An operating system should be invisible

I’ve had to use dozens of different operation systems over the years and it seems to me that the best ones are the ones you barely notice.

When I borrowed my daughter’s laptop a few years ago with Vista installed I thought it was a bit frustrating because I couldn’t find the things I needed where I expected to find them. When I got a new laptop last summer it came with Windows 8 and based on all the negative comments I had read I thought it was going to be even worse.

I was wrong.

Oh sure, there were some annoying bits but after I learned how to boot up with a clean desktop and not even show the main tile screen with all its revolving and rotating tiles, it wasn’t that big a deal. All I want is to get the applications I need to use up and running. Once I’ve got my two or three go-to apps started I rarely need to interact with the OS.

Perhaps the reason so many people didn’t like Windows 8 was the fact that the operating system was constantly in your face. All those moving tiles showing weather and news and sports scores and movie clips from services you don’t subscribe to and stuff you didn’t even know you wanted or needed, made you feel like you were walking through downtown Tokyo at night. Like you were a visitor on your own computer. It seemed like the OS was always busy doing all sorts of other things and you had to raise your hand like a child in a crowded classroom to ask the teacher if it would be alright to start a word processor.

Now I’m using Windows 10 and I can barely tell the operating system is even there.

I have to say that I think Microsoft did an excellent job with the whole Windows 10 updating process – it didn’t take very long, worked perfectly the first time, retained a lot of my existing settings, didn’t erase a single file that I know about and all my peripherals still work. It was probably one of the least painless OS installations I have ever done (of course, I used to work for an OS/2 magazine and updating the OS/2 OS was the very definition of pure hell).

I’ve also had to use Macs and MacBooks at various times over the years and find Apple OSs frustrating, counter-intuitive and sometimes downright condescending, but that’s probably just me. (The first time I had a Mac crash so badly that I needed to reset it with a paperclip the message it gave me upon restart was ‘This machine was shut down improperly. Please be sure to shut down the right way next time.’ Like it was somehow my fault that it crashed. I wanted to scream at the stupid box ‘I didn’t shut you down improperly! You’re the one who crashed!’)

But as I said, now I’m using Windows 10 and as long as it works, stays quietly in the background until I need it and doesn’t blame me if it runs into trouble then I’m happy.

An operating system is like the editing of a film; the editing is not the star, you’re not even supposed to notice it and if you do notice it it’s because it was done badly.