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Maintenance Comparison: Macintosh vs. Windows 95

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              Maintenance Comparison: Macintosh vs. Windows 95

                     A Comparison of System Maintenance

                   Prepared by Norris and Wong Associates
                                November 1995

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The ongoing system maintenance of a personal computer can be a very time
consuming, costly, and frustrating process. The overall productivity and
cost of ownership of a personal computer is heavily influenced by the time
and money spent on system troubleshooting, managing files, adding hardware
and software, etc.

This report examines the system maintenance differences between an Apple
Macintosh and a PC running Windows 95.

Maintaining a personal computer over time consists of the following actions:

1) Adding and removing applications
2) Reorganizing the desktop for convenience
3) Hard disk space management
4) Adding and upgrading hardware components
5) Backing up files
6) Troubleshooting system conflicts and other problems
7) Recovery from system failures

Overall, the Macintosh is significantly easier to maintain than a Windows 95
system in all of these areas. This is not only an issue of less frustration
and requiring less knowledge to maintain the system, but is also a matter of
time saved. These issues are particularly important to the home, education,
and small business users, who usually have little or no access to
experienced support personnel.

There are two key reasons why Macintosh is easier to maintain than Windows
95. The first is that Macintosh has a better architecture and less
complexity with which the user must deal. The second is that Windows 95 has
many more interdependencies than does Macintosh. Let me explain.

Complexity
With the Macintosh, the self-sufficient user needs to be aware of
applications, their data files, the system folder, Preferences, and inits.
With Windows 95, I estimate the self-sufficient user has about an order of
magnitude more complexity to cope with. Below are lists of system files for
each system, of which the user needs to aware to perform system maintenance
. (Programs in square brackets may not be present on every system).

Macintosh System Files

   * System
   * Control Panels
   * Extensions
   * [System Update]
   * [Individual program Preferences]

Windows 95 System Files

   * MSDOS.SYS
   * SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT (Registry files)
   * SYSTEM.INI
   * WIN.INI
   * COMMAND.COM
   * [AUTOEXEC.BAT]
   * [CONFIG.SYS]
   * [AUTOEXEC.DOS]
   * [CONFIG.DOS]
   * [WINBOOT.INI]
   * [Individual program .INI files]

Two key points are worth noting here. First is that in the case of
Macintosh, it is much easier to understand what function each system file
performs and therefore, it is easier to identify the source of problems.
Secondly, working with Macintosh system files nearly always involves a
graphical user interface to make changes or else a corrupted file is merely
replaced with the original version.

In the case of Windows 95, many kinds of problems give no clue as to which
of the system files is the cause of the problem. In addition, fixing
problems typically involves editing text in these files. Just replacing them
with earlier versions may undo beneficial or needed changes made by
applications which have been installed successfully and subsequent to the
original version.

Interdependencies
The point above leads us to note the many interdependencies which arise in
the Windows 95 system architecture and which are much less prominent with
Macintosh. When Windows 95 applications are installed, they routinely make
changes to one or more of the system files. Thus, for example, any of the
system files may contain changes which were made by several different
applications. When problems arise, this means that the relevant system file
must often be diagnosed on a line by line basis. Even as Windows 95 evolves
and developers tend to concentrate their system changes in the Registry, the
same problem remains. It is far from easy to find and identify which
Registry entries apply to any particular application or to determine their
significance.

For example, this is PC Magazine's explanation of how to change the icon for
My Computer:

     "To change the icon that represents My Computer, open the Registry
     Editor and scroll to
     HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002-B30309D}\DefaultIcon.
     After double-clicking on the Default value entry, type in a new
     data string that points to the icon file and icon you wish to
     use."

To change the hard disk icon on the Mac, you simply choose the menu command
"Get Info" for the hard disk, click on the icon, and paste in the new icon.

Let's examine the seven areas of system maintenance in detail:

1. Adding and removing applications
Although adding applications is probably about a draw between Macintosh and
Windows 95, removing them is not.

On the Macintosh, nearly all applications are easily disposed of by just
throwing them in the trash. (The careful user will also dispose of any
associated Preferences files, control panels and extensions.)

With Windows 95, just as with previous versions of Windows, applications may
have left entries throughout the system. They can leave entries in
AUTOEXEC.BAT, CONFIG.SYS, SYSTEM.DAT, USER.DAT, SYSTEM.INI, WIN.INI and
others, and there is always the possibility that they may have created their
own custom .INI file. In addition, many miscellaneous files may be left in
the Windows folder. Typically, after significant use, the Windows folder can
contain hundreds of entries with no reasonable way of knowing which are
still needed and which were created by applications no longer used. (Some
may provide needed information under Properties, but many will not). These
entries can affect system performance, and some can affect other
applications as well.

Although Windows 95 applications are supposed to include an UNINSTALL
program, there is no assurance that they will function perfectly. And on
those occasions when the entire system does not run after a new program is
installed, there may be no platform available from which to run UNINSTALL.
Uninstalls cannot usually be run from Window 95 SAFE mode or DOS.

2. Reorganizing the desktop for convenience
It is not long before new computer users realize that they use certain
applications and files much more often and so want easier access to them. On
the Macintosh, this is easily done either by rearranging the files and
folders themselves or by creating aliases to point to those items most
frequently used. If aliases are used, the original items can be left in
their original locations or can be moved and renamed and the alias will
continue to point to them. Reorganizing the desktop can also consist of
relocating items so that those used together are in the same folders and of
renaming folders and files to make their function more readily apparent.

Windows 95 users suffer from a number of disadvantages here. First, moving
applications or renaming their directories can cause the links to all
documents created with that application to break. Second, Windows 95
shortcuts (unlike Macintosh aliases) cannot reliably track moving or
renaming of the original files. Third, because applications are usually
installed into the Start menu with no desktop representation, it can be
difficult or time-consuming to even find where the original application is.

3. Hard Disk Space Management
Many users eventually begin to run short of hard disk space. The usual
answers are to throw out unnecessary files or to buy a second hard drive. In
either of these cases, the Windows 95 user is at a significant disadvantage.
Windows users have a harder time identifying unnecessary files because
Windows applications use many more files than Macintosh applications, with
most having cryptic file names and many which get placed into the Windows
folder with hundreds of other mysterious files. It is doubtful that Windows
95 will quickly change these long held programming practices.

In the case of making use of an additional hard drive, Windows 95 users are
at a tremendous disadvantage. If they move applications to the new hard
drive, the links between applications and their resource files get broken
and the user will have to reestablish these links manually--a significant
task in itself. This is due to the previously mentioned fact that moved
Windows applications lose their links with data files and shortcuts.

4. Adding and Upgrading Hardware
Macintosh users have always enjoyed a significant advantage in the ability
to "plug and play" new hardware add-ons. Apple built in SCSI to the
Macintosh in 1986 for the easy addition of up to seven external hard drives,
scanners, CD-ROM's etc. and the Mac's NuBus cards were always self
configuring. Up to now, PC users could do neither easily. Hours of
configurations with dip switches, IRQ and DMA settings, and driver
installation made adding new hardware a nightmare in the Windows world.

The new Plug and Play specification in Windows 95 promises to help this
problem in the future, but many existing computers and peripherals are
incompatible or problematic with Windows 95. Some skepticism is always
appropriate for a new set of specifications before they are proven to have
actually worked in the marketplace. Very few Plug and Play peripherals are
currently available in the marketplace, and many new PCs still don't support
the Plug and Play specification. It will take years before this Plug and
Play transition is over for the Windows world.

5. Backing Up Key Files
My experience has been that on the Macintosh, it is adequate to only back up
data files. Thus, a simple file copy operation based on last modification
date suffices. With Windows 95 there is much more reason to back up system
and application files as well. This is for the following reason: With
Macintosh, the user can almost always reinstall the system or any given
application without having to change anything else. With Windows 95, it is
much more likely that such tactics will not work, and the user will be
forced to choose between a complete restore of a previously good set of
system and application files, or to do the installation over completely with
system and all applications. The key reason for this is that because
applications keep needed information in system files, reinstalling the
system may cause applications to fail and to need reinstalling themselves.

Windows 95 also changes more files and kinds of files in operation than does
Macintosh. When doing comparable operations on a Macintosh and a Windows 95
PC, I have noted that a backup based on the archive bits on each machine
shows the Windows machine changing many more files than the Macintosh,
including system files and files in the Windows folder. If one believes that
these changed files are significant, then they need to be backed up, and the
file backup which is sufficient on the Macintosh is not sufficient for the
Windows 95 user.

6. Troubleshooting System Conflicts and Other Problems
Here is where our prior concepts of complexity and interdependence are most
relevant. On the Macintosh, the vast majority of problems can be diagnosed
and fixed by the following: resolving init conflicts, throwing out or
replacing Preferences files, reinstalling individual applications or
reinstalling the system files. Reinstalling one item rarely causes the
failure of any other part of the system. Throwing out Preferences files does
not cause failure because applications merely replace them with default
Preferences. Of all these items, only inits show a significant problem with
interdependencies, and even here, there are excellent tools available from
third parties to isolate and disable conflicting inits.

The complexity of troubleshooting in Windows 95 is mind boggling. Some key
documented sources are the section of the Windows 95 Resource Kit beginning
on page 1059. The same material appears in hypertext format in the Windows
95 Resource Kit Help File under General Troubleshooting under the Windows 95
Reference. There are several things worth noting about this material. First,
it is a collection of procedures and ideas, not a logically organized flow
chart. Second, it assumes a great deal of other knowledge. Third, it points
to entire chapters as references, belying the fact that the section itself
is only 22 pages. Fourth, it makes no reference to procedures I have
personally experienced working with Tech Support for Windows 95
applications, and it can therefore fairly be called incomplete.

Having already been competent in troubleshooting Windows 3.1 problems and
having developed the ability to identify and fix specific problems, I have
to date been unable to consistently troubleshoot and specifically fix
Windows 95 problems. Editing system files often has consequences far removed
from what simple logic would lead one to believe. In addition, the available
documentation is often inadequate in the face of real problems. At times, my
experience has been that attempts to fix specific problems have only made
things worse until I got to the point where I had to either do a complete
restore or a complete reinstall. I have heard the same comment from other
industry experts. Of course, PC gurus don't pride themselves on being the
first to declare that something has become so difficult that they can no
longer do it. Only time will tell if this is a lasting conclusion and how
many others arrive at it.

The complexity of Windows 95 troubleshooting goes hand in hand with the
interdependencies inherent in the architecture. Many of the key system files
are likely or certain to contain entries from multiple applications. In
addition, it is often extremely difficult to identify in which system file
the problem resides. Combining these two facts shows why fixing Windows 95
problems by replacing files is a difficult strategy. Another way of looking
at this is that with Macintosh, one typically replaces a system file with
the original version. With Windows 95, one needs to replace it with the last
good version, if such can be determined.

While I can count on solving a Macintosh problem in minutes or hours,
Windows 95 problems have taken days.

7. Recovery from System Failures
On introduction, Windows 95 had a major problem in the area of backup and
recovery from system failures. As of the date of this publication, Norton
Utilities for Windows 95 does not include backup capability, even though
previous versions of Norton Utilities did. And the Windows 95 backup
programs that I'm aware of have significant bugs and limitations. Using a
DOS or Windows 3.1 backup program, even in conjunction with LFNBK (long file
name backup utility from Microsoft) doesn't guarantee restoring the system
to its original configuration. (My experience suggests that applications so
restored may not run properly.)

There are numerous serious problems with Microsoft's Backup Applet. In fact,
a default Windows 95 installation doesn't even install it, which suggests
that Microsoft is not unaware of these deficiencies. First and foremost, it
does not run from DOS, even the Windows 95 command line, so it can't be run
from a boot diskette at all. Thus, one must have Windows 95 up and running
to use it at all! Not much help in a system crash situation, is it? Second,
in my experience, if it is used to do a restore to the disk it is running
from, it is capable of "restoring" a disk so that it won't even boot. This
occurred with no warning prior to running restore that there was any risk.
Third, it appears to make no use whatsoever of the archive bit. Fourth, this
fact plus bad design makes it baffling to figure out how to do anything but
a full system backup when using it. Fourth, it supports spanning backups
across multiple tapes but not other removable media, such as Iomega or
Syquest drives.

The Windows 95 boot diskette that is created at Windows 95 installation does
far less than one might hope. In particular, it does not support access to
CD-ROM drives, a serious failing when one wants to reinstall system files
from a CD-ROM! A related point is that even the MS-DOS XCOPY command loses
its most needed features for backup if it is not run from an MS-DOS window
within Windows 95. If run from a Windows 95 boot disk, it loses its ability
to deal with system and hidden files and to deal with long file names.

In fairness, Microsoft does provide some tools to aid in recovering from
system failures. Each successful startup backs up SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT,
so a failed startup may be fixed by replacing them with their backed up
versions. Of course this only works if the problem is confined to the
Registry. There are also tools for backing up system files contained within
the Resource Kit, but none of them backs up all system files at once.
Finally, the Windows 95 installation can be run in such a way as to only
replace corrupted system files. Although any of these tools can be helpful,
however, none of them fundamentally answer the problems described in this
document.

In the longer run, it remains to be seen when and if any vendor will develop
a boot disk capable of doing a full system restore.

In any case, Macintosh has several advantages here. First, Macintosh can be
booted from a CD-ROM. Second with Macintosh, it is easy to maintain an
alternate boot drive and switch to it using the control panel. Third, a boot
floppy disk can still contain enough of the system to support long
filenames, do useful work or do a full restore.

With Windows 95, maintaining an alternate boot drive and/or Windows 95
directory is much more difficult. Whether or not an alternate boot drive is
possible at all depends on BIOS support. (Many users will not have the
capability to boot from any other than the C drive, and many who can change
to another drive will never know it or be willing to try). Switching to an
alternate Windows 95 directory can be very complex. Although a set of
entries in MSDOS.SYS initially point to the Windows 95 directory to use,
there are a host of other files that can redirect the system to the original
or another Windows 95 directory. An alternate Windows 95 directory combined
with using the Backup Applet is one possible current backup strategy for
Windows 95.

Worth repeating here is that when a software problem causes a Macintosh hard
drive to become unbootable, typically just reinstalling the system will fix
the problem. With a Windows 95 drive, the procedure is more likely to
require reinstalling applications after reinstalling the system. If the user
is maintaining a dual boot system, then reinstallation involves DOS, Windows
3.1, Windows 95 and applications!

Summary
The above points demonstrate why Windows 95 users can expect system
maintenance to be a more complex, costly and painful process than will be
experienced by Macintosh users. The Macintosh still has a much better
architecture than a PC with Windows 95, and its software has far fewer
complex interdependencies. These differences will translate into significant
cost and productivity benefits for Macintosh users.

Norris and Wong Associates is a technology consulting firm specializing in
personal computer productivity enhancement. They develop custom applications
on both Macs and PCs for an exclusive clientele. They are based in San
Francisco.