Windows vs. the World

Readers emailed me last week to tell me about an amusing coincidence regarding Tim Huckaby, news editor for our Windows Web Solutions UPDATE newsletter, and me. On the same day that last week's Windows & .NET Magazine UPDATE column "The Case for a Modular Windows" ran, Tim published a commentary in the Windows Web Solutions UPDATE called "A World Without Windows," in which he adopted an opposing argument regarding Windows modularization. For those readers who aren't familiar with Tim, he's a funny, intelligent writer who works closely with Microsoft. His insider knowledge means he's quite conversant with the technical concerns behind this topic.

Despite being on opposite sides of the modular Windows argument, Tim and I received similar reader feedback: Most of the people who wrote disagreed strongly with our opinions. I rely on feedback—both positive and negative. It's crucial to the continued success of this newsletter. However, I think many people who responded to my column misunderstood how a modular Windows would change things. Some people think a modular Windows would be a support nightmare; I think the opposite is true. Administrators could customize computing environments by specifying which components each Windows desktop uses. And administrators could use Microsoft's Auto Update and Windows Update technologies to offer users a choice between Microsoft solutions and third-party solutions when an application installation requires a certain technology. Or the installation routine could include the required technology, as often happens now, anyway.

Most of the technologies in question aren't core system services. Removing Windows Movie Maker (WMM) or Windows Media Player (WMP) wouldn't remove your ability to use Windows Media Audio (WMA) or Windows Media Video (WMV) content, for example. And Microsoft's decision to make Internet Explorer (IE) available in Add or Remove Programs in Windows XP doesn't remove the core rendering engine, just some icons and the .exe file. I have no idea why end-user applications such as WMM or WMP belong in Windows, while core services, such as antivirus protection, for example, remain the province of third-party vendors that have no understanding of Windows' inner workings.

My hopes for Windows might be idealistic, but I believe that Microsoft can easily modularize Windows and that that action will ultimately benefit all Microsoft's customers. I've reviewed the arguments against this plan, ruminated over possible incompatibilities and the general chaos that detractors believe will result, and I just don't buy it. Sorry, Tim.

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