10 June, 2009

The appeal of Windows

I recently had the occasion to re-install Windows Vista to a computer that, through my own fault, had its Vista installation wiped. Fortunately, I had a recovery disk handy.

What a nightmare that was. I don't mean the corruption; I mean the re-installation. Several times I encountered black screens that sat around for quite a long time with only a white mouse pointer and no obvious activity with the computer. By "long time" I mean more than a few seconds, and possibly a few minutes. That is completely unacceptable on a modern computer. Geez Microsoft, would it have been so hard to include a little text that said, "Installation is proceeding, please stand by and do not panic…"? Even that would have been insufficient information, but it's a start. Moreover, it would have been on par with the messages that it did provide,which were rare, wordy yet uninformative, and shown with low quality graphics.

After finally completing re-installation and seeing Vista boot, the computer started to download updates—which also seemed to take forever—and upon shutdown it revisited "forever" while installing the updates. By this I mean that I encountered the dreaded

Installing update 14 of 26 ..

which sat there for what seemed like the better part of an hour, doing apparently nothing but spinning the circle and shuffling the ellipsis around. What is so large about update 14 of 26 that it requires so much time? Even the Amiga's infamous Guru meditation was more informative than a Vista update.*

Don't Windows developers think that a nervous user might like to see which update is being installed at the moment, what the size is, and what particular stage of the installation is going on? You know... take a hint from OSX and Linux? More than five years after Bill Gates' notorious leaked email about Windows' usability problems, are Microsoft's developers still so tone-deaf? Here's a choice excerpt from the email:
So I gave up and sent mail to Amir saying - where is this Moviemaker download? Does it exist?

So they told me that using the download page to download something was not something they anticipated.
If not for a Google search on a nearby, working machine I might have interrupted that installation and really wrecked the computer.

I find it incredible that people pay for this treatment. I've been working on OSX and Linux for so long, and have become so accustomed to quick, efficient installation and update, with informative messages at high-resolution graphics, that frankly I don't understand the appeal of Windows anymore. Aside from gaming, of course, but even now Linux and OSX are able to run a lot of Windows games through emulation, virtualization, or other techniques.

Sure, when Linux gets pooched, it's deeply frustrating, but Linux gets pooched rarely in comparison to Windows, and the fix is usually an easy web forum away. I use Fedora at home, so I've found Fedora Forum to be a life-saver. Ubuntu, SUSE, and other flavors of Linux have similar forums. In fact, it's thanks to Fedora Forum that I learned how to fix the corrupted Windows installation in the first place. The computer manufacturer's customer support advised me to wipe the hard drive (again) & reinstall Windows, losing thereby all the data.

So, again: people pay for this treatment? Routinely? How can I get into this racket?

* From the Wikipedia article:
The text of the alert messages was completely baffling to most users. Only highly technically adept Amiga users would know, for example, that exception 3 was an address error, and meant the program was accessing a word on an unaligned boundary. Users without this specialized knowledge would have no recourse but to look for a "Guru" or to simply reboot the machine and hope for the best.
Actually, rebooting always did the trick for me. The only problem was that you had lost all unsaved data, and if the Guru meditation happened in the middle of a disk write the file system would be corrupted. This was common on home computers up until the last decade or so, which led to the phrase "Save early, save often."


Clemens said...

Having Vista on my laptop, having to use it for school, and trying to master Word 2007 (a bloated piece of foo-foo)I can safely say...

... I feel your pain.

It seems that the best technology sometimes gets swamped by market power and name recognition. IBM was the classic example. There are times when I actually miss DOS.

jack perry said...

I guess you didn't see the awful commercial for Internet Explorer 8?

Clemens said...

No - can I find it on U-Tube?

jack perry said...

Click here.

I can't believe that ever got past the Vodka Night stage at Microsoft's on-campus bar.