5. Messenger Service
Just perusing the article in Microsoft's Knowledgebase about Windows Messenger alert service (no relation to the Windows Messenger IM client) is enough to make you shudder: "If advertisements are opening on your computer in a window titled Messenger Service, it may indicate that your system is not secure... some advertisers have started using this service to send information via the internet, and these messages could be used maliciously to distribute a virus."
Windows XP SP2 disabled it by default; Vista eliminated it. Good riddance.
Hey, you've just installed a program! A network cable is missing! You've got icons on your desktop you're not using!
Windows is constantly alerting us to stuff it thinks we should know, usually by means of word balloons that pop up from the System Tray. (Which, incidentally, is more accurately called the TaskBar Notification Area.)
An amazing percentage of these messages are painfully obvious, irrelevant, or just plain inaccurate. Never have so many computer users been distracted from their work by interruptions so useless.
3. Internet Explorer 6.0
Beginning in the mid-1990s, Microsoft fought the browser wars against Netscape with all it had. With Internet Explorer 6.0, released in 2001, though, it seemed to declare "Mission accomplished".
For five long years, IE barely changed, even as competitors such as Firefox and Opera showed there were plenty of ways to make browsing better.
At the same time, attacking IE 6 security holes became a full-time occupation for an army of hackers - and patching them up turned into part-time work for everyone who used the browser. Internet Explorer 7.0, released in 2006, is a passable upgrade, but wouldn't the world have been a better place if it had shown up two or three years earlier?
Internet Explorer 6.0
2. The Registry
Ever wonder why the national grid is so flakey that a single lightning strike can wipe out hundreds of households? We ask the same thing about Windows' Registry - why did Microsoft put so many vital pieces of Windows configuration data in one place, where a minor problem with that single file can turn into a full-tilt PC disaster?
You can back up your Registry religiously. You can run Registry cleaning utilities. You can edit the Registry very, very carefully, should you dare to edit it at all. But you can't eliminate the possibility that it'll bring Windows to its knees.
1. ActiveX Controls
For years, ActiveX - the technology which dates all the way back to Windows 3.0's OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) - had not one but two majorly pernicious effects on computer users. Folks who use websites that run ActiveX applets on their PCs open themselves up to security risks, since an ActiveX control can do pretty much anything it wants on your PC once you'd told it to run.
And the fact that ActiveX runs only in Internet Explorer in Windows stunted the growth of alternative browsers and operating systems for years.
ActiveX controls still exist, but with some exceptions - mostly related to Microsoft "benefits" such as Windows Update and Windows Genuine Advantage - it's easier than ever to ignore them. Thank goodness for that.