Control Panel

Twelve years ago, Microsoft was selling station wagons. Since then, they’ve popularized SUVs: muscling them into the mainstream (XP); enduring a protracted backlash as they grew more ridiculous (Vista); and trying now to restore faith in the brand by talking up hybrid technology and putting a leaf emblem on the back of new vehicles (Windows 7).

Slogan: “Your PC, simplified.” In other words: “We’ve introduced several layers of complexity to hide the layers we last introduced. Enjoy.”

Not that its conveniences are unwelcome. For instance: I have a little audio player that uses a “technology” called “PlaysForSure,” meaning that it doesn’t play at all with Linux or Mac OS. As repugnant as that is, and as much as I admire the valiants who reverse-engineered the standard for use on other platforms, I have to admit: it’s nice not to grapple with that extra library.

Meanwhile, everyone writing launcher programs for Windows must feel like the guys at Netscape circa 1996; this new Start Menu does it all.

The photo gallery, too, is pretty great. It transparently saves photos after they’re rotated, nonchalantly plays movies if you run across them, and lets you crop and make other adjustments that would otherwise call for a separate application.

But I wonder if, years from now, as Windows is further “simplified” and its remaining infelicities obscured, we might begin to see these conveniences for what they really are: walls.