Posted in General

When did we stop being thrilled with our operating systems?

Lately, I’ve been engaging in some ’90s tech nostalgia, mostly via watching YouTube videos that spark my memory about what computers used to be like. I know that on some level, nostalgia is pointless and frivolous, but I find it comforting to experience prompts that help me reclaim memories and feelings that have been in long-term storage for decades now.

And what I’ve realized is that for all we’ve progressed in terms of convenience, computer saturation, processing power, and internet accessibility… we’ve lost some things along the way. One of those elements is an actual attachment and even fascination with an operating system. An operating system! I mean, who cares these days? If I think about Windows 10 and its cold functionality, it’s to be annoyed with its start menu, its pushy Cortana interface, or how Windows update seems to have broken my laptop. It’s not fun. It’s never been fun. I don’t enjoy love using it; I just use it.

You’re probably shrugging, because who does enjoy operating systems in 2021? But the weird thing is, we totally used to. Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 were godsends for a kid who grew up navigating the ins and outs of the DOS command line. Now we had this graphical flash and organization that made sense, and it felt revolutionary. That start menu… man, that start menu. It was a portal to possibilities. It was your computerized life, neatly filed and arranged for access.

Pretty much everyone I knew in the ’90s went nuts customizing Windows. Desktop wallpaper, screensavers, animated figures, sound files, color schemes… the works. Often it was garish, in the way that late ’90s homebrew websites lacked subtlety. But it was ours. It was like putting stickers all over your pencil boxes or posters in your locker in high school. You were taking this space that everyone else had a copy of, and you were making it distinctly your own.

Perhaps Win 3.1 and 95 were of much more interest to me prior to always-on internet, because I wasn’t spending 99.9% of my time in a browser. That limitation forced me to poke around, trade for programs, and see what my computer could do with the tools at hand. But that’s not entirely the case. Even as “recently” as Windows XP, I did like tinkering around with the OS and enjoying setting up various extra applications and options.

I kind of miss that. But with my phone and the internet, my desktop and OS don’t serve as great of a purpose. I have precisely two modifications to Win10 — Open Shell (to add back the start menu) and Stardock’s Fences to organize my icons. I have a static background I change maybe once every six months. I feel so dull in this space compared to how I used to be.

Of course, it’s not like I’m being held back from tinkering once more, so the change might be just as much me as Microsoft (or Apple or whatnot). I guess I just miss when interfaces and OSes were just as fun to use as the actual programs.

5 thoughts on “When did we stop being thrilled with our operating systems?

  1. You make a good point. I remember being a kid and putzing around with Windows 3.1 or 95 for hours. I wasn’t doing much of anything, just clicking around and seeing what I could see.

    I wonder if my own kids feel this way when they’re using Windows.

    It’s partly why I’ve always gotten right up to the cliff with Linux but never jumping off; the novelty and freshness of a NEW os is intriguing but it’s just impractical for me.

  2. I think it is 1 part “We are getting older” [maybe it is just me but the older I get the less interested I am in tinkering with a computer, hardware or software] and 1 part, as you say, the iterations aren’t revolutionary like they used to be. I have no idea why I should upgrade to Windows 11. To me it is a case of “Well something MIGHT go wrong then I have a huge headache to deal with.” on the one hand, and “But I’d have Windows 11 which means…. I dunno what it does for me?” on the other hand. So why risk it?

    But I bet some where out there, there are some young linux nerds who still get amped at major releases to their favorite desktop.

  3. I disagree with you here : I remember playing with Windows7, 8 and Windows 10 at installation.
    The main difference for me is that with Windows 95 and XP, we had very few software to go with, so tinkering with the OS itself was one of the few way to interact with the computer. And yet, I still sometimes open the Windows 10 start menu, and look at all the tools preinstalled with Windows to understand how it works. On my previous work computer, I remember taking quite some times to find the most useful one, and order put them in Tiles with the most important SW, to have a well ordered start menu.

  4. I spend about the same now as I ever did messing around with the OS. I set things so it looks nice (I have my background refreshing every 10 minutes from files of mmo screenshots) and I change whatever I need to change so it suits me. Other than that, I never think about, just like I never thought about any of the others.

  5. I think it’s a combination of getting older and (paradoxically) working as a technology designer. I don’t want to faff around with the operating system – I want it to just work, and let me get on with what I actually want to do, be that playing a game or sharing a document with my colleagues. If you’ve ever been to a really good restaurant or hotel where the service is superb, they give you exactly what you need, without ever having to actually ask and do it completely unobtrusively – I want my OS to be like that.

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