Reevaluating the Recovery CD-ROM

Last week's Windows 2000 Magazine UPDATE editorial about Microsoft's decision to stop supplying OEMs with full CD-ROM versions of Win2K was the source of more email messages than any topic I've ever written about, including the controversial editorials about the Microsoft antitrust trial and the MSDN fiasco earlier this year. That's amazing, especially given my assumption that this was sort of a no-brainer topic. I see now, however, that things aren't that simple. And for the record, I should state that most of you disagreed with my support for Microsoft's plan to ship recovery-only CD-ROMs, a lopsided defeat that is somewhat humbling in its scope. As of this writing, I've received more than 500 email messages about the decision. Of those, only a small handful of you actually agreed with me. I haven't felt this alone since I voted for Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Before delving into what I think is largely a misunderstanding, let me share a bit of humor with you. One of the more curious things about my job is the way that people react to what I write. In the 3 weeks before the most recent editorial, I wrote at length about Microsoft, and my feelings that the company had indeed broken the law and should be punished for its transgressions. This, of course, brought out the Microsoft defenders, who accused me (among other things) of biting the hand that feeds me. After all, they argued, I make a living from Microsoft, and I should be defending the company, not demonizing it.

This is funny for several reasons, but my stock response is simple: not pro- or anti-Microsoft—I'm a journalist. I use Windows because I have to, but I do happen to think that Win2K and Windows NT are the best solutions for what I do, and I willingly advocate their use. But last week's editorial brought out that other camp, whose members assume that I'm a card-carrying member of the Microsoft Sycophant Society because I use and write about Windows. So I received the requisite dozen or so email messages from people who were underwhelmed that I might actually take Microsoft's side on any given issue. After all, these people argue, I'm in Microsoft's back pocket already. How much is Microsoft paying you? they asked. (I guess they didn't read the past month's Windows 2000 Magazine UPDATE editorials.)

But seriously, I just call it like I see it. Sometimes, that means I might actually (heaven forbid) compliment Microsoft. But it also means that I'll take the company to the mat if I think something is wrong. It's not about backing or fighting Microsoft. It's about what's best for the people that actually use Microsoft products.

And if you'll pardon the obvious segue, that's where this misunderstanding comes in. I suspect that the vast majority of UPDATE readers are computer experts. Many of you probably administer networks of Win2K/NT/Win9x machines or quadruple-boot Win2K, NT, Win9x, and Linux at home simply so you can keep up on things. I'm one of you. And like you, Microsoft's plan to ship recovery CD-ROMs doesn't necessarily meet my best interests. I want the full deal, and I want it on CD-ROM. Heck, when I travel, I bring an amazing array of CD-ROMs with me so that I can resuscitate a dead laptop on the road if I need to. This includes up-to-date data backups on CDR. That's the kind of person I am, and I bet a lot of people who are really into computers are the same way.

In any event, Microsoft's recovery CD-ROM isn't designed for us but for the vast majority of computer users, people like my father or like the family that runs the daycare that my son attends. These people (let's call them "normal" for the sake of this discussion) buy a new computer and use it. They don't reinstall the OS on a regular basis. They don't add RAM or new hard drives. And they certainly don't dual-boot with Linux. They simply use their computers, sometimes for years. God love 'em, I say. Sometimes I wish I were one of them.

The recovery CD-ROM won't meet everyone's needs. And I'm not attempting to convert you to Microsoft's side here. But just understand why the company is making this change, and I think you'll see that it will serve the vast majority of users quite well. Microsoft's recovery CD-ROM is a bit more sophisticated than many people think; adding hard drives or new video cards isn't going to cause problems. And as many people noted, smaller PC makers will bundle full Windows CD-ROMs with their systems at an added cost. But if you're upset with Microsoft's policy, I suggest complaining directly to the company. If the email messages that I've received are any indication, you can be sure that Microsoft will reevaluate this policy.

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