Building a Better Windows

Disclaimer: This is written based on the use of Windows 95, with little to no exposure to Windows98 or Windows2000. The original publication date is not known beyond 2000.

It started out with my pager blurting a number in the XXX area code. The phone number did not look familiar at all, and the area code escaped me. Sitting Indian style on the bed of my hotel room, I was comfortable and did not want to get up. I wasn’t online so I couldn’t check the handy or use a quick program on my regular system that dutifully spits out what city, state and time zone for a given NPA. Debating whether or not the page was worth getting up for the phone books, I figured I might be able to find the information on my laptop.

My laptop doesn’t have a whole lot installed really. Windows 95, Word, PowerPoint, and a few network utilities for remote access. After a brief search of the laptop, I couldn’t find this simple piece of information. Curiosity lead me to check the machine for a few things. 1,865 files taking up 144 megs in my /windows directory and 2,460 files taking 120 megs in my /program files. Over 260 megs of windows software installed on my laptop and it couldn’t even spit out what city had the XXX area code. So what does Windows have in the way of information? Gliding through the start menu and programs, I saw a disturbing lack of real information. When you get down to it, what does Windows do by itself?

The ever famous solitaire, a featureless text editor (Wordpad), a basic CD player, a weak image manipulator (Paintbrush), a near worthless terminal program (Hyperterminal), and a good calculator. 140 megs for that?! I had to install Word, PowerPoint, Netscape, Winamp, Winzip, Thumbsplus and SecureCRT to get close to the functionality I needed. To me, this seems incredibly wrong. For the price you pay and the space it takes, Windows should be a much more robust Operating System capable of providing more information and utilities.

Replacing The Basics

Microsoft has already demonstrated they are willing to outsource for the development of some Windows utilities. HyperTerminal by Hilgraeve is a weak and inflexible terminal dialer forced onto Windows users. So why can’t they outsource more components of the Windows operating system to better companies more capable of creating usable and feature rich applications? Fortunately for Microsoft, I’ve come up with a suggested list of just a few I’d like to see. Feel free to forward these on to the appropriate person.

Create a Little Entertainment

Have you ever watched someone play Windows Solitaire for hours at a time? Since Windows comes with three card games and Minesweeper, your choices for personal amusement are a tad limited. For an additional meg of disk space, you could enjoy a virtual arcade suited for the entire family.

  • Telnet — Let’s ditch telnet in favor of CRT and SecureCRT. There are a handful of remote access programs that do circles around the default telnet application. The current Windows telnet does not even support the vt102 (or a hundred other) terminal types. Since more and more users are jumping on the Internet and networking bandwagon, remote access is becoming more and more popular.
  • CD Player — With Microsoft pushing the Microsoft Network (MSN) or some form of net access, why are we using this outdated and dull CD Player? Why doesn’t the player poll an Internet database and list the titles and lengths of the songs? Why can’t we change the appearance of the application? Tools like Quintessential **link or find another do this and more.
  • Paint — Since we aren’t all budding artists capable of mousing our way into the next Mona Lisa, I think the functionality of this program should be shifted more toward viewing other images. Why can’t we easily crop images, rotate them, save them between dozens of useful formats, slide show, thumbnail and more? Do away with Paint in favor of programs like A-See-DC and ThumbsPlus.
  • Just about every application you download from the Internet comes in either a self installing executable (.exe) or a zipped archive (.zip). So why can we only handle the executables with a default installation of Windows? This forces us to download the older MS-DOS based Pkzip or the newer and prettier WinZip. I think including one or the other would be a courtesy Microsoft could afford.
  • Hyperterminal — Two five year old MS-DOS programs that many people are familiar with still take the cake. ProComm and Telemate were two widely used and extremely robust terminal programs used to access BBSs for years. Each one has probably dropped support for more features than HyperTerminal currently has.

[This section was unintentionally left incomplete in the published version.]

  • lack of games
  • trivial to program in a dozen more varieties of solitaire
  • (find independant pakage and size)
  • why no chess? (quote package and size)

Making Windows an Actual Resource

As I originally stated, Windows does not even possess the ability to look up something as simple as an area code. Despite some three hundred megs of Windows software installed, it still lacks the most basic of information. In my spare time, I am fond of whipping up additional features for an IRC bot that is designed to provide information on demand. Currently taking up less than one meg of space, the bot Mal Vu is capable of dishing out a variety of practical information. Like the bot, Windows too could enjoy all of these resources and many more for less than an extra meg of software.

  • NPA (Area Code) and city translation.
  • Internet country code lookup (Do you know what country .xx is?)
  • Zip Code lookup
  • IANA Network Port Assignments
  • Social Security prefix lookups
  • RFCs and other network references

Where Do I Want To Go Today?!

This simple catchy slogan has turned into a point of ridicule for Microsoft, and for good reason. Bill Gates has previously said that Microsoft began developing an Internet strategy as early as 1994 or 1995. Critics were quick to point out that the Microsoft created encyclopedia called Encarta had no listing for the word “internet”. To the technical crowd, an obvious lack of networking utilities tells us virtually the same thing. While Windows does offer a couple basics like ping, netstat, and traceroute, it is still lacking.

  • whois
  • finger
  • others

Other General Gripes

I would imagine anyone who has used Windows for more than a few hours has a few gripes. A few come to my mind because they demonstrate a fundamental lack of intuition that should come with any Graphical User Interface (GUI). After all, the point of the GUI is to make using the operating system easier, and reducing the amount of clicks and keypresses required to complete a task.

  • The Windows calendar has no option or ability to display two months at the same time. You can not display a yearly calendar either.
  • For laptop users, if you keep the Windows CDROM in while you suspend the machine, you are forced to watch the machine bring up the annoying ‘install’ screen each time you resume.
  • Windows Explorer started from the ‘start’ button always loads with the /windows directory expanded. This takes up an entire screen as it lists all the subdirectories under windows, regardless of the fact that users are discouraged from monkeying around with files in system directories.


Every operating system has problems, and each one can be improved on or refined. It would be nice if OS companies would evaluate the inherent value of their product and consider what it is capable of. Consider the sheer size of a Windows installation and compare it against the tasks you can perform without installing additional software. It is that lack of functionality that makes me question the widespread popularity of the product.

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