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Microsoft Windows

The State Of The Personal Computer
By

Despite what Apple’s TV ads might want you to believe, Windows PCs remain the standard for personal computers. This isn’t about ignorance—it’s all about mainstream affordability and limitless extensibility.

Even with the continued dominance of the Intel Core 2 platform throughout the year, Windows PCs live up to their reputation by offering the highest value of any group of PCs. Just last month, you could get a complete Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 with 3 GB of RAM, a 500 GB hard disk, and Windows Vista Premium from the Dell Outlet for under $400. While such a system already offers the average consumer more power than he or she will ever need, pairing the system with an aftermarket GPU transforms the budget PC into a veritable gaming machine. When the $600 Apple Mac Mini only offers an anemic 1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo with 1 GB of memory and 80 GB of storage, it’s hard to make the case for the “Apple Tax.” While Apple’s desktops are due for a refresh in January, it’s hard to argue against the value proposition of PCs.

It’s About Security!

Once you’ve bought into the Windows platform, you’ve also signed yourself up for the world of malware, system crashes, and anti-virus subscriptions. Ironically, today’s consumer has apparently gotten used to this. The only people who still demand rock-solid stability are technology gurus themselves. The average Joe has already surrendered to the idea of having systems that crash every once in a while and the potential of malware.

Machines with Windows XP RTM are infected at a staggering 33.8 systems per 1,000, while Vista SP1 brings this down to 4.5 per 1,000 and 2.3 per 1,000 (32-bit and 64-bit). As a group, Microsoft estimates 10 in 1,000 PCs as a whole have detected malware. To put that into perspective, if 10 in 1,000 flights crashed, one day of flights at Los Angeles International Airport would result in 6.2 plane crashes.

With careful system design (i.e. adequate power supplies and system RAM and good software practices), Windows PCs can be incredibly stable. In fact, the majority of hospitals across the United States run Windows PCs—and you know what? Things still work. Of course, it requires a vigilant IT team, carefully locked-down PCs, and adequate redundant fail-safe policies, but it’s possible.

Black Hat Programmers

It used to be that the only way to get a computer virus was if you were downloading software from Bulletin Board Systems. As the world moved onto the Internet, new threats arose. Security experts claimed that by running “up-to-date” anti-virus software and adhering to smart browsing (don’t open any email attachments from people you don’t know; don’t go to unusual Web sites, etc.), then people would remain secure. Today, that’s far from true.

While foolish users can easily infect a PC, even the most careful user can still run into trouble. Vulnerabilities in Windows and other popular applications have resulted in “remote code execution.” That is to say, security flaws in software allow hackers to “infect” and install malware on your PC without your consent. You don’t even have to visit unusual Web sites.

Black hat hackers have targeted plenty of mainstream sites, including Asus’ home page and the Dolphin Stadium site (home to the 2007 Super Bowl) during the past few years. Last September, BusinessWeek.com discovered that its Web site had been compromised and was potentially installing malware on visitors’ computers. Last October, it was discovered that a Trojan had been collecting banking data on half a million bank accounts.

Although Windows Vista x64 represents the most secure consumer operating system Microsoft has ever developed, it will always be one of the most vulnerable operating systems on the market today. Part of this can be attributed to Windows Vista’s legacy design, but the majority of security issues can be attributed to how Windows is targeted more—much malware represents the work of organized crime and Windows represents a more potent target.

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Top Comments
  • 25 Hide
    Anonymous , November 25, 2008 12:28 PM
    I still laugh every time I see the "I'm a mac" commercials on TV.

    Mac is comparing itself to windows OS or rather they should be. The Apple community is content believing that PC(Personal Computer) means Windows. They simply don't know the difference. Note to mac users: Macs are PCs also. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_computer

    Also, listen to the music in the background. It's lullaby nature appeals to the mentality of Mac users as does the original color pallet 'box of crayons' in the system settings. They didn't design it that way by accident.

    That's why Mac users love to boast about the commercials and their computers. Basic - ignorance is bliss.

    It's not your fault though. It's not like personal computers have been widely available since the late 1970's but you haven't bothered to take one class on them right? You haven't?! That's a pity and thank you.

    It's people like you who keep the entire PC(yes you too) technical community employed.
  • 20 Hide
    JimmiG , November 25, 2008 12:41 PM
    "Once you’ve bought into the Windows platform, you’ve also signed yourself up for the world of malware, system crashes, and anti-virus subscriptions."

    Malware? Yes. Anti-virus subscriptions? Not necessary but probably a good idea.

    "The average Joe has already surrendered to the idea of having systems that crash every once in a while and the potential of malware."

    But "system crashes"? The Windows Operating System is *very* stable and has been ever since the consumer versions switched over to the NT kernel with the release of XP in 2001. The OS doesn't just spontanously "crash" every now and then for no reason. I highly doubt the components that make up the core of OSX or a typical Linux distro are any more stable or less prone to crashes.

    It's wrong to blame Windows when third party programs crash or poorly written drivers bluescreen. If I were to go crazy on my Ubuntu install and download stuff from all over the place, I would soon be in dependency hell and the whole system would break down. Same with OSX though the limited library of available software and the strict control enforced by Apple makes it a bit more difficult to do really stupid things on OSX.

    In order for people to perceive Windows as more stable, we would have to grant Microsoft more control over what software, hardware and drivers are released for the OS which is probably not what we want as it would spell the end of independent developers, shareware and freeware. Microsoft has already taken steps into that direction by making signed drivers a requirement, and there's also the WHQL and Designed For Windows logo program - but who would want the Windows Logo program to become a requirement for releasing Windows software?

    The price we pay for having a virtually unlimited software library and being able to buy cheap hardware from obscure asian companies with poorly translated driver control panels and manuals is the slightly reduced stability of the system as a whole (not of Windows itself).
  • 17 Hide
    thr3ddy , November 25, 2008 1:35 PM
    libraryeliWindows has a blue screen of death. Do Macs??? Does linux???
    Two words: Kernel Panic.
Other Comments
  • -8 Hide
    Anonymous , November 25, 2008 10:29 AM
    Linux share is down to 0.7% in october
    Anonymous prediction for 2009 - 0.3%
  • 5 Hide
    lamorpa , November 25, 2008 11:31 AM
    Thanks for typing some numbers in your message that either you or someone else pulled out of the air. I'm going to make up some numbers like 2% and 2.4% in 2009. How's that?
  • -8 Hide
    nukemaster , November 25, 2008 11:44 AM
    110% in 2009 and about 150% in 2010
  • 6 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , November 25, 2008 11:48 AM
    "For the average consumer, the transition to 64-bit means a more stable operating system." Kinda amusing! Ye I know vista 64 is a lot more stable than vista 32, but at least at my place, that's still not very stable. My ati graphics driver frequently crashes and has to be recovered by vista - good thing the recovery works, so I just have to sit back and wait - don't even have to reboot or restart wow or the movie that was running etc. May want to rewind a bit though :)  But still - it DOES crash, and it takes more time booting than 32 bit on my system (probably the raid drivers fault), and neither my e-tech nor my logitech webcam works with 64bit (the e-tech does with 32 bit).

    So more stable? perhaps, but certainly not in my home.
  • 9 Hide
    radnor , November 25, 2008 11:50 AM
    You are correct about linux. But i should add one thing. WINE.

    It is getting better every version that launches, but still needs a lot of love. Wine use should be simple and stealthy. That is, put a x86 windows cd, and wine detects and pulls out a auto run. You get the idea.

    when that happens Linux will check mate Win/OSX. Compiz/Fusion is already prettier than OSX (and with great promises) and the system is much safer. And faster.

    Lets wait and see.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , November 25, 2008 11:56 AM
    I think the future will be about virtutalization of machines and applications. If we had a low level virtual OS that supported a standard UI then any machine or application could be installed on it. That is you could have a single look and feel while running Windows, Mac, Linux, or other OS's or applications.
  • 14 Hide
    Anonymous , November 25, 2008 12:10 PM
    A very good article, but I found it odd that you believe OS X to be the most secure operating system. In the pwn2own contest recently, OS X was compromised in only 2 minutes. Vista fell a day later to a flaw in 3rd party software. Linux didn't fall.
  • 25 Hide
    Anonymous , November 25, 2008 12:28 PM
    I still laugh every time I see the "I'm a mac" commercials on TV.

    Mac is comparing itself to windows OS or rather they should be. The Apple community is content believing that PC(Personal Computer) means Windows. They simply don't know the difference. Note to mac users: Macs are PCs also. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_computer

    Also, listen to the music in the background. It's lullaby nature appeals to the mentality of Mac users as does the original color pallet 'box of crayons' in the system settings. They didn't design it that way by accident.

    That's why Mac users love to boast about the commercials and their computers. Basic - ignorance is bliss.

    It's not your fault though. It's not like personal computers have been widely available since the late 1970's but you haven't bothered to take one class on them right? You haven't?! That's a pity and thank you.

    It's people like you who keep the entire PC(yes you too) technical community employed.
  • -1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , November 25, 2008 12:31 PM
    radnorYou are correct about linux. But i should add one thing. WINE.It is getting better every version that launches, but still needs a lot of love. Wine use should be simple and stealthy. That is, put a x86 windows cd, and wine detects and pulls out a auto run. You get the idea.when that happens Linux will check mate Win/OSX. Compiz/Fusion is already prettier than OSX (and with great promises) and the system is much safer. And faster.Lets wait and see.


    Dunno about all below the wine, as I don't use linux for anything other than firewalls. But I don't think wine will ever get to a level that allows linux to replace windows. Mac OS has a chance - but only if they somehow can make game developers compile mainstream games for the mac.

    Though the article in general is very well written, I still find it fails on one simple aspect. Gaming. Every single pc I've built in the past 5 years was expected to play pretty much any non-top-tier game. Ie. not crysis, but if hugo or pixeline, or any other childrens game, was shipped with some magazine or put on discount, the people I built the computers for, expect that the software will work. That can't be realized on a mac unless it runs windows - at which point there's no reason to buy the more expensive mac.
  • -6 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , November 25, 2008 12:39 PM
    KamujinA very good article, but I found it odd that you believe OS X to be the most secure operating system. In the pwn2own contest recently, OS X was compromised in only 2 minutes. Vista fell a day later to a flaw in 3rd party software. Linux didn't fall.


    If we imagine a future version of flash, silverlight, java or any other internet based system could address the hardware in a pc via a standard interface - like directx or opengl etc but on the actaul hardware, instead of on the gui. And without the programmer needing expert knowledge of the limitations of the features, then virtualization won't even be needed. Stuff would just run directly on hardware. A bit like a seamless window on a citrix system, but with the hardware being used locally, and the drivers being a bunch of software embedded in the hardware burried beneath the gui.

    But that probably won't happen for another 10 years, so windows is safe, even with a complete idiot at the wheel.
  • 20 Hide
    JimmiG , November 25, 2008 12:41 PM
    "Once you’ve bought into the Windows platform, you’ve also signed yourself up for the world of malware, system crashes, and anti-virus subscriptions."

    Malware? Yes. Anti-virus subscriptions? Not necessary but probably a good idea.

    "The average Joe has already surrendered to the idea of having systems that crash every once in a while and the potential of malware."

    But "system crashes"? The Windows Operating System is *very* stable and has been ever since the consumer versions switched over to the NT kernel with the release of XP in 2001. The OS doesn't just spontanously "crash" every now and then for no reason. I highly doubt the components that make up the core of OSX or a typical Linux distro are any more stable or less prone to crashes.

    It's wrong to blame Windows when third party programs crash or poorly written drivers bluescreen. If I were to go crazy on my Ubuntu install and download stuff from all over the place, I would soon be in dependency hell and the whole system would break down. Same with OSX though the limited library of available software and the strict control enforced by Apple makes it a bit more difficult to do really stupid things on OSX.

    In order for people to perceive Windows as more stable, we would have to grant Microsoft more control over what software, hardware and drivers are released for the OS which is probably not what we want as it would spell the end of independent developers, shareware and freeware. Microsoft has already taken steps into that direction by making signed drivers a requirement, and there's also the WHQL and Designed For Windows logo program - but who would want the Windows Logo program to become a requirement for releasing Windows software?

    The price we pay for having a virtually unlimited software library and being able to buy cheap hardware from obscure asian companies with poorly translated driver control panels and manuals is the slightly reduced stability of the system as a whole (not of Windows itself).
  • 8 Hide
    malveaux , November 25, 2008 1:03 PM
    So... who cares really?

    I use Linux and Vista. I like both.

    The real thing is though, I like to play recent games, and often, and I like new hardware. Well, Linux nor Mac can handle that, at all, at launch. Windows is the only answer. The only choice there. Doesn't mean I like it, but then again, Vista 64 sp1 has been FANTASTIC. So I can't complain about it, yet.

    Cheers,
  • 12 Hide
    Anonymous , November 25, 2008 1:09 PM
    Our University does have lots of beautiful new shiny 24" iMacs, but most of them are running ...Windows XP. Dual boot is not even an option.
  • 12 Hide
    Anonymous , November 25, 2008 1:10 PM
    Interesting article. Here's my take on things as a power user. I have to admit I don't have much experience with newer MacOS X but I'll explain why. I've been using PCs for a long time, since the DOS days and I've enjoyed working with Unix systems. First off Linux. Linux will never go away. It's showing up in all sorts of embedded devices where other OS's could never hope to be in. It IS the perfect server OS for low powered devices. In fact a NAS is a common area to find Linux. I'm reloading the firmware in my QNAP for Debian as we speak. I have doubts on Linux making it in the mainstream desktop environment. It's biggest problem is lack of great applications you find in Windows. Windows despite all it's issues isn't that hard to lock down when you're a PowerUser. It's simple, update everything, setup correctly, don't install / run unknowns / ignore popups and install for haven's sake Firefox or Mozilla. If you do all that and attempt to setup Windows with the effort that you'd put into Linux you'll find it's suddenly a stable / solid OS with very good security. In almost a decade of operations with Windows I've had an amazing 2 viruses. Both of which were mostly due to running bad software keygens (My own fault). Hell, I didn't even have a viral scanner for 7 years! The problem I find with most folks is that they don't keep things updated, practice bad methods, running unknown attachments or installing questionable software or clicking on popups to install. Also when something goes wrong they ignore it. (Ie. You ran a mysterious program and suddenly your network activity goes nuts and your computer slows down... Hmm I guess my computer is slow. ^^) Point is if you know what you're doing, Windows is very useful with it's thousands of applications legal or not. It's only bane is highly inefficient use of resources especially in Vista. This leaves MacOS. For a power user Mac's are a problem. It's greatest strength is also a weakness because as you mentioned, it's locked down and proprietary. This makes it tough to tweak precisely to your own desires. You need to watch for compatibility when getting addons. Hardware upgrades are usually limited. And if you don't like Apple's visual designs. (I find them too bland) then you're screwed. I prefer Asus's or Sony's laptop designs for example. If I were to switch to Mac I would suddenly find a huge selection of my software again or need to start forking out the $$$. On the other hand, it's perfect for the average consumer who wouldn't mess around with things like this. MacOS should in all purposes be the popular consumer OS but sadly it isn't. My predictions? It probably won't change all that much as the years go by. Linux is probably the only OS that will keep expanding. Maybe not so much in the PC world but in all our embedded applications.
  • 8 Hide
    Tjik , November 25, 2008 1:33 PM
    A Linux users' reflections on the Linux part:

    You start with:
    Quote:
    However, one area where Linux will never succeed is the desktop.

    This can be set against a key sentence on the next page:
    Quote:
    The only way Linux can reach the mainstream desktop is if that uncertainty is removed.

    Based on this and the article as a whole success is equivalent of mainstream. I think that's an example of flawed logic. In many other technical areas we're used to have different niches, but when it comes to computer operating systems for desktops it suddenly becomes a question of being mainstream, not about technical strength or the diversity of user preferences.

    It's kind of strange that a user of Linux, I'm refering to the author, falls into the trap of seeing only two extremes: "technology geeks" and "mainstream users". The interesting conclusion of this is that the world of computer users already consists of a strangely large portion of "technology geeks". According to gathered statistics it seems like Ubuntu and Fedora alone have about 18 million users at the moment. Don't try to convince me that all of those are "technology geeks".

    I don't expect any special Linux year on the desktop, and to me that's an irrelevant question. Even if we only limit our interest to actual statistics, should every product, in this case operating systems, on the market attract mainstream users? To me that sounds like a malfunctioning and boring market. Let's say only 10 or even 5 % will be attracted by Linux for desktop, why is that a failure? Or why should Linux try to be just another OSX or Windows?

    That Linux is little bit of everything is true, but it's also fair to add that the user is enabled to perfect it to his liking. Hence I agree with the conclusion of what possible can be done, but not under the already flawed pretext of "the only way Linux can reach the mainstream desktop".

    All your suggestions are good in a way, but there's no need to become overly concerned about being mainstream. Why? To really see the beauty of Linux demonstrate on a bad ass system and show how it makes those CPU and GPU cycles kicking ass. Attract more of those not particularly geeky users, but folks with a profound interest in computing. How will that benefit Linux? Because every user of Linux has a tendency to interest somebody else, and that single Linux users with fairly good talent for computing will be far better than any support you can get for Windows. Windows support isn't very good for the mainstream market, if it doesn't cost you money you run the risk of getting a lot of bad advices.

    Maybe it will eventually become easier to make Linux succeed on the desktop as a business model. First though lets stimulate the community interest, let the army of Russians who will grow up using Linux at school dig in deep and contribute, because with a little bit bigger young user base there's nothing to worry about. Linux isn't dependent on 5, 10 or 50 % of users because on average a single Linux user contribute far more than even groups of Windows users.

    Mainstream isn't the only option.
  • 17 Hide
    thr3ddy , November 25, 2008 1:35 PM
    libraryeliWindows has a blue screen of death. Do Macs??? Does linux???
    Two words: Kernel Panic.
  • 7 Hide
    chaohsiangchen , November 25, 2008 1:43 PM
    At my work, we have a lot of specialized hardware around. They only work with Windows. Some equipments, such as 10GHz digital oscilloscope, are basically AMD K6-2 machines running Windows 98 with fast ADC interface on PCI slots. They run 24/7 without any problem.
  • 12 Hide
    JimmiG , November 25, 2008 1:53 PM
    Quote:
    Windows has a blue screen of death. Do Macs??? Does linux??? No.


    Linux and OSX have different ways of giving you the information that a Windows BSOD does.

    When you see a BSOD in Windows, it's a sign of a severe hardware or software problem. If I see a BSOD on my desktop Vista system (last time I did was about three months ago when looking for the max stable overclock) I immediately begin a thorough process of troubleshooting the hardware (RAM and CPU are prime suspects but other things like a failing harddrive or even PSU might cause it), software and drivers. BSODs should not occur at all on a normally functioning PC.

    Also if you see a BSOD and it sais something about "nv4disp.dll" (for example) it is *NOT* "Windows" that has crashed, it's the Nvidia display driver. Nvidia's poor Vista drivers really gave the new OS a bad name in the beginning., though they have become better over time. There are other examples of poorly written drivers etc. causing stability problems and giving people the false impression that Windows itself is unstable and "crashes all the time".
  • 12 Hide
    frozenlead , November 25, 2008 1:56 PM
    Lots of people say Windows is the most insecure OS and the most susceptible to malware. While the most susceptible is likely true (considering it is the dominant OS), the most insecure likely isn't. Because it has 80% of the market, it gets a ton of attacks. Similarly, it also fights off a ton of attacks. No one ever finds it, but that's the ratio you should look for in the security of an OS. Macs are probably just as insecure as Windows PCs, but they are exploited far less often.

    That, and they cost 2 times more for crappier hardware.
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