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Windows: Still Pathetic

I’ve been mocking Windows since I first saw it in the early 1990s. Watching Microsoft attempt to imitate Apple’s elegant GUI was endlessly amusing. When they finally got things like overlapping windows and drag-and-drop working (in version 3.1), the PC world celebrated and the rest of us convulsed with laughter.

But over the years Microsoft improved it until it became a reasonable interface for low-end consumers who didn’t want to pay Apple’s premium prices, and for corporations that imposed it on their employees (and provided the tech support to keep it working). Nowadays I view my Mac/Unix leanings as a matter of taste and style, not quality.

That is, until I started using Windows again regularly. I haven’t had to depend on a Windows machine since I left my corporate job in 2008. I run Windows virtual machines on my MacBook Pro, but only for testing, and whenever I have trouble with them I simply erase and rebuild them. The virtual machine software also handles all the hardware nonsense that plagues Windows users.

I’m no longer a fan of Apple, at all; they are in fact exhbiting most of the behavior that once caused me to hate Microsoft so much. They’ve proven my adage that most underdogs don’t want fairness, they want to be the over-dog. There’s a lot I don’t like about MacOS and iOS, but Apple does know how to build an operating system. Based on a recent experience at a major Windows-only client, the same cannot be said of Microsoft.

And no, I’m not talking about the ludicrous Windows 8 interface, or about Microsoft’s continued attempts to build a phone or tablet OS. Criticizing those travesties is about as worthwhile as asking why parents of elementary school children proudly use their child’s shop-class project serving bowls even though they're a little lopsided.

I’m talking about something much more basic: copying files. Yes, that’s right, and that’s the real point of this article.

Windows Cannot Copy Large Files.

Seriously. I discovered this when trying to copy several ZIP files in the 8–10GB range from the client’s network drive to the client-provided Windows laptop. Naively, I opened Windows Explorer, and dragged the ZIP files from the network drive to my local drive, which had almost a half-terabyte of free space.

Windows presented a progress dialog saying “0 of 0 copied (0 bytes/sec)” which remained on the screen for the remainder of the day. The next morning, the machine had crashed.

An eight-gigabyte file is pretty big, but come on. Copying a file like that on a Mac takes maybe 15 minutes, or less on my laptop, which has a solid state drive. The content sets and database backups I manage for my hosted clients are often more than 50GB in size, and I copy those around with abandon.

I finally searched StackOverflow and its cousins to see if there was something I should know about copying files in Windows. Several posts on Superuser (here and here) led me to a popular and detailed post on why Windows Explorer fails utterly when copying large files.

The primary culprit seems to be inefficient buffered file copy routines, but there’s also a TCP tuning issue which can interrupt copies tof/from network drives.

The problem is bad enough that several companies actually sell commercial products whose sole purpose is to copy files in Windows:

Microsoft’s advice is to use command-line tools (not Windows Explorer, and not copy) to copy large files properly:

Copying the files with xcopy /z /j worked just fine. I will now go back to mocking Windows frequently.