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20 Windows features we love to hate

Our tribute to Microsoft's biggest flops

10. Windows 95 USB

Today, it's hard to imagine living without USB. Back in 1997, it was hard to live with it.

Windows 95 predated the USB standard, so support was added via a patch known as Windows 95 OSR2.1. When we tried it out with early USB peripherals, they worked only sporadically, and sometimes trashed the PC - and OSR2.1 managed to trash our Windows 95 machine so badly that we had to reinstall the operating system from scratch. Twice.

(If you're wondering about the good-looking chap in the photo, he's Harry McCracken, editor-in-chief of PC Advisor's US title PC World, pictured wrestling with USB peripherals back in 97.)

Windows 98 did add built-in USB support, but in a form that was far from fabulous. Bill Gates famously managed to crash a PC during an onstage demo when he plugged a USB scanner into it.

Windows 95 USB

Windows 95 USB

9. Windows Genuine Advantage

Is Microsoft entitled to fight pirates? Absolutely. But Windows Genuine Advantage, which makes you do a piracy check before downloading software from Microsoft.com, and displays nag notes if it thinks your copy of Windows is stolen, leaves millions of Microsoft customers caught in the crossfire.

The first version with the nagging "feature" got installed with security updates and was famous for mistaking legit copies of Windows for stolen ones. To this day, trying to download software from Microsoft in Firefox is a miserable experience.

And to add insult to inconvenience, Microsoft's marketing for WGA says it's all being done to help customers verify that their software isn't counterfeit. Er, thanks, guys.

Windows Genuine Advantage

Windows Genuine Advantage

8. End Task

A program hangs. You type Ctrl, Alt, Del to bring up the Task Manager, then click End Task to kill the app. Nothing happens. You try again and again, and it eventually works. Or doesn't.

Why is such a basic operating-system need so flaky in 2007? We're not sure. Especially since Mac OS X's equivalent feature, Force Quit, manages to work perfectly every time.

End Task

End Task

7. User Access Control

Nobody can say that the idea behind UAC (user access control) is crummy. If the computer is about to do something that's potentially risky, it makes sense to verify that the PC's user wants it to happen.

UAC in practice, however, is incredibly clunky, from the alarming screen blackout to the often cryptic dialog box asking for permission, to the way UAC gets in the way of humble tasks that aren't particularly risky.

We hope that Vista gets a more polished UAC someday - this version is so annoying it's tempting to just disable it and take your chances with attackers.

User Access Control

User Access Control

6. Windows Update

There are lots of things you can criticise about Windows XP's approach to software patches. But when we asked around, the biggest complaint by far was how the OS' Windows Update feature (also known as Microsoft Update) pops up a dialog box nagging you to reboot your PC and continues to do so every 10 minutes until you obey.

(Ignore it, and the machine may reboot if you walk away for a moment, sometimes destroying unsaved data in the process.)

That dialog box is in desperate need of a button marked "I'll Reboot When I'm Damn Well Ready - you hear?" Windows Vista's version doesn't offer that, but it does allow you to wait up to four hours before being pestered again.

Windows Update

Windows Update


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