Microsoft's Application 'Switching Barriers' Are Experiential Proof the Company Is Evil

You can save this for later if you are going to throw up.

Mary Doria Russell, Children of God, sequel to ">The Sparrow

Iim always willing to help out a neighbor in need.

Even though Iim more familiar with Macs, I donit shy away from playing around with Microsoft Windows PCs. As a Mac user, I see it as a computing version of "know thy enemy," on a bad day; on a good day, itis merely a morbid fascination with the sadomasochistic lifestyles of 95 percent of the computer-using world. On Sunday night, it was the latter.

Upon arriving home, my wife relayed to me a voicemail message from a neighbor two houses over. It appears that Internet Explorer isnit behaving, and they canit stop their computer from crashing. After unwinding for a bit, I take my doctoris kit -- a cold beer – and head down the block.

My neighbor is a couple in their early 50s: he is a manager at Unisys, I believe; she is a registered nurse who now divides her time between a part-time nursing job and a lucrative foray onto eBay, reselling antiques. I make my way through her collection of dishes, jewelry and bric-a-brac, where the lady of the house pauses from snapping digital photos of silverware to introduce me to the "patient," an HP Pavillion desktop computer.

The symptoms: Internet Explorer crashes. While browsing, Windows sporadically alerts her that an application has unexpectedly quit. Even when Internet Explorer isnit running, the system crashes with a message telling them than Internet Explorer has failed. They were running Internet Explorer 5.01, which came with Windows 98. The man of the house figured that it was a problem with IE and upgraded to version 5.5. The problems persisted.

My solution was no-brainer: I suggested that they get rid of IE and install Netscape in its stead. This proved to be, however, easier saying than doing.

Typically, in Windows there are at least two ways to uninstall an app:

1) Click on the Start Menu. Browse up to Programs, locate the program folder for the app you want to uninstall, inside of which you will see an icon for the app and an icon for uninstalling the app. IE didnit have this.
2) Click on the Start Menu. Browse up to Settings. Then browse to Control Panels. Inside the Control Panels folder, there is a control panel named Add/Remove Programs.

So, my sole option was 2). I opened the above control panel, and selected to uninstall Internet Explorer. It present me with two or three options, and the only one that was close to uninstalling IE 5.5 was the option to take the browser back to its previous version. I did this, assuming that I would then be able to uninstall version 5.01. Going back to the control panel, I discover that there is no option to uninstall IE 5.01.


So, I spend the next minute or so checking to see if there is anything that Iim overlooking. Then, I decide to go to Microsoftis web site. Lo and behold, I find out there is actually an instruction set for .">manually uninstalling IE on a machine running Windows 98. It ainit pretty, if youill excuse the grammar. I shake my head after reading the first few lines, which donit bode well for my neighborsi time and money. I quote:

This article contains information about editing the registry. Before you edit the registry, make sure you understand how to restore it if a problem occurs. For information about how to do this, view the "Restoring the Registry" Help topic in Regedit.exe or the "Restoring a Registry Key" Help topic in Regedt32.exe.

The article is divided into three sections: uninstalling from a Windows 95 machine, from a Windows 98 machine and from a Windows 98 Special Edition machine. I notice the following interesting tidbit for those "fortunate" to be running Windows Me: "You cannot use the procedure in this article to manually uninstall Internet Explorer 5.5 from a computer that is running Windows Millennium Edition (Me) because Internet Explorer 5.5 cannot be removed from Windows Me."

Before getting to the uninstall instructions, I get some "reassurance" from Microsoft: "Using Registry Editor incorrectly can cause serious problems that may require you to reinstall your operating system. Microsoft cannot guarantee that problems resulting from the incorrect use of Registry Editor can be solved. Use Registry Editor at your own risk."

I was going to include the instructions for uninstalling from a Windows 95 machine, but decided not to. Click here if you want to see why.

I get to the part where it tells you how to uninstall Internet Explorer. I read it once. I read it twice to make sure that I read it right. Then I print it out to give it to the man of the house before breaking the news to him.

"You told me that you have one of those extended warranties from Best Buy, righ?"

He nods affirmatively.

"I donit want to sound dismal, but I think you should take your computer to them and let them do this," and I hand him the print out.

The printout includes the Windows 95 uninstall steps and the Windows 98 steps. The Win98 steps for uninstalling IE are the following:

1. Delete the Iemigrat.dll file from the c:\Windows\System folder.

2. If the Internet Explorer Title bar incorrectly displays the browser version, you can work around this issue by manually editing the following String values [using an application called the Registry Editor -- using at your own risk, mind you]:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main\"Window Title"
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main\"Window Title"

3. Reinstall Windows 98, reinstall Internet Explorer 5.5, and then uninstall Internet Explorer 5.5 by using the Add/Remove Programs tool in Control Pane

I point out step 3. He heaves a frustrated sigh. I ask him if he recalls the details of Microsoftis anti-trust suit. We talk about how Microsoft is accused of practices that signify unfair use of its monopoly power. I tell them that I believe Microsoftis making IE so hard to uninstall is prima facie proof that the company probably doesnit always play fairly.

I do, however, download and install Netscape 4.79 for them and make it the default browser. We joke that Windows probably has a script somewhere that changes the default back to IE. I hang around, drink a couple beers and make sure that they are comfortable with Netscape. I check to see if there are any crashes. There are not. I joke that theyill start up again right after I leave. I also mention that now they see why I use PCs at work but wonit let them into my house.

Their problem isnit solved, unfortunately. I remind them to have a Best Buy tech come out to do the IE uninstall.

I go home and sit down in front of my Mac, grateful that I get to leave my PC at work at the end of the day. I wonder if what I just experienced was the whole story. IE canit be that hard to uninstall, can it? I had to have overlooked something.

But the Mac bigot in me turns me from such thoughts of self-recriminations. I wonder if my neighbors did something to cause the crashes. I entertain the possibility. But I keep going back to the ultimate blame. The problems are squarely on Microsoftis shoulders. It doesn’t have to make its products that hard to uninstall, if they are not wanted. It is that type of behavior that necessitates the current anti-trust action. It is this type of behavior that flies in the face of the Bush administrationis slap-on-the-hand approach to Microsoft.

Sure, my neighboris IE dilemma is small potatoes, compared to larger issues in the computing world, but it is a microcosm of what we have to deal with when encountering the "Microsoft Way." If this IE incident is any indication, we should be more than just wary of .NET. We should view it and the Microsoft Way of uninstalling apps as the first sorties of a plan to enact a vision in which Microsoft is the one-and-only choice. And if there are alternatives, Microsoft will make it so difficult to switch to those alternatives (for the average user, anyway) that we wonit even expend the effort to do so.

Maybe Iim just naive. Maybe thatis just the way of doing business in this highly competitive 21st century. But this doesnit really help encourage the rest of the world to use computers. Seeing how hard it is to deal with a PC, I can see why most of the people who can afford computers, but do not buy them make that choice. Computers are still too hard to use, and it is Microsoftis fault because the company doesnit always do the things necessary to enable ease of use. Making things difficult is, to me, the worst form of evil that Microsoft could ever perpetuate.

Microsoftis actions hinder technological progress more than they encourage it. To me, this is one point for which Microsoft will become infamous.

Rodney O. Lain writes the "">iBrotha column for The Mac Observer, as well as the occasional editorial. He lives in Minnesota.