The Crossing

“The Crossing”
by Kyle Cabral

They played in the morning,
and napped for an afternoon.
Then, they fell in love at dusk,
and walked together until midnight.


Words I could’ve written myself, from Adrian Kingsley-Hughes at ZDNet:

“These are words I never thought I’d be writing.

After more than two decades of being a dedicated Windows power user, someone who over that time has installed and supported countless systems running versions of Windows spanning from 3.0 to 8.1, I’ve now all but given up on the platform.

It might sound odd, but writing these words actually makes me sad. I devoted my 10,000 hours to mastering the platform, plus thousands more, and got the point where there wasn’t a file, registry entry, or command line trick that I wasn’t familiar with.

I knew how to make Windows work.

But now, other than for test systems and virtual machines, I carry out my day-to-day work on a variety of OS X, iOS and Android systems. I barely give my Windows PC systems a second glance. My primary work system is a MacBook Pro, and in the ten months I’ve had it it’s flawlessly done everything I’ve asked of it, from run Microsoft Word to render 4K video. I’ve lost count of the number of notebooks I’ve owned over the years, but this MacBook Pro is, by far, the most reliable system I’ve owned, and I put part of that down to the fact that it doesn’t run Windows.

Sure, I’ve downloaded and installed Windows 8.1 onto a number of systems for testing, and I’ve put an awful lot of hours into getting to know this latest release of Windows, but I see nothing in this new version that excites me sufficiently to tempt me back into the Microsoft ecosystem. If anything, the effect has been the exact opposite, confirming my belief that parting ways with Windows was the right thing to do.

So what’s bought me to this point in my tech career?

Support fatigue

I’ve spent almost my entire adult working life involved with PCs, and the more PCs you are around, the more sick and dying PCs you encounter. And I’ve encountered a lot.

I’ve also cajoled and coaxed countless ailing systems back to life, but during that time I’ve come to realize how fragile the Windows operating system is, and how something small and insignificant as a bad driver, incorrect settings, or the stars being in the wrong position can bring a system to its knees, and result in hours of work searching for a solution. That’s great if you’re being paid by the hour to solve PC problems, but if your dealing with your own systems, and you have better things to be doing with your time, then you want to get them up and running as fast as possible so you can get back to real work.

Troubleshooting is costly, time-consuming, and frustrating, and while I once used to relish the challenge, I now try to avoid it whenever possible.

Of all the desktop operating systems that I’ve used, the modern Windows operating system is by far the most fragile. It didn’t used to be like that. I had Windows NT 3.5/40 systems, and some Windows 2000 machines that were rock solid. Partly this increase in fragility is down to the vast ecosystem of hardware and software it has to support, and partly it is down to the years of legacy that each version drags behind it. But part of the blame also lies at Microsoft’s door for not putting enough effort into hardening the system, reducing the effect that fault – in particular software faults – have on the system, and providing better information when things go wrong.

Adding a 🙁 to the Windows 8 BSoD screen isn’t enough.

Windows systems keel over, and most of the time the only clue you have as to why is an ambiguous error message, which may or may not be a red herring. This sends you to Google – or Bing – in search of others before you who have suffered a similar problem, and whom you hope may have found a solution, which might be in the form of an updated driver, a registry tweak, command line incantation, or patch.

Sometimes you get lucky. Other times you have to try a number of things before you’re successful. And sometimes you end up deciding that it’s quicker to nuke the system and start from scratch.

And all the while I’m doing this, precious time is slowing through the hourglass.

The shift to post-PC devices

Another reason why Windows has been relegated to the sidelines at the PC Doc HQ is the proliferation of post-PC devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Now I’ve been using mobile devices for years, and remember Windows CE and the like running on devices with exotic sounding names such as iPAQ and Jornada (remember those?), but these devices were, without a doubt, companion devices. Basic operations such as installing software or moving data required a PC, and so these devices spent a lot of their lives tethered to a Windows PC.

Then Apple changed everything, first with the iPhone, and then with the iPad. Here were devices that were standalone, leveraging over-the-air software downloads and updates, and cloud storage.

I found that I could do more and more with less and less. Tasks that once required a full-blown desktop or notebook PC could be carried out faster and more efficiently on a smartphone or tablet. Unless I want to use full-blown applications such as Microsoft’s Office or Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite, then I can make do with post-PC devices. What’s more, I can usually get things done faster since I’m not tied to my desk.

And the great thing about these devices (and I’ll throw Android in here with iOS) is that they’re there when I need them. I’ve had an iPhone and an iPad for years, and I can only remember a couple of times when they’ve let me down.

My experience of Windows on tablets closely resembles that of my ZDNet colleague James Kendrick. Bottom line, they let me down too much to want to bother with them. Why would I trade a reliable iPad or Android tablet for an unreliable Windows 8.1 tablet? Why trade a tablet that just works for one that regularly sends me on quests, roaming the Internet looking for the right elixir to fix the system?

Any hopes I had that x86 versions of Windows would be more stable on tablets have gone. In fact, in my experience, the user experience is worse. Sure, most of the time the problem comes down to a rogue drivers or a configuration thrown out of whack, but a problem is still a problem, and these are problems I don’t experience with iOS or Android.

Bill Gates was right, there was a market for tablets. Unfortunately, most of those tablets would be powered by operating systems made by Apple and Google. But then, Apple and Google didn’t try to shoehorn a desktop operating system onto tablets.

Windows RT is certainly a better choice for tablets, but that’s because what you have is the illusion of Windows, rather than the real thing. If Windows RT had come out at around the same time as the iPad, and the software ecosystem matured at the same pace, then Windows RT would be a real contender, but as it stands right now there’s little reason to choose it over iOS or Android.

Unless, that is, you want something that look like Windows. Which I don’t.

The increasing irrelevance of the operating system

Once upon a time, the operating system was the platform on which people ran applications, but as more and more local applications have been replaced by services running on remote web servers, increasingly the browser has replaced the operating system as the primary platform.

Twitter, Facebook, Gmail and countless other web-based services look the same whether I’m using Windows, OS X, or even Linux. On smartphones and tablets, I have the choice of accessing most of these services either through a web browser or a dedicated app.

It doesn’t matter what operating system is running my browser, so I’m free to choose the platforms that give me the least headache.

Change for the sake of change

One of the biggest problems I have with Windows is the way that it inflicts change on the user for no logical reason.

For me, Windows 8 was the peak of “change for the sake of change,” removing the Start Menu and pushing the Desktop into the background. Yes, I understand why Microsoft needed the Start Screen (because the Start Menu would be too cumbersome for tablet users), and yes, I understand that Microsoft wanted to give apps center stage, but for hundreds of millions of users running Windows on a desktop or notebook PCs, these changes did nothing but hurt productivity.

Compare this to OS X or even Linux distros. Here you feel a progression from one version to the next. Yes, sometimes there are changes that are disliked, but overall there’s a smooth progression from one version to the next. Jarring changes are best kept to a minimum because they have an adverse effect on productivity, adding unnecessarily to the learning curve.

Microsoft backpedaled on some of these changes with Windows 8.1 (which must have been a pain for users who had gone to the effort of learning how to use Windows 8), but for me the damage was done. It’s clear that Microsoft is going in a direction that’s incompatible with the one I want my operating system to go in.

No appreciation of power users

Microsoft’s decision to end the TechNet program, a service which gave power users, enthusiasts, and those who’s job it is to test and support Microsoft products cheap and easy access to products, is a strong indicator that the company no longer values what people like this bring to the platform.

Windows is now the expensive option

Windows is now the only operating system I use where I have to pay to upgrade it.

While I don’t begrudge paying a fair price for something I need, paying big upgrade bucks for something I can do without makes no sense. PCs easily outlast the lifespan of the Windows operating system, and the idea of paying almost a hundred bucks per system to keep it updated is hard to stomach when it doesn’t bring me any tangible benefits.

Going the mac route might seem like an even more expensive option, but having owned a number of systems, including the MacBook Pro that that become my go-to system, the additional cost of the hardware (plus the additional AppleCare warranty) is offset by the fact that these systems have given me months, and in some cases years, or hassle-free use. I’ve not had to mess around with drivers.

I’ve not had to go digging through the configuration settings. I’ve not had to surf the web looking for solutions to obscure error messages.

Shift to console gaming

I used to love PC gaming, but then I got my first console.

While the graphics don’t match up, and the gamepad is no substitute for the keyboard and mouse, the years of hassle-free gaming that a console offers, free from driver and patch headaches, more than makes up for the deficiencies. Not only that, but when I consider how long I’ve had my Xbox 360, It’s outlasted several gaming PCs, which has saved me a ton of cash.

Pick the game I want, insert the disc, and BOOM! I’m playing the game in seconds. No patches to download and install, no  graphics card drivers to mess with.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that outside of a few edge cases, Windows isn’t for me. If it works for you, then that’s great. Stick with what works for you. I for one certainly won’t sneer or look down on you or go all fanboy.

After all, I remember – with fondness, and more than a hint of sadness – a time when it worked for me.

Personal preferences are, well, personal.

Can I see a time when I might go back to Windows? Maybe, I’m not ruling anything out, but for the time being, I see Windows playing a smaller and smaller part in my day-to-day computing.”


It’s Not That Hard!

Question: “How will I explain gay couples to my children?”

Answer: If you can explain to your children that an immortal man in a red suit who lives at the north pole travels around the entire world on one night every year on a sleigh carried by magical flying reindeer, I think itll be easy enough to tell them two people are in love.


Somewhat Disheveled and Weary From a Long Flight

Somewhat disheveled and obviously weary from a long flight, he was still a vision in his Galactic Survey uniform. He was near my age, probably twenty-six or twenty-seven standard, a bit taller than me with dark tussled hair, two-day stubble, and a small hoop earring worn. As he entered the small onboard cafeteria, he put his bottle of ale down while he stopped to light a cigarette. As he struck the match, our eyes met and he smiled. An electric shock coursed through me. And those eyes—dark, midnight blue, almost black. He walked toward me as if he intended to join me at my table, and as I caught sight of his name badge—Danot—he smiled again, nodded, and kept walking. I turned around to see if he had stopped, but only saw him leaving through the rear door.

The Galaxy Presented Itself as a Narrow Glittering Ribbon Cutting Across the Night Sky

One warm evening I decided to pay a visit to the city’s old northern waterfront, a vast array of piers and overgrown parkland nearly a hundred fifty kilometers away from downtown and almost always deserted.  I had heard it was a popular meeting spot for trysts, but I hadn’t gone there with that in mind.  I had been feeling very homesick and what I wanted most was to simply get away from the noise of the city, away from the crowds, away from the lights, and just stare up into a dark night sky.  Short of flying out to one of the barrier islands, the waterfront was the perfect choice, despite its other reputation.

Olyxas’ brilliant double companion sun was in conjunction with the primary, two of it’s three moons would not rise until after midnight, and the third—the smallest—would not be rising for an hour or more after my arrival, so the night was, indeed, very dark.  As I powered down the speeder, parked, and walked out onto one of the piers, I looked up to see the hazy band of the galaxy stretching overhead in the western half of the sky from northern to southern horizon.  And hanging in front of that glittering tapestry, forming a huge arc like a string of brilliant blue-white diamonds, six nearby supergiant stars curved eastward across the sky.  In a later life, on a different world, I would call three of them Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, but the names I used for them then eluded me.  Despite my best efforts, I was still unable to trace out any meaningful constellations upon this strange night sky, and in fact wondered exactly what constellations would’ve grown out of legends and mythology if an indigenous sentient race had arisen on—instead of been transplanted to—this world.

I finally gave up trying to correlate any of the stars I saw overhead with ones I knew from home.  Obviously, many of them were the same, but now in such radically different locations with equally radical brightnesses that it was futile to try locate particular stars.  And since the Olyxan system lay within the galactic plane and not far above it as my home world did, the galaxy presented itself as a narrow glittering ribbon cutting across the night sky, not as the hemisphere-filling vortex I had known before.  Still, when the pangs of homesickness struck as they did that particular night, these were minor issues and didn’t prevent me from trying to spot my native suns, even if I didn’t know exactly where they fell upon this canvas—or, if, in fact, they were even visible to the naked eye at all.

The tide was out, but the incoming waves still broke noisily against the pilings as I stood against the railing, looking out over the dark waves below.  My mind wandered, and memories of my desert birthplace returned: the unrelenting heat, the years passing without a single drop of rain and the twin suns burning like two brilliant yellow arc lamps in the wheat-colored sky.

I could not have chosen a more disparate environment in which to emigrate.

It Seemed Like I Blinked and 20 Years Passed

“Inside every older person is a younger person—wondering what the hell happened.” ~ Cora Harvey Armstrong

When did I start turning into an old man?

Okay, so I’m not old, as in driving a golf cart around a retirement community old (or even anywhere near it), but old as in realizing that many of the people I work with could be my children if I were straight and had married and produced offspring at the “usual” age for doing such things. I also learned the other day that my recruiter had referred to me as “an older gentleman” to one of the other contractors. Older gentleman?

Fuck me.

It is kind of funny, because while I still envision myself being near that age and more or less feel like I did in the picture (from 1984) below, it’s only when I happen to catch my reflection somewhere that I realize I sure as heck don’t look it anymore. And more often than not, when I stop to actually gaze into a mirror I find myself asking, “Who the hell are you, and how did you get into this house?”

Of course, that’s a question I’ve been asking myself since long before the picture to the right was taken, but it now has a totally different thrust behind it.

Definitely well into “middle age,” I’ve now been forced to confront that my hair has for the most part completely disappeared (and is never coming back—I’ve often wondered if I should just start shaving it regularly—and get it over with), the morning puffiness under my eyes does not spontaneously disappear as I wake up, and I’ve been wearing monocular contact lenses (one for distance, one for reading) for years now. Lastly, where did all that added poundage come from? At the time that photo was taken I thought I looked fat. Oh, that I were so fat now!

Along the same lines, when did all my friends get so old?

At least we’re all wondering these same things together, and can freely discuss them without feeling too—I dunno—silly. Because of the AIDS epidemic however, we lost almost the entire first generation of openly gay men who could’ve answered so many of our questions and become the role models in whose footsteps we followed. They might’ve helped us define what it meant to be a middle-aged—and ultimately elderly—out gay man in America. But sadly, we are left to find our own paths, and with so many of my own generation lost in the 1990s, even those resources are not as boundless as they might’ve been.

These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For

I was scanning some old negatives into the Mac a few days ago and ran across a photo I’d taken of my bedroom at my folks’ house back in 1979. On the shelf above my stereo was a book I’d long forgotten, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster. This was the first of the Star Wars novels to come out after the initial film, sometime in 1978. I no longer have the book, but I tracked down a copy at the library and have been reading it again.

Resoundingly trashed by the critics even then, it’s still a fun read. Even moreso now, because it takes place in what would definitely be considered an “alternate” Star Wars universe. Coming out as it did two years before The Empire Strikes Back, all of the familiar, now-established Star Wars lexicon and mythology simply do not exist. Darth Vader is not Luke’s father. Leia is not his sister (good thing too, considering some of the romantic stirrings going on between the two of them in the book). Yoda does not exist (although the planet the duo crash land on in the book does bear a striking resemblance to Dagobah, and the old woman who enlists their help does have many of Yoda’s Force-wielding qualities). I’ve pretty much forgotten the book’s entire story line since it’s been twenty-five years since I last read it, so it’s been interesting to glimpse into a decidedly different “long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”