Which Windows?

Can we still build with ANY Windows product?

As a company, we have always built on a Windows platform, trusting Microsoft to get it right. We have seen policy changes under successive CEOs destroy the faith we once held that their vision of the future aligns with ours. We feel that there is a now a real and urgent need to think critically about operating systems in general. The discussions should also look to a future which does not involve Windows in mission-critical use.

Current Situation:
Writing now, at the end of 2015, we have systems running on Windows NT, 2000, XP, Win 7, 8.0, 8.1. The last Windows 98 was retired from OnAir duty less than 18 months ago! While we have tested Win 10, very few IT pros we know of have kept it installed. Our own prototype machine which we converted from Windows 8.1 crashed and burned with graphics malfunctions causing reset loops. The Win 7 we left out every night hoping for an update finally updated after 32 failed attempts to move to Win 10. Underwhelming. As is the volume of data it now imposes on our Internet connection 'talking' back to Redmond.

And then there is the privacy issue - particularly relevant when used by journalists. This is a link to a YouTube video which takes you though removing the keyloggers, Cortana search restrictions, advertiser id, botnet membership. Just what Microsoft has loaded into Windows 10 by default, I'm sorry to say, I find repugnant. Use Windows 10 only when you have informed yourself fully about how unstoppable it all becomes and whether you consider you want an operating system that spends a high percentage of its time harvesting your information and spiriting it away to servers where it can be rifled through and hacked spectacularly as events have proved. Windows 10 has no place in a studio in my opinion.

Microsoft has now stopped supporting (whatever "support" means in practice) everything up to Win 7 except for governments who still pay for XP support. New computers can be purchased with only Win 8.1 or 10 as the choices offered with a "Downgrade" to Windows 7 as an option. With a wry grin, it reminds me of times past where I helped people to "Upgrade" (my terminology) their computers from Vista to XP. In case you missed it, I had also previously slowed down (as best I could) the lemming-like leaping over to Windows XP Pre-Service Pack 3. It simply didn't work properly until SP3, and there were at least 2 hidden SP rollouts before they admitted to SP3 if I remember correctly. I suppose that my cynicism, at least, shows consistency: "Leading Edge, not Bleeding Edge" and "Never trust a Microsoft release which has less than 2 years maturity". I accept only what works and I call out what doesn't.

What I'm NOT Talking About:
I couldn't really be bothered about what flavour of Windows you inflict on the users in your organisation. It's a SABU - a Self Adjusting Balls-Up. If you believe anybody's sales pitch rather than your common sense, then you will suffer IT overloads from re-training and user call-backs of the "Where is the Start Button gone" kind-of-questions. You know, the 'Office 2003' questions... "Where is the 'Save As...' gone? - it was there last time I looked" You will learn from such experiences and your own intelligence. But you will begin to worry about any corporate policy which blindly follows the dictats of any vendor, Microsoft being just a vendor like any other. And, in common with many, I now have serious questions whether Microsoft has a guaranteed place in the future of our product ranges. My computing experience goes back before them, and if, as some industry experts predict, their all-or-nothing Windows 10 policy fails, then it may well extend after them. It is wise to think about it at least, or better still, plan for the eventuality that Microsoft fails.

What I AM Talking About:
The following discussion refers to mission-critical broadcast systems, wherever failure is not an option. In our product range, playout systems, loggers, command and control systems of all kinds and background processing bots are the systems to which it applies.

Selecting an Operating System - Criteria.
A dispassionate and professional assessment of any operating system must start by setting out the criteria by which a system can be evaluated and further considered or not. These are mine, and I make no great claims for them; they are simply basic computer science and the requirements of prudent engineering practice.

  • It should work, booting quickly and running 24 hours of every day.
  • Is should be stable, running for years at a time without degrading or needing to be reset for any reason.
  • It should be easily maintainable by those who are not system specialists but whose job it is to maintain operations.
  • When installed on its recommended hardware platform, that the resulting system should offer adequate performance at a reasonable price.

If you consider that the above criteria are deficient, and you are not an acolyte for any particular OS, then I'd really welcome your views. What you propose will need to address the existence off non-preemptible RTOS strategies and the relative merits of OSaaS for the future. But if you even mention "Microsoft recommends..." / "Linux + Open Source solves all problems" / "Apple is the way to go..." it will be "Thanks, but no thanks". Impartial, informed and reasoned views only please on a postcard on the response form on the Contacts page. Or ring me and we'll talk.

Evaluation the Windows versions currently in use against the given criteria.

When we started our company, we decided on Windows as the way to go, largely considering the user base and the imperative of criterion 3 above. It remains the case that the lack of a common user base for any other platform effectively seems to rule out *nix - for now.

NT SP6 was the first Windows product to meet most of our criteria, although the drivers available for it were limited at the time. Once settled down however, ultra reliable, even if networking under-performs.
Windows 2000, while it still had some driver issues, it was inherently stable and would run for months at a time in high-use environments - years at a time as servers. Although I suspected it of memory leaks, they were hard to trace.
Windows ME : it seems the less said about that, the better. The third example of Microsoft getting it wrong and releasing toxic product.
Windows XP pre- SP3 - Again, they released product unfit for purpose, but XP brought vast improvements with driver libraries for everything you might need shipping with the OS and much better control of NICs and peripherals. It always looked like they would get it right eventually. Successive service packs brought it to perfection.
Windows XP SP3 I consider XP SP3 to be the Zenith of Windows so far, the first and the last to deliver on all of the criteria in the one package. A very significant number of computers in the world remain on XP which Microsoft is determined to change, the alleged 9 bootlegged versions to 1 legit version in China spurring them on. Proven reliability is the reason why XP persists: we have one XP SP3 computer that was first turned on about 7 years ago, and with only one shutdown (a power outage) it continues to run at well over 6 years in intense 24/7 usage without a reboot. All of the loggers now reboot only once per year when the clock changes.
Windows Vista: The fourth example of Microsoft getting it wrong and releasing toxic product. Best feature IMHO was that it took 5,000 people off working on Windows 7 to fix it and thereby extended the life of XP!

Windows 7

Well, WHICH Windows 7??
Think about this. See the picture of my trusty Tosh Satellite PRO C850: Microsoft insists it needs to make 29,398 amendments to their operating system on this occasion alone to make it work properly. Some of them, such as the one pictured, is to core components. So, without those updates, Windows7 wasn't going to work properly, ergo it wasn't fit for purpose up to that point: it had unfixed faults. Spoiler - a month before that screenshot was taken, I had reason to return the Toshiba to a factory installation image and thereafter, apply all recommended upgrades issued since it was bought. That exercise took 23 hours and almost 1GB of downloads to complete and it was exactly how they wanted it to be when completed. Then it added 29,398 updates. Go figure.

How can any vendor credibly represent that their software was of merchantable quality when it was so completely flawed? How can we, as interdependent software vendors recommend to any client that they should install known faulty software on their computers for our software to run on it? What runs today may fail after an update. This is a far-from-acceptable position for us to be in.


  • Windows 7, which initially used to be derided as Vista SP3, still isn't right because there are STILL updates being applied, some stopping me from shutting my computer down for an hour at a time. Happen to you much?
  • From a commercial standpoint, there is now no advantage to Microsoft to solve their Windows7 products' problems - their strategy appears to be to run away from it and give free upgrades - even to illegal copies - to get people to follow to Windows 10. Their stated target is 1 billion devices by 2-3 years time. I therefore have no faith that Windows 7 will ever be right.
  • The stated policy for Windows 10 will be that it will be constantly revised with monthly releases. Read that as permanently unstable and inherently unreliable unless each version is proved otherwise.

Based on careful consideration of all of the above, I cannot recommend an operating system that its manufacturers, by their actions, accept has faults that need to be remedied.

So while all of our software runs on Win 7, Win 8, Win 8.1 and Win 10, none of these will be used as operating systems for mission-critical installations unless you sign off that you know and accept that the operating system you are specifying is not fit for the intended purpose. And further, that the operating system you are specifying may not be the same tomorrow.

Given all that, I would love to know what sensible direction to steer? Port z/OS to a PC maybe?


October 2015

To acknowledge that Windows, Win7, Win8, Win10, CE, ME, NT, VISTA, 2000 are all registered Trademarks, Service marks or Copyright terms belonging to the Microsoft Corporation, Seattle, Washington, USA.