Computer Users in a Catch-22

But in the last two years, computer users who like choice and competition have been thrown into a Catch-22. They want an easy-to-use operating system, but do not want Microsoft to be the only supplier of the technology.

A poll conducted recently in the United States showed that 31 percent of the American public call themselves "technology freaks." Even the editors of the report were surprised by the large number of people who defined themselves as such. Presumably, the technology fans are interested in getting the most out of the computers and surfing the Web. But in the last two years, computer users who like choice and competition have been thrown into a Catch-22. They want an easy-to-use operating system, but do not want Microsoft to be the only supplier of the technology.

Let's assume a "technology fan" in Israel installs a new computer. First he installs the latest operating system, Windows XP, a 40-minute procedure. Then he needs to upgrade the machine so it works with all the peripherals: that means a CD installation disk for the monitor, another for the video card, a third for the modem, a fourth for the printer, a fifth for the sound card, etc., etc. Immediately, the excited computer user has to make a broadband connection to the Internet. He calls up Bezeq, makes a deal with an Internet Service Provider, installs the application and connects. Within 30 seconds, the computer is attacked by the Blaster virus that turns off the computer.

So, the computer user surfs over to the Microsoft site, downloads a patch and installs it. Now he is protected but the virus is still in the computer. There's nothing to do but to buy (or download) an antivirus program and install it. It scans the hard disk of the computer for about 30 minutes or more, and discovers there are at least 45 other security patches that Microsoft has issued to fill security holes discovered in recent months - a two-hour operation, minimum. Some patches require rebooting the computer. Download, install, restart, and over again.

Now it's the turn of the word processor, the e-mail application, the presentation software. Finally, one has to connect to the `Net to let Uncle Bill know that the copy of the software in our possession was bought at full price. The amateur connects and signs up.

And there's more. The e-mail comes, and so does the junk mail and spam. The software market is full of applications to filter junk mail and spam but not all the programs work with all the e-mail programs. What do you do? You connect, surf, search and install. Friends send friends amusing video clips. But the clips are coded in various ways, and the Microsoft Media Player doesn't know how to show them all. Surf the Web, search and ask, and install programs that know how to read all the media types.

But the downloaded program is compressed. Window knows how to deal with only one kind of compression program and there are programs that need to be downloaded that know how to uncompress the files that were compressed in a different format. Within a little while, it turns out there are many formats, with a decompression program for each one.

Onward and upward. The computer fan wants to communicate with a friend using instant messaging. That's also a problem. The various networks for instant messaging don't talk with one another and each network has its own application for the purpose. Download. Install. And what about file-swapping applications? Don't be coy, anyone with broadband uses those applications. But most of the networks that enable file swapping don't communicate with one another and a file that is on one network isn't on another. Download the applications and install. Within a little while, it turns out that the technology fan is protected from viruses, but some of the viruses need a firewall to prevent them from reaching the machine. There is a firewall built into the operating system but it is very basic and insufficient. Search, ask, buy (or download) and install.

Some of the applications that were installed include tiny programs meant to swamp the computer user with advertising, and track their activities. That's called spyware. There are other programs that know how to get rid of spyware. One has to search, ask, download, install, and then scan the machine to erase any of the evil spyware programs installed.

And if you think we've reached the end of the process, you're wrong. Those with a hand-held computer, wanting to back up their data on their computer at home or at the office, need another application. And what about documents produced in the relatively popular Portable Document Format? Some programs know how to include several solutions but some don't recognize all formats and others simply aren't very well made.

On the one hand, we would expect someone manufacturing an operating system for us to take care of all our needs. On the other hand, when it does, we justifiably get angry because Microsoft doesn't take care of its users, it first of all takes care to get rid of its competitors. So what can be done? Nearly two days are wasted on installing dozens of applications, turning the computer off and on and when a pollster calls to ask, we nervously twitch, "we love computers, we're sworn computer fans."