Microsoft’s definition of obvious

Some anonymous writer on “”:

If you have purchased a laptop running Windows 8 recently you may have noticed that it may not contain a small label on the back side or battery compartment listing the operating system’s product key. The question that should come up at this point is how you are going to reinstall the operating system without the product key.

I suppose it’s the question that comes up to you, Anonymous Writer, and I’m glad you’re happy that the answer is that now…

Device manufacturers are embedding the product key in the BIOS of the motherboard. The installer will automatically recognize the product key and use it during installation and activation of the Windows 8 operating system.

Really? This is the obvious solution to the problem of people losing their product keys?

I’m not going to argue that embedding the product key is another step on a path toward an Orwellian future—as long as it doesn’t prevent you from installing other operating systems, I don’t see a huge issue.1 But it’s a symptom.

Marco Arment observed that

Apple’s opinionated design restricts its customers, usually because Apple believes that the result of being more permissive would be worse overall. Where Apple says “You can’t do that because we think that would suck,” Microsoft and Android usually say, “You can do whatever you want, even if it sucks.”

On the surface I agree with that.2 But most of those opinionated design decisions—not all, but most—have to do with hardware features, not software restrictions. OS X is simpler to use than Windows in large part because of Apple’s opinionated design, yet just about anything the nerdiest hacker can do with Linux can also be done with OS X—and a lot of work has been put into exposing that functionality in ways that don’t require either programming experience or screwing around with hex codes in the registry editor. A Mac may be a better choice if you’re not a power user, but it may also be a better choice if you are one.

As much as Apple’s choices are premised on the arguably arrogant idea that they’re doing things the Right Way (Dammit), they’re also generally premised on the idea that you, the user, are competent enough that they should make things discoverable and get out of your way. From everything I’ve seen over the last two decades, Microsoft’s choices are generally premised on the idea that you, the user, are rather a dim bulb. You need to have everything festooned with ribbons and explained by wizards. In their own way, Microsoft is also opinionated, and in their opinion you needed Clippy, you idiot.

How do the calculations change on iOS? Apple thinks of iOS devices as app consoles more than general-purpose computers and, as Marco observed, they’re perfectly happy to tell you that if you don’t like that approach you should just buy something else. But again, it’s illuminating to look at the difference in attitude: Apple believes that computers and app consoles are two different things; Microsoft wants to mash them together. They clearly imagine that this makes things simpler for users—everything runs everywhere, for sufficiently low values of “everywhere”—but I have yet to see a single review of Windows 8 heaping praise on its simple and intuitive design.

If you want to make it harder to lose the product key to the operating system, the obvious way to do it is to not require a product key at all. Still requiring it but adding a check to see if the key for that particular version of that particular OS happens to be embedded in the BIOS and pre-filling the field if it is? To Microsoft, that is the obvious solution. To me, that’s an obvious problem.

  1. Although there’s some question as to whether it makes it difficult to install different versions of Windows than the one that your computer came with. 

  2. Although not necessarily on the Surface. 

  1. tofias said: Discoverable sophistication/complexity is exactly what is missing from iOS. Two questions: 1) When do URL schemes/Pythonista in the spirit of Federico Viticci approximate it? 2) How long was it before Mac OS gained such elegant power? Only with OS X?
  2. chipotle posted this