Commentary # 34: August 2009
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Demonizing and De-demonizing Windows,

and Keeping it Running Well for Photography

August 2009

- by Craig Wassel

You hear it all the time: Mac is better, especially if you are a photographer. Before I get into the real meat of this commentary, let me state that if you are already a Mac user and you are getting into serious photographic work, stay on a Mac. I concede as I have before that - overall - they are better suited for it. I won't get into the reasons why, especially since there are many other places on the internet that discuss this in great detail.

What I will not concede, though, is that Windows is a terrible operating system. You hear this all the time, too, and it is not accurate. Mac OS is a very good operating system, Windows is a very good operating system, and you should not waste your time listening to anyone who tries to demonize either one. In fact, you should not listen to anyone who tries to demonize anything. In many cases, that is the level political debate has sunk to in this country, which is why we can no longer fully believe anything any Democrat or Republican tells us is fully accurate.

When anyone takes the route of demonizing anything, you can be fairly sure she/he is distorting the facts and/or not telling you the whole story. Here is a very good example: In 2007, a highly read photographer posted on his site about what a piece of junk his wife's Dell laptop was because it did not change over to daylight savings time properly, while his Mac did. I am sure some people bought into what he said, but others like me who knew why and knew better just shook heads. What he failed to explain is that he installed updates automatically and regularly on his Mac, and he did not on his wife's Dell. In 2006, the United States Government (not Microsoft) instituted a new Daylight Savings Time standard. Beginning in the March of 2007, the new standard moved the Spring time change permanently forward by two weeks.

This meant that both Apple and Microsoft had to post software updates for their operating systems so that they would "Spring Forward" two weeks earlier than before. If that photographer had not updated his Mac OS, it would not have changed time properly according to the new Daylight Saving Time standard either. Trying to demonize Windows because his wife's laptop did not change time properly diminished his credibility. It's like trying to demonize the maker of your car when you don't change your oil and your engine burns up. It does not matter whether you drive a Maserati or a Mazda - the same thing will happen.

All of this leads me to the real purpose of this commentary, which is to give photographers who prefer to use Windows - however few or many they may be - advice on how to keep it running well. Contrary to what many say, you do not have to be a geek to do it. If you are wondering if you should be taking this kind of technical advice from me - a photographer - the answer is yes. Although my photographic journey began more than 30 years ago at age 11, I also have more than ten years of experience designing and managing enterprise deployments of Windows server and desktop operating systems, as well as many, many software packages. That makes me much more of a subject expert than you will find on most photography sites and forums.

Before I tell you how to keep Windows running well and without all the headaches, there are a couple of important things that you need to understand about Windows. It IS true that it is a much more vulnerable operating system than Mac OS because of the way it is designed. Out of the box, it unfortunately allows users to get into trouble and trash the operating system, and without noticing what is happening until it is too late. I run Windows A LOT, and I have as few problems as I do on my Mac, and as few as any Mac user I know; I do it by following a few very, very easy rules. However, I see trashed Windows machines all the time, and the reasons it happens are always the same. Read on, if you please.

The advice I offer below to keep Windows running fast and trouble-free is based on a couple of assumptions. The first is that you have a clean (meaning no freeware installed), un-compromised installation of Windows (and ONLY Windows), that it is current with all available updates, and that you have configured it to automatically install new patches and updates as they are released. If you are not certain your Windows is clean, it is time to backup your data and start over. It will be worth it. The second assumption is that you are going to show your Windows computer the same TLC you show your camera equipment. This is explained in more detail in #2 below. Without further adieux, here is how to keep Windows running well.

  1. Don't run antivirus or anti-spyware software. Yes, you read that right. DON'T run it. Anti-virus and anti-spyware is designed to try to protect undisciplined users from themselves, and Windows from its inherent vulnerabilities. The problem is that anti-virus and anti-spyware programs are performance killers. However, if you commit to doing the simple things I promote and explain in items #2 and #3 below, you don't need them.

  2. Don't go places on the internet you know you should not, absolutely, positively do not install any widgets, gadgets, browser toolbars, or any free software of any kind on your computer, and do not do ANY non-business email. Period. I really, really mean this. As I mentioned above, I am a subject expert on Windows operating systems. I have seen and worked on many, many messed up Windows computers in my time, and every single one of them had one thing in common: a bunch of harmful junk freeware was installed. Windows runs very well until you start installing no-name junkware on it. If you really need a specialized application to do something particular, PAY for quality software from a known, reputable developer and you will be fine.

  3. This is the most important thing of all, and #1 and #2 from above depend on you doing this. After you get your clean copy of Windows installed, automatic updates set up, and you have installed JUST the quality software you paid for and REALLY need, create a user account on your machine that does not have administrative rights. Use that account to do your daily work, and only log as an administrator when you need to install new software or do something that requires administrative rights. This is what is known as working on a "locked down" machine, and in many respects it is similar to the way Mac OS does not allow system changes to be made without you entering a username and password.

Without the logged in user having administrative and installation rights, it is very, very difficult for spyware and malware or anything else that is designed to harm Windows to get installed. This approach costs you nothing; when combined with what I recommend in #1 and #2 above, it is one of the best methods of anti-virus and anti-spyware there is, and your computer takes no performance hit for doing it.

The internet is overflowing with advice on how to keep a Windows machine running well. Seldom, though, will you find what I advocate here. If you want to run Windows, I hope this not only helps you keep it running well, but also helps you think different the next time you hear someone demonize it - or anything else for that matter.

". . . Photography may be moving, exciting, compassionate, or clever. But the camera cannot lie. Neither can a slide rule, a balance. If you want to lie, you have to do it with words . . . "

~ John Loengard ~

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" . . . What I will not concede, though, is that Windows is a terrible operating system. You hear this all the time, too, and it is not accurate. Mac OS is a very good operating system, Windows is a very good operating system, and you should not waste your time listening to anyone who tries to demonize either one. In fact, you should not listen to anyone who tries to demonize anything . . . you can be fairly sure they are distorting the facts and/or not telling you the whole story . . . "

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