I’ve been a Windows user since Windows 95. Though I’ve had the chance to work on Macs and enjoyed them, they’ve never been the logical choice for my home computer. I’ve written dozens of plays and a few ebooks on PCs, and I store all my music and photos on one.
Like of a lot of people who are users but not programmers, I hate upgrades. I want my computer to be fast again, want it to work without making all those groaning noises, but a new machine will always mean a new version of Windows, and I’ll have a steep learning curve again. This time it was the big step from Windows Seven to Windows 8.
The salesman was good, and encouraged me to get a touchscreen machine. This would make navigating the start screen much easier. He enthused about the various features of 8, and how they were fun and intuitive.
I don’t want to complain about the setup of 8. It was easy to find the way to revert to desktop and have the machine look very like my old computer. What I want to talk about is the issue of choice and control.
In the early days, a big feature of Windows was the ability to customise. You could choose your colour scheme, your background, alter your screensaver, rename folders…. It was as if you were in charge of your machine. Windows provided the architecture, but you could arrange the interior and exterior of your house as you saw fit.
As I went through the setup process for Windows 8, I began to wonder whose machine this was. I couldn’t assign my own password for sign in, I had to sign in with my Windows Live id. The only use I have for my Windows Live id is confirming that it is ME buying the new application or music or whatever. But YOU, Microsoft, want me to use it to tell everyone everything about my life. You want me to have a profile, to automatically link up to Live every time I want to play a game and broadcast scores and “achievements” across the web.
Sometimes, I play games. But when I do, it’s because I want to play a game. I don’t want to send that news to my friends and family. I would love the ability to play these games without being connected to Windows Live, but you know what Microsoft? You’ve made it so that some of these games won’t save my progress unless I’m signed in. If I want to play the game without starting from the beginning every time, I have to sign in to Windows Live. And that makes me think this isn’t MY game, this isn’t MY computer, it’s yours. Your rules.
I live in Canada, and my parents live in the UK. We talk by Skype every week, and it’s great for them to see my family as we grow and change, and wonderful for us to see them. Setting up Windows 8, I was asked to activate the Skype app. And then I was told I would have to change my Skype password to my Windows Live id sign in. Have to. Because this isn’t MY computer, this isn’t MY application, it’s YOURS.
I understand that some people do live their lives on the internet, that they fill out every section of their profiles on Facebook, post pictures of every meal and update their location wherever they go. I understand that some people want the validation of their friends being told their high scores, or that they just bought a certain track. I don’t mind that kind of functionality being built in to Windows. It’s wonderful that we live in a time where these things are possible.
What I would like is the control. The option to opt out. Just a radio button somewhere that’s easy to find, something that lets me choose what I update others about, when I play games and where I save progress.
I’d like this to be my computer again.
An open letter seems a little daft, a little desperate, but I’ve tried approaching large companies like Microsoft and Amazon with general comments before. Their Customer Care sections are not set up for queries and comments like this. If you find a “Contact Us” page, your comment is subject to a series of drop down menus that gradually filter you out of the system unless you’re looking for a technical or financial answer.
I don’t expect Microsoft to answer me, or change the way they work. Like many other big companies, the service they offer their consumers is geared towards providing them with more information to generate more business opportunities, not provide a better service for the customer. As time goes by, I’m sure newer versions of Windows will appear that have many, many more “options” that cover the fact that we’re being gently herded into fewer and fewer actual choices, and handing over more and more control and information.