Windows 'Registered File types'

Marc

Hunkered Down for the Duration
Staff member
Admin
#1
Excerpt. Read it all at: http://www.salon.com/tech/col/rose/2001/10/08/file_monopoly/index.html

The devil is in Windows' details
It's the little things, like "registered file types," that allow Microsoft to maintain its monopoly. Will the court tackle them?

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Scott Rosenberg

Take, for instance, the peculiar matter of "registered file types."

That ungainly phrase is hardly a familiar one, and -- unlike "tying," "bundling," "network effect," "browser integration" and other greatest hits from Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's courtroom -- it did not become a household word during the serpentine course of the Microsoft antitrust battle. But the problem with Windows' "registered file types" is just the sort of subtle but nasty Microsoft practice that many of us hoped a forceful antitrust ruling and tough remedy would finally change. It is one little example of the myriad techniques our most powerful operating-system vendor has at its disposal to screw competitors, take over new markets and -- contrary to its propaganda -- make users' lives more miserable.

Here's what I'm talking about: Once upon a time, PC users opened documents only from within their application programs. Macintosh users had (and still have) the luxury of clicking on any file they liked, and, if the program required to read that file wasn't already running, it would automatically launch. The Mac file system understood, as if by magic, which files belonged to which programs. Windows was dependent instead on a relic of the old DOS file system -- a three-letter "extension," like ".txt" or ".doc" -- to match files with programs. This isn't quite as elegant as the Mac approach, but it works -- until you want to switch the program you use for a particular file type.

Then, you're basically at Microsoft's mercy. Because Windows makes you go on a mad hunt through menus and folders and options to find the dialogue box that lets you make any such change. It's not in the "add/remove programs" control panel, where you'd expect it. It's not under "properties" when you right-click on a file. It's not in any obvious or easily accessible location. (For future reference, here is where it is: In Windows 98, open Windows Explorer, find the View menu, look under "Folder Options," then find the hidden "File Types" tab -- which may not even be there, depending on what you have selected in the Windows Explorer window. In Windows XP, the feature is similarly hidden behind the cryptic "Folder Options" label.)
 
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Atul Khandekar

Quite Involved in Discussions
#2
Prima facie, I don't think there's anything wrong with this. When there are more than one programs that can open a certain type of file, you need to assign a default application to open it.

For example, a file with a '.html' extension can be viewed in Internet Explorer as well as in Netscape and any other browser. It can also be opened in Notepad, Frontpage, Dreamweaver, MS Word and what have you for editing.

The 'Default' application is the one that's launched when you double click on the file. And you CAN change it easily, without having to hunt through menus. Press the 'Shift' Key and click the right mouse button, then choose 'Open with...' and select the app you want. This app then becomes the 'default' application to open the file on double-click. No magic here :)

Through the "Folder Options" menu, you can assign many different apps to open the same file and choose the app you want with right click.

- Atul.
 

Marc

Hunkered Down for the Duration
Staff member
Admin
#3
To me it's not a big deal. I've used a Mac for so long that to even stay with a system that uses file extensions to identify what program is necessary to open the file is - well, makes as much sense as the former Microsoft file name limitation to 8 characters + . + 3 characters.

But.... The point of the article was that Microsoft makes things difficult for people who do not use Microsoft product(s). If you think back a bit, when Microsoft decided to destroy Netscape, uninstalling Explorer 'broke' Windows. You had to go through a long, really quite complicated procedure if you wanted to use Netscape as your default browser on a Windows machine. On the Mac, you just install each and in one place you set which you want to be 'default'. To use the 'other' browser, just click it's icon and you can use it instead. Actually, you can have both running at the same time. I do that a lot to see how a page looks in Netscape and in Explorer - they still are not 'standardized'.

This is exactly the way they destroyed Dr DOS some years back. Install it and specific MS code would break the system - certain programs would look for the Dr DOS code and, if present, refuse to run or would crash the computer. It was clear Microsoft did this after they 'recognized' Dr DOS as a threat to MS-DOS. Although Dr DOS was really good, Miscrosoft's actions destroyed the company.

This is less of an issue to folks who are very computer literate, so to speak. But for most people its near impossible for them to figure out how to change things to use, say, Word Perfect rather than MS Word as their default document 'processor'. If you can't explain what "DLL Hell" is and cite a few examples, then you'll probably just use MS Word and get on with life rather than try to figure out what and how to change to another program.

It would make more sense to do what the Mac folks did when they released the Mac in what - 1984-5? Embed the file 'type' and the file 'creator' right in the file header. That way there's no need for an extension at all. Windows has not progressed much in all these years.
 
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