How Dell makes Windows look bad

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This evening I volunteered to help out a family friend get up to speed with their one-month old computer. What an experience. Turns out I spent most of the time getting the Windows box up to speed. First, the machine was underpowered and memory starved. But worse, the person only has a dial up connection so Internet surfing was more like Internet snorkling. Combine these two with the fact that out of the box the latest patches weren’t installed and you have a mess. By the time I arrived the Sasser worm had rooted itself on the drive and who knows what else. I gave up and decided to bring the machine home with me so I could have more time to clean it up.

I was thinking on the drive home how terrible this combination makes Windows look. I mean take an off-the-shelf Apple computer and this Dell (could be from any other volume discounter, but this one was from Dell) and compare the out of the box experience. My conclusion: Windows loses. It’s not even close–particularly for infrequent computer users–or computer users of the “I want to surf, search, email and share photos variety.”

Don’t get me wrong. Windows isn’t bad. It’s how everything gets packaged together that creates the problem. First, I don’t understand how Microsoft can be so careful with its licenses and then allow any reseller to ship Windows computers out the door without the most recent patches. Sure SP2 will hopefully fix the problem of updates, but without fast Internet connections it looks like there will always be a chicken-and-a-worm problem lurking on the Internet ready to spoil your enthusiasm for your new computer.

The recipe for disaster is simple: Give me an underpowered machine on an underpowered dial-up connection and what is a person supposed to do when they take their computer out of the box for the first time, hook it up to the Internet and then have to download tens of megabytes of patches? The patch process has to be more transparent and optimized to reduce the probability of getting infected even before getting started. And it makes sense to me that this should really begin back at the computer supplier or whoever you are purchasing the computer from.

In fact, it seems to me that rather than the big resellers getting discounts for selling un-updated Windows, they should be charged a surcharge for making Windows look so bad. Nah, that’s un-realistic. Instead there should be branding that makes it clear that what they are selling at a discount is old. Yep, it’s dated stuff.

Time for a suggestion: How about every Windows box being required to be sold with the date of its most recent patches? That way, if you buy a May 2002 box, you can guess it’s much more stale than a box with a May 2004 certification date. How about branding the Windows Update feature to signal that the computer is reasonably protected out of the box–that the consumer can trust it. Microsoft would benefit from rewarding resellers that make sure computers sold are up to date and an Update branding program might do well to achieve this.

1 COMMENT

  1. Yeah, SP2 will hopefully keep machines up to date better. Will there be new processes with SP2 that ensure that newly purchased computers will be up-to-date and/or that when the machines are connected to the Internet to retrieve their updates that they will be able to get the most critical ones first, efficiently? Maybe this all won’t be as critical once SP2 gets out. Because maybe the virus/worm attacks will subside as more machines are better protected. We’ll see.

  2. Kollen, thanks for the steps. Enabling the firewall is an important step and with SP2 I’m hoping that this will address the majority of the current problems. Unfortunately, my friend didn’t enable a firewall so when he went to the Internet to download the patches, he got hit with Sasser. Once the mess occurred he called me over. You bet, he now has SP2. (Oh, by the way, I had SP2 on disc so no need to connect to the network to install it.) [By the way, cleaning the system was more than just removing Sasser. Trojans were running (which appear to have been very new so no tools handled them that I could find) so I had to carefully scrub the machine.]

    My point though is that all of this would have just as easily been avoided if Dell had installed the updates. Some resellers do. It’s a question that consumers should ask.

    As you mention, I expect the firewall to help a lot, but I imagine there will be future attacks that the current firewall falters on. And won’t we be back to the same issue where the most up-to-date system out of the box is the better system?

    If retailers insist on selling non-current products, customers should understand this. It’s to the retailers advantage not to say anything, it’s not to the consumers. And in terms of customer appretiation it’s not to Microsoft’s either.