People have been complaining about computer glitches since the punch card days. Honestly, it's 2010. Why don't we have simple stuff like drivers and software compatibility fixed yet? Can we blame it all on Bill Gates?
Well, the bad news is that there are really good reasons your PC doesn't work quite right, even now. The worse news is that it's probably never going to get better.
You can blame ...
Have you ever wondered why the newest computers still start up with a screenful of text and a "Speak-and-Spell"-esque beep? While pretty much every component has been replaced with new standards at least once since, the core of modern computer design is still based on the design of the 1981 IBM PC.
An elegant computer, for a more civilized age.
The reason the IBM PC design was so popular was the same reason the actual IBM PC wasn't -- IBM took a page from Eli Whitney's book and allowed each part of the computer to be interchanged with a part made by a competitor, meaning that you could (and today, almost definitely do) have an entire PC made from non-IBM parts.
So, say that one day the Taiwanese company that made your sound card finally goes bankrupt or is captured by China. If you want to use it with the next version of Windows, you're shit out of luck, as anybody with a sound card more than a year old was when Creative refused to write less-crappy drivers for Windows Vista until Microsoft did it themselves.
Vista was to Windows what The Phantom Menace was to Star Wars.
If you're using Windows 7, you probably see the "blue screen of death" less often than you used to -- it's a lot better about not letting badly written programs crash your system. But when you do see it, you can bet it's due to drivers written by the aforementioned hardware designers, who may not speak English, which, unfortunately for them (and by extension, us), is the language all the books on how to program drivers are written in.
Every version of Windows attracts complaints about old programs not working with the new version. People assume this is because Microsoft is stupid and lazy and didn't bother to accommodate the perfectly reasonable design of older programs.
Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft.
Microsoft deserves a break on this one. The insane work Microsoft does to keep backward compatibility is like one of those games where shit just falls from the sky endlessly, and as you keep catching it, it just falls faster and faster until you miss one, and then the game calls you a loser.
It all seems so very pointless.
There's a lot of responsibility involved in programming, such as making sure the program lets go of resources it's done using, and not making assumptions that, if they turn out to be wrong, will make the user's computer shit its pants. Some programmers take this as a dare.
For instance, the original SimCity was really sloppy about how it used memory (i.e., it told DOS it was finished using a bunch of memory and then immediately start using it anyway). This was fine as long as the system wasn't using much of its memory anyway (and DOS didn't). But then Windows came along and started needing this memory that SimCity was tying up. So the game crashed.
Games didn't tend to outsell Hollywood blockbusters back then.
Microsoft fixed this by writing code so Windows would detect if SimCity were running and do special tricks to make it work. Then Microsoft did that for the next piece of software that fucked up. Then the next. Here is the current list of "we found this program doing stupid shit and have to work around it" applications Windows currently has to look for. There are 6,520 of them.
If you got a funny image in your head of a Microsoft employee running down some store's software aisle with his arms out, knocking every stupid product they hit into his shopping cart so he could look at them ahead of time rather than wait for complaints to roll in, good, that's because that's exactly what he did. If you're Microsoft, you can't just let their software crash the user's PC (the user will blame you), and you can't just wait for the software manufacturer to fix it (hell, it may not even be in business anymore).
Their only other choice is to ban all software that Microsoft hasn't given explicit permission for ahead of time -- but that's what has people furious at Apple. This is why you hear people talking about "jailbreaking" their iPhones -- they're trying to circumvent that system.
Get busy living, or get busy downloading third party apps.
It's a no-win situation.
Not that we're letting Microsoft off the hook here. They screw up, too, and what's worse is that they get locked into their screwups.
While we hate to go back to the same well twice ...
If something in Windows is broken, people writing programs for Windows have to work around the broken thing, like a tailor making a pair of pants for a man with only one leg. But that program, like the pants, now only works with the broken system. If Microsoft then updates Windows to fix the previous screwup, that software no longer works, same as if our one-legged man got a donor second leg and then tried to wear his old pants. They either have to leave Windows broken, or break the software.
And then you have to account for the human factor -- people who just got used to the glitch. For example, we have this fucker:
The most hated pixelated character since the Duck Hunt dog.
The little irritating animated paperclip who'd show up every time you touched your mouse in Microsoft Office. Or maybe you used the dog:
Make no mistake: Microsoft knew it had a failure on its hands right out of the gate on this one. When it released Office XP, which came with Clippy disabled, it created an "eX-Paperclip" series of (tragically no longer online) Flash cartoons to promote it with Clippy's voice provided by none other than god of annoyance Gilbert Gottfried.
Nevertheless, it took three versions of Office to get rid of this little bastard. Why? Because every feature, no matter how terrible, will have users relying on it. When one company rolled out the 2003 version of Office, the corporate help desk almost instantly received a call from a distraught user over the loss of the dog on her computer.
Likewise, thousands of you reading this are doing it with Internet Explorer 6. As recently as a few months ago, 10 percent or so of the Internet was using it, only because it's the version of browser that originally came with Windows XP.
Some of you may have noticed that the Web has changed a bit since 2001 (people were just barely starting to use Google back then). And when the Web changes, the technology you use to make the Web has to change with it. But because so many users are still using a browser that's a decade behind, they can't advance too far forward.
We're betting it took folks a long time to advance from "sharpened rock" to "sharpened rock on stick."
As you sell your PC or software in more and more territories, it means you have to deal with more and more governments and somehow try to anticipate what they're going to be sensitive to. For instance, India nearly banned Microsoft from selling Windows 95 there because of 12 pixels on a map.
To help users figure out which part of the world their computer lived in, Microsoft included a 180-pixel-high map of the world that would highlight the region you had selected. The thing is, there's a small stretch of land you may have heard of -- if you've ever looked at a news source -- that India and Pakistan are constantly warring over, and each country claims it as part of their own time zone. When Microsoft made the images for the map, it included that area in Pakistan's time zone, at which point India threatened to ban Microsoft from the country, a move that would have really screwed Microsoft 10 years down the line when it outsourced all its tech support.
Outsourcing. Because Americans are lazy.
This sort of scuffle is the reason you'll find the ambiguous phrase "Country/Region" all over everything in Windows today. Using the term "country" would mean explicitly recognizing Taiwan as a separate country from China, which the famously permissive and open-minded Chinese government expressly forbids by law.
Oh China, you and your wacky high jinks.
Also, you may recall a certain antitrust scuffle Microsoft got into around the turn of the millennium. The results of that ruling have been a bit of a mixed bag: Microsoft can't include its free anti-virus software with Windows, because that would stop Norton and McAfee from making users pay $100 a year for their own anti-virus programs that declare critical system files to be viruses and stop the entire computer from running in response.
Kind of like how chugging cyanide probably prevents gout.
And if that weren't bad enough...