I understand your dismay. I also have a new laptop that doesn't support earlier versions of Windows properly - a concern for me as I'm a technician who is required to repair various Windows versions. I make no apologies for Microsoft - I hate their business ethics and as a corporation they are arrogant and difficult to deal with.
I would like to make some points which may or may not be of use to you.
1) Your technician should not have proceeded with an XP install on your new laptop without asking you first. That was an express violation of your instructions - and as such, a change like that must be confirmed by the customer. I certainly would have given my customer the courtesy of a phone call asking for permission to make such a change - which (possibly) would have given you the opportunity to return the laptop to where you bought it for a refund as it would not support your OS of choice. Which might have led to a search for a new laptop that supports Windows 2000 - I don't know for sure, but I suspect that there are still some available. I like Windows 2000 - it's slower to boot than XP, but is set up correctly (for the most part) out of the box and will run OK on slower hardware than XP. I spend 5 minutes setting up an XP box to the way I want it (basically the Desktop as it was in earlier versions of Windows, plus a few convenience and security tweaks) - and my !
mouse moves pretty fast, so it takes most others ten or fifteen minutes to make the same changes - provided they know where those settings are at.
2) Service Packs in Windows are required updates. They contain fixes (mostly security related) that are not released in any other way (e.g. in the hotfixes in the Security Bulletin releases) and they are tested more thoroughly than hotfixes are so there is a much lesser probability of them causing problems on your computer. If you don't apply them you are leaving yourself vulnerable to the virii that are written to take advantage of those vulnerabilities and relying on your antivirus program to protect you from them. Given that antivirus programs have a spotty record of protecting against unknown viruses (less than 50%), and that many viruses today are written to take control of an infected computer and turn it into a spam spewing robot for someone else's profit, can you afford not to apply a Service Pack?
3) Yes, Microsoft is collecting more information about its customers than it used to - and, yes, their record is not good. They've had Hotmail servers broken into more than once - and can you really trust that they'll do what they say they will with the information that they collect - given their predatory business practices?
HOWEVER. It seems to be the way of the world that privacy is diminishing - more rapidly than ever. It used to be that most persons didn't even have a last name. During the American Civil War (ca. 1861? I'm not sure of the date - I'm Canadian), the Union army was actively soliciting recruits with cash bonuses and a number of Canadians would go down, enlist, get the bonus, desert, and then enlist again at a different location to get another cash payout. A similar ruse would be difficult or impossible to do today because of the supporting paperwork required and the cross-checking done. My country has considered a national identity card that includes biometric identification (fingerprints, photos, iris scans, etc.), the US has tightened up ID requirements for air travel since 9-11, etc....So it seems to be the trend. I try to protect my privacy - but I also give it away freely to enter contests to win prizes - so I'm not too much different from most people in that way.
I would suggest Linux as an alternative - if you can find a laptop that will run it (HP makes one, and IBM might also - the choices in laptops that support Linux are much more restricted than desktops). I'm a big fan of open source software. Those folk are only interested in one goal - software that works well to do a particular job - and are exempt from most of the pressures that a commercial software company suffers from (they have troubles of their own - but I'm convinced that those are less in number and in severity than the ones commercial companies suffer from). Of course Linux offers fewer software/hardware choices and a steep learning curve, but maybe those aren't too disadvantageous for you.
4) As far as reduced functionality of some programs with Service Pack 2 goes, I say GOOD! Perhaps Microsoft should have warned its software partners earlier of the changes - on the other hand, how would those companies have updated their customers' software so that the applications would not break? Microsoft has finally realized that it has some responsibility to protect their customers' computers and the data on them. Windows computers have almost always required the user to run as an Administrator to obtain proper functionality of the software running on that box. This is the same as running as 'root' in the Unix or Linux world - it means that, if a program starts, it runs with all of the privileges available to an unrestricted user of that computer. This is obviously a bad idea for viruses and spyware for example - it means that a program, once started, is free to do what it wants.
To be fair to Microsoft - they have been focused on making computers easy to use - and they really aren't. They are decision machines! A user has to make a myriad of decisions just to start the thing up - the fact that the decisions have been preselected for them does not negate the fact that decisions are being made. And guess what? Most people cannot make those decisions in an informed manner. They either aren't intelligent enough to understand the implications of the choices made, or do not have or do not wish to take the time necessary to understand them. Microsoft focused on making an OS for a computer that my mother could use (she learned how to email and search the Internet at age 64, having never done anything technical in her life!). Having done that, Microsoft had the problem of a HUGE user base that had to be migrated to a more secure way of doing things - when (it appears) that most users can't even read a pop up box and a license agreement to avoid install!
ing spyware on their computers.
I don't think that the Windows Firewall goes far enough - I install ZoneAlarm or Sygate Personal Firewall on every customer's computer that I can - but at least there is some sort of firewall on the box and it is restricting access from the Internet to the computer. Linux has a firewall built in - and yes, Windows should have had one two or three years ago - but at least there's one now.
5) I have to say that I don't have much respect for your tech. I feel it is my responsibility to deliver a properly functioning computer to my customer. Windows XP (except maybe a 233 MHz Pentium with 64 MB RAM) shouldn't take four minutes to boot - it boots more quickly than Windows 2000 does. If he was to install XP on your laptop, he should have made sure that it booted properly - or have started over.
When I set up an XP computer, I do not connect that computer to the Internet until the latest Service Pack is installed and a firewall and an antivirus program with current antivirus definitions are installed. I then update the antivirus software to the latest version (if needed - typically Norton has two or three rounds of updates) BEFORE visting Windows Update to download and install all of the required patches. In Canada we have the best broadband Internet access in the world so I can do this online easily - but your tech should have all of the Windows patches (at a minimum) downloaded and recorded to CD. I subscribe to the Microsoft security mailing list, which allows me to get the patches as soon as they're available and track which ones are current - but if you don't want to go through that effort, this website tracks what updates are needed for Windows XP and 2000, Office back to Office 2000, and server flavours of Windows - plus the software components of these pr!
Furthermore, your tech should know how to slipsteam a Service Pack so that an install is done without having to do a lot of updates. There is a wealth of information on the Internet and the Microsoft website as to how to do this - and the techniques for integrating a Service Pack into a Windows installation CD are the same as the ones for integrating the patches (hotfixes). Yes, it takes some time on the technician's part - BUT THAT'S WHAT I'M BEING PAID FOR! I'm supposed to save my customers time and money by doing my job as efficiently as possible. I have copies of the popular 'flavours' of Windows (upgrade, OEM, retail, Home, and Professional) for Windows 2000 and XP, with the patches and Service Packs integrated into the installation CDs. When I need to do a fresh install on to a customer's computer, I haul out the appropriate CD, use it along with the customer's Product Key (serial number), and away we go! (It makes my job more interesting and rewarding when I can!
do this for them - furthermore, it saves me time that I can either use for myself or on another appointment.) Not doing this in order to make some extra money is dishonest - and will come back to haunt you eventually...
6) Your brother is right about a Microsoft computer that is to be connected to the Internet (hey, if you never connect it to the Internet, no worries! The days of floppy-spread viruses are gone - and the only reason to have an antivirus program on your computer would be if you access files on that computer from CDs recorded on another computer). But I think that he's wrong about free antivirus programs. AVG has some nice features and seems to do a good job - and avast! scans some files in real time that Norton does not! I personally use avast! on one of my computers and install it on my customers' computers who don't have an antivirus solution installed - and I will be installing it on my other computers as their subscriptions for the Norton antivirus updates expire. No antivirus program catches everything - if you are especially concerned you can do online virus scans on the Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, and Computer Associates (eTrust) websites (it's not a good idea !
to have more than one antivirus program installed on your computer).
7) "But my mom? My sister? My uncle? How can they master all these technical issues you are illustrating me? How could they have gotten out of the situation I am in, all by themselves?"
They couldn't. Computers are, by definition, technical. Macs have fewer problems, but that's only partially due to the fact that they are more tightly controlled (Apple has always - except for a short period of time in the 90s - manufactured the hardware so they know exactly how it will interact with their software). The Mac user base is somewhere between 3% and 10% of the total base of personal computer users - depending on who you talk to. I tend to believe around a 5% figure - as the amounts over that are in a school or computer lab situation and are not being used by owners and are maintained by professionals. Regardless of the figures, the facts are the Mac population on the Internet is much smaller than the Windows one - and people looking for systems to compromise go for the easier targets - especially if that's the OS they know - which likely is the case. Hey, if I was to try breaking into a computer on the Internet or writing a virus for one, I'd do it on/for !
a Windows computer - I wouldn't have a clue as to where to start on a Mac! I can barely surf the internet on a Mac!
The computers we are using today have more computing power than the ones used in the Apollo space program - it's not surprising that they require some tech knowledge to use safely. You are required to be examined as to your competence and fitness (health) before you are allowed to operate a motor vehicle - I think that wouldn't be a bad idea for Internet connected computers (of course, you couldn't effectively monitor that - you'd have to test every computer owner).
7) Auto-update of AV, anti-spyware, etc. is nice - but not strictly necessary so long as you remember to do it regularly! I think that it's required for antivirus - given that it's a pain to remember to update the AV every time you want to check your mail - but for antispyware programs it's only necessary just before a spyware scan is done (or on a weekly or biweekly basis for the protective antispyware programs). I recommend and use to clean my customers' computers:
Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition
Spybot Search & Destroy
Spybot Search & Destroy (it has that function, too)
The only paid program I recommend - and you can use it free for thirty days before buying (useful if you need to clean up an infestation) is Webroot Spysweeper.
8) I sympathize about the activation "feature" of your Office software. But if you call them and explain the situation, they will be very helpful, not give you any static, and activate your software - at least if my experience with Windows activation is any guide. I think that Product Activation punishes those customers that decide to be legal and does not hinder the pirates unduly - but hey! Microsoft's STILL not making enough money... ;-)