was mostly lauded by critics for jettisoning the things Windows 8 did poorly (the Metro UI, the Charms Bar, the ill-considered Start menu experience) and reinstating the things that Windows 7 did well. Generally, it was a positive release for Microsoft, in spite of dragging along the same ancient, rickety NT codebase that dates back to the early 2000s.


As time went on, however, various 'feature' updates degraded the experience of Windows 10. These feature updates, along with Microsoft's more frequently released cumulative updates, often broke core operating system functionality, such as the ability to print, to connect to wireless networks, and to sign in using fingerprint sensors.


I can't speak for everyone in the tech provider sphere, but managing Windows on both my personal computers and those belonging to clients, became more of a nightmare with each passing year. Microsoft's sysadmin tools for Windows have gotten better over time, but the Windows experience has gotten markedly worse.


Besides the litany of functionality complaints that new updates to Windows 10 brought, there were also unwelcome changes to the user experience; to wit, Microsoft's idea that 'nagware' is something users would respond to. Enter Microsoft Edge. After the Windows 10 October 2020 update, users were hit with a specific nag from Microsoft to change their preferred browser back to Microsoft Edge.


This was not well-received, as one might imagine. Not content to stop there, Microsoft implemented a perpetual nag that suggested users would be happier if they switched back to Edge, pinned at the top of the Windows Settings menu. As of September 2021, these nags cannot be disabled in consumer-facing versions of Windows (that is, versions other than Enterprise and Education).


During Windows 7's tenure, such blatant intrusion into the user experience, a study in the definition of 'overweening', would've been rightly dismissed at the drawing board by the Windows division. The world has changed since Windows 7's introduction in 2009, alas. Advertising has become a dark art, and nowhere is sacred. This is not the legacy Microsoft should want for its flagship product.


Now, in 2021, Windows 11 is set to release on October 5th, bringing with it a revamped user interface, 'deeply-integrated' Microsoft Teams, some changes to process/task scheduling, support for Android applications, and a few other technical odds and ends.


Looking beyond the new coat of paint, Windows 11 is the same old Windows. Windows Updates will probably continue to break functionality and cause headaches for users and IT departments alike. Exploits that were deeply rooted in the Windows NT kernel, like the ongoing Print Nightmare exploit, will no doubt be carried forward into 11.


As the Linux kernel continues to evolve, with major upstream software contributors such as Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and RedHat, Microsoft faces a technical hurdle with Windows that will likely be impossible to surmount without a total rethink of the operating system. Microsoft simply can't keep dragging the decrepit NT codebase forward, in perpetuity; to reach technical parity with Linux-based operating system and with macOS, the painful work of gutting NT must be done, and soon.


As the already bloated Windows kernel grows ever larger, it will become harder to manage, less stable, more unpredictable, and easier for hackers to exploit. Perhaps Microsoft's work in the Windows Subsystem for Linux is telling of its future plans--perhaps to rebase Windows around the Linux kernel? Stranger things have happened, and it is Microsoft's historical prerogative to "embrace, extend, extinguish".


The problem today is Microsoft's Windows product is a dinosaur in a rapidly changing world. Its cloud platform, Azure, is a completely different experience and receives the funding and development work a service with its client base demands.


Windows, however, seems fated to wither and die on the vine, as it becomes nothing more, really, than yet another platform through which to serve ads. Microsoft's lust for technical dominance within Windows, which flourished under former CEO Bill Gates, seems a distant memory now.


In spite of the tidal forces working against it, Windows will probably remain the dominant desktop operating system for some time. As malware, denial-of-service, ransomware, and other sophisticated security exploits become more commonplace, Geek Housecalls is here to secure your infrastructure and provide a path to data security and business resiliency, no matter what.


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