When you absolutely positively have to make your brand new computer ten times slower than it should be, Windows Vista is the only way to be sure.
Now, pro-Apple Mac ranting aside, I really must insist that even those of you who will never consider switching to anything other than a Microsoft brand of operating system, stick with me on this one. For I can report that, for the past week, I have attempted to do the unthinkable and exclusively use Vista Ultimate Edition, for my daily work-flow – and it didn’t go at all well.
What I should immediately get out of the way, is that I was a Windows XP user for about 6 years. A student loan and a long-term relationship with a house-mate who couldn’t turn off the immersion heater kept me out of the Apple Mac game for quite some time, although I did have an old Motorola Mac clone machine, which I used for MIDI music sequencing now and then, it’s not for the lack of any familiarity with the way Windows does things which made the whole experience so much of a challenge.
My main machine for the vast majority of the dot com boom was an IBM – at first running Windows 98 and later XP. In other words, my introduction to what later became understood to be the early days of Web 2.0, was viewed entirely through the eyes of Internet Explorer, Outlook Express and Windows Media Player; which are in many ways the standard browsing, mailing and media play-back experience millions of people still use to this day, despite a myriad of far superior alternatives out there for free download.
The Windows Vista incarnation of these applications do attempt to improve on the woeful performance of their forbears, at least in their aesthetic appeal. Unfortunately they fall so far short of delivering any real improvements, that I find myself, despite eager to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, still unable to conclude that there isn’t some kind of hatred of real usability behind the ethos of Microsoft software design. It’s as if they’re determined to cling to outdated paradigms out of some fear that a significant shift away from the traditional look and feel of Windows, would scare off their traditional users who have learned to settle for less.
Where they have attempted to break with tradition, such as in the ribbon tool bar for the latest version of Office, all they have succeeded in doing, despite I’m sure quite genuine attempts on the part of an eternally suffering development team, to do the opposite, is make things even harder to find and use. Throwing out the perfectly acceptable menu tool bar convention baby with the lukewarm bath-water.
Setting up Bluetooth syncing between my mobile phone and Vista was an utterly slow and painful experience. All you’re really asking Bluetooth to do, when you want to move your contacts and phone numbers from a cell phone to your computer, is move a formatted text file from one place to another, and then read that text in an application which can decode the format. Since this format is a recognised standard, I can only presume that the need to restart Vista, click various ‘Yes I am sure’ boxes, cancel various failed attempts and eventually download a whopping 32 Megabytes of buggy, ugly software from the cell phone manufacturer, is some kind of attempt by Microsoft to make me feel as I have achieved something special, simply because I managed to coax the damn thing into doing what it is supposed to do in the first place.
Compare and contrast Bluetooth syncing under Mac OS X. I turn on Bluetooth on the phone. I browse for Bluetooth devices from the system wide tool bar. I find the phone. I sync the phone. I go about my day. No fuss, no bells and whistles. It just works.
Then there’s the general feeling of instability. While Apple’s OS X Leopard is not without its issues, Vista feels like it is fundamentally unfinished. Control Panels is higgledy piggledy – as if they started to change the way it works, but then left in elements from Windows XP, like Desktop and Appearance controls; entirely out of character with the rest of the Vista Aero interface. In an attempt to maintain the status quo Microsoft couldn’t have done a worse job of changing things which didn’t need changing by leaving behind things which haven’t changed since Windows 95 – from THIRTEEN years ago.
Why do I need a two centimetre thick border of Ford Cortina blue gunk around the edge of every window? Why is the width of the column which sorts icons alphabetically always 10 pixels too narrow to show the full file name? Who puts a recycle bin in the top left of their screen but no by-default way of showing the actual contents of the hard drive? What did ‘My Computer’ do to deserve being, literally, thrown in the bin?
To find the answer to these and many questions besides, you don’t have to look too far. As I blogged earlier, many third party vendors, such as Dell and retailers like the US giant Walmart, have expressed concerns in a lawsuit which revolves around the use of terms like “Vista Capable” in Microsoft’s pre-launch marketing of the product. The top and bottom of which appears to indicate that in the years (and I do mean years) in which Vista was delayed, sneak peeks of the operating system, which were known among the developer community as ‘Long Horn’, were dogged repeatedly by incompatibilities with hardware drivers, for everything from printers and faxes to cell phones and Web cams.\
The twisted part of all of this, is that bricks and mortar retailers, as you read this, are busily putting their massive marketing power behind media-wide advertising campaigns to convince you to buy something they knew years in advance wasn’t going to work properly for the vast majority of their own customers.
In my experience of this past week, I can honestly tell you that I tried and tried again to find something to like about the whole experiment. But the only way I can best sum up, is to underline and not for the last time, how relieved I am to finally come back to Apple Mac OS X.
Coming soon, a week with Ubuntu Linux. Wish me luck!