Geek Vs Geek:Is It Time to Give Up Windows?

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There was a time when pretty much everyone used Windows, and those few who didn’t, had a Mac. A few loonies relied on Linux. But these days, it’s easier than ever to abandon the big, clunky operating systems of yesteryear and never mess with another printer driver, Windows Update, or login screen again. Can you step away from Windows forever? Dave and Rick face off on the question.

Once a month, eHow Tech editor Dave Johnson faces off against Rick Broida, who writes about technology for CNET, PC World, and Wired. Follow along as they tackle this question from opposing corners.

Rick: So let’s address the elephant in the room: you need to lose weight. Also, we’re flip-flopping on today’s topic, because a year ago we were on opposite sides of this coin. Obviously we’ve got some splainin’ to do, and I’ll start: I’m fed up with Windows. So fed up, in fact, that I don’t want it in my life any more. I’ve had it with Blue Screens of Death, driver incompatibilities, and Windows 8’s shoved-down-your-throat design changes. Also, Windows adds upward of $100 to the price of any PC I buy, which is ridiculous beyond belief. So I am highly, highly motivated to ditch this archaic, annoying, and mostly unnecessary OS.

Dave: If we’re saying things that need to be said, you dress like my dad. And apparently, have the technological aptitude of him as well. Blue Screen of Death? I haven’t seen one of those since about 2004.You get what you pay for, sir, and you either have a 10 year old PC or bought the cheapest one you could find. That said, I sort of agree with you… in principle. But a year after we sparred on this same subject, there are still too many reasons why I need a full sized PC and giant monitor on my desk. Can you really move to a tablet or phone entirely? Today?

Rick: Sadly, I can’t. I desperately want to, but I can’t. That’s only because the work I do requires a bit more versatility than tablets can currently offer. But for the average home user who uses a laptop primarily for e-mail, Web, Facebook, Netflix, Evernote, and the like, a tablet easily gets the job done. In fact, I believe you might be married to someone who has embraced this idea, someone who ditched her Windows laptop for an Android tablet with a keyboard. Sure wish I could do likewise, because my Windows 8-powered Ultrabook (which is less than a year old) just bluescreened last week–right while I was in the middle of working. Why are we still putting up with this kind of nonsense?

Dave: I suspect that you are doing what we in the biz call “optimizing for the edge case.” Sure, there are occasional Windows (or Mac OS X) problems. Crashes, Bluescreens, driver issues. But those are rare — you can work glitch-free 95% of the time. And you’re trying to leave the convenience and flexibility of a full desktop (or laptop) OS for the 5% of the time that you have a problem? I guarantee — bet you a dozen donuts — that if you spent all your time on a tablet, you’d eventually find these kinds of rough edges in iOS or Android as well. You’d just be trading one set of problems for another.

Rick: I won’t dispute that apps occasionally crash, but I can count a tablet’s “rough edges” on one hand. With Windows, I need several hands and at least a few feet. I’m glad you’re able to work glitch-free, but you survey any typical Windows user and you’ll hear the same complaints you’ve heard for years: It takes forever to boot. It’s getting slower over time. It’s full of viruses and spyware. These problems simply don’t exist on a tablet, which turns on (and off) instantly, doesn’t bog down the more you use it, and can’t get sidelined by a virus. Oh, and did I mention your average tablet weighs 1.0-1.5 pounds? Unless you have very specific work you need to do, it’s actually pretty nuts to go with a laptop. I’ll take my donuts now, please.

Dave: Before you eat your donuts, it seems to me that there’s a middle ground here. Sure, desktops and laptops have their problems, and why wouldn’t they? They’re carrying the baggage of 30 years of code, standards, and compromises. But tablets like the Surface Pro 2 are a tantalizing glimpse of a better way to work. The new Surface tablet is fast, practical, and convenient. It behaves like a tablet, but also runs full-bore Windows programs and can work like a laptop. Windows 8 got off to a shaky start, but with each update (and rumors of updates to come) it gets closer to the OS we actually want to use. I think that, as hard as this might be to hear, Windows 8 on a tablet or touch laptop might be the real future for many people. Not making do with a clumsy iPad that can’t can’t get any closer to business apps than Plants Vs Zombies.

Rick: Windows 8: barf. That being said, robust Surface sales are proof positive that users are seeking a tablet-oriented computing solution, and they’re even willing to tolerate Windows to get it. I’m actually a little on the fence about this, because a Surface Pro 2 would indeed give me the tools I need to get my work done while affording at least a few tablet benefits. Just one problem: It’s $899, not including a keyboard. No sale, no way. The Surface RT seems a lot more appealing at $349 (also without a keyboard [eyeroll]), but it can’t run my browser of choice: Google Chrome. So while it appears to deliver a Windows experience, it actually doesn’t run regular Windows software. I know, I know: neither does Android. Or iOS. Like I said, I’m on the fence. The tablet industry as it exists today can’t quite accommodate my needs.

Dave: As much as you hate full-powered PCs (whether in desktop or laptop form) I don’t see how you can live without them. Ever need to print stuff? It’s possible, but not especially easy, to print from a tablet. What about gadgets like your home’s Wi-Fi router? Many still want you to configure it using desktop software on a PC. Want to scan documents? Unless you have the NeatConnect wireless scanner, you probably still need a PC. And then there’s the fact that the app versions of common web sites are woefully deficient, so you have to use a browser to, for example, do certain things in Facebook or Twitter. But the browser experience in most tablets just plain stinks. If you’re going to spend much time in a browser, you need to be on a laptop. The bottom line is that the world still revolves around Windows. It won’t be that way forever, but for years to come, tablets will continue to be secondary devices for most of us.

Who won? We’d love to hear from you. Weigh in with your opinion in the comments, or tweet @davejoh.

What other tech topics would you like to see Dave and Rick discuss? Send your ideas to Dave via Twitter @davejoh. And if you follow Dave, he promises to come to your home and explain something techy to your dad.

And hey, have a question about tech? You can talk directly to one of our nerds and get an answer right away.

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