My Windows Experience

I bought my first PC in 1994. It ran both DOS and Windows 3.1. Over the next few months, I’d install more RAM, a modem and a CD-ROM.

Although I justified my purchase by telling myself I’d no longer have to rely on the computers at the library at the University of Utah, my computer wasn’t used for much outside of a playing Links Golf and Doom.

Until Windows 95.

The release of Windows 95 coincided with a time of great interest in connecting to the internet. But doing so wasn’t easy. The user had to gather settings from their ISP and then enter those settings into Windows. It was anything but intuitive.

But Windows 95 cemented Microsoft’s grip on the desktop. If you wanted to run the largest array of applications, games or utilities you ran Windows. And that’s exactly what I did for two decades. I learned about drivers, the registry, file extensions, and printers. Oh man, did I learn about printers.

I stuck with Windows through the good (XP, 7) and bad (ME, Vista). And then Window 8 happened.

So much has been written about Windows 8. The only thing I have to add is that it was not built for traditional desktop users like me. It feels like an operating system build for tablets. Or maybe phones. I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.

We still have three PCs at our home. As recent as six months ago, all three were used for hours each day. But that’s no longer the case. I still spend most of my day on a PC running Windows 8. It works for the most part. Unless I need to print a document. Or try to search the Windows Store.

A month ago I bought a MacBook Pro, and a strange thing happened: my role as family IT manager came to an end.

The Mac belongs to my spouse, and I assumed it would come with a learning curve. I assumed I’d be called on support it daily, like I’ve done with her Windows PCs for years. But that hasn’t been the case at all. Her Windows 8 PC now collects dusts while her Mac just works.

I want to see the PC prosper. I know Microsoft wants their Surface tablet and Windows Phone to prosper, but they no longer seem interested in the traditional desktop PC.

Maybe Windows 9 will change my mind. But my patience is waning. So much so that this is my first blog post written on a Mac.

Microsoft Execs Burned by Windows Vista

I’m glad I wasn’t the only person who felt burned by Vista when it first launched. I’ve written about my problems running Vista on three fairly new machines and the various problems I encountered. My problems ranged from printers and DVD drives not working to various performance and instability problems.

It’s great to see several Microsoft executives also ran into the same problems and emailed Microsoft CEO, Steve Balmer, to complain.

One executive, Mike Nash, complained he was “burned” so badly by compatibility issues he was left with “a $2100 email machine”.

Steven Sinofsky, the Microsoft executive in charge of Windows, struggled to even get his home printer working with Vista. In an email to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in February last year, Sinofsky outlined reasons why Vista struggled at launch.

He said hardware and software vendors never “really believed we would ever ship [Vista] so they didn’t start the work [on updated drivers] until very late in 2006”.

“People who rely on using all the features of their hardware (like Jon’s Nikon scanner) will not see availability for some time, if ever, depending on the [manufacturer],” Sinofsky wrote.

Ballmer responded with a terse “Righto”.

The “Jon” referred to is Microsoft board member and its former chief operating officer Jon Shirley, who experienced compatibility problems with his Epson printer and scanner and his Nikon film scanner.

You’ve got to love Balmer’s response! Do you think this is a guy who cares about those people who purchased Vista and ran into problems? If he doesn’t care about someone like Jon Shirley, who can certainly afford to upgrade his hardware, I doubt he cares much about the rest of us. The people I know who work for Microsoft DO CARE about their customers, and I’m sure is disheartening to hear such a flippant response from the CEO.

Here’s my take on Vista: The only reason to run Vista is if you purchase a brand new machine and Vista comes standard on your model. I’m running Vista on a new Lenovo X61 without any problems. But I’d strongly recommend sticking with XP on anything else. I run XP at home and Vista at work and I notice very little difference. Both are fairly stable with my XP machine feeling a little faster as desktops usually are. I like how Vista handles pictures, but there are enough annoyances to frustrate power users. I see no need to move to Vista if you’re happy with XP.

Link to full article

Strange Windows Error Message

Before I could install updated drivers for my Creative X-Fi soundcard this evening, I had to reboot my Windows XP machine. When I tried doing so, Windows popped up this error message and wouldn’t let me reboot my machine!

winwrror

I have no idea what “long operation” Windows is referring to and firing up the Task Manager wasn’t any help in uncovering it.  And if I don’t know what it’s called I certainly can’t CANCEL IT.

Maybe XP is still upset I left her for Vista for a few months before regaining my sanity and returning home to XP.

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TWIT crew still bashing Vista

I listened to This Week in Tech on the way into work today and Leo and the gang were still trashing Windows Vista. Leo called it “this generation’s ME” in reference to the ill-fated Windows ME release just over eight years ago. When Vista first came out, I believe liked it quite a bit. Patrick Norton and taken shots at Vista for months though. But now it seems like the entire TWIT crew hates Vista.

Tonight I came across Todd Bishop’s Microsoft Blog which displays the sales pitch one computer shop is using to pull in business.

Several friends have mentioned that installing Vista SP1 has fixed a few problems, but I’m happy with my XP Pro install. I can’t think of a single reason to move to Vista while I can think of many reasons not to including speed and stability. Since when is a slower machine an “upgrade”?

When was the last time a major software release was met with so much disdain? Are you running Vista or have you decided to stick with XP? Or did you bail on Windows and move to the Mac or Linux?

Are the days of the major operating system upgrade over?

It’s hard to read blogs or talks to friends without hearing of the horror stories many are experiencing by upgrading to the latest operating systems from Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft was first on the scene with Windows Vista which arrived with much fanfare, mostly due to its interface overhaul. But once Vista hit store shelves, the complaints started rolling in about everything from it’s hefty hardware requirements to its crippling DRM and UAC.

And now Apple appears to be following in very similar footsteps with all sorts of problems of its own. Upgrades that went awry to screen lockups to expensive hardware and software upgrades appear to be the norm for major operating system upgrades these days.

Which leads me to ask this question: Do we really need major OS upgrades anymore?

Going back to the Windows 3.1/95/98 days, one of the major reasons to upgrade to the latest OS was enhanced stability. Microsoft didn’t always refer to it so directly, but many users forked over the hundred bucks with the hope their system would require fewer reboots and the dreaded BSOD would disappear.

One could argue that system stability on the PC was reached when Windows 2000 was launched. But since it wasn’t marketed to home users, Windows XP is usually the operation system with which most home users experienced prolonged stability. Given that I can go weeks without rebooting my Windows XP machine, I have to ask myself why I’d be willing to put up with the hassle of upgrading to Vista when so many people are having bad experiences with it. I ran Vista for over six months and came to appreciate a few nice, fringe features like a more robust search, thumbnail preview, and better backup options. But along with the good came some bad like UAC, resource hogging Sidebar, sketchy driver support and a UI that feels like a cheap skin from Wincustomize.

I hope one day we get to the point where the OS fades into the background. When I pick up my phone to make a call, I don’t care one bit what software my phone company is running. I just want my phone company to connect the call. The same goes for my OS. I really don’t care what runs in the background as long as I can burn a DVD, watch a movie or write an email when I need to. The less time I spend mucking around with my OS, the better. Windows XP works for me in this manner about 95% of the time. Sure, I wish it included a few of the Vista features, but the hassle isn’t worth the upgrade. And several of the so-called Vista features are available to download for free (IE 7, Windows Live Gallery). Maybe down the road Microsoft will bridge that 5% reliability gap and I’ll upgrade. But for now, the hassle overweighs the benefits.

I learned my lesson by trying to run Vista RTM for a few months before going back to XP. Many of my friends (even some who work at MSFT) have quietly moved back to XP after battling Vista for the past year. And it’s not just frustrated Vista users. I’m hearing the similar complaints about Leopard as some users revert back to Tiger. Maybe this signals the end of the major OS upgrade. Maybe we’ve reached the point where XP and Tiger provide a level of stability that puts the focus back on getting things done instead of constant OS babysitting.

Do we really need another major OS upgrade? I don’t think we do.

Update: Oliver Rist from PC Magazine calls Leopard “the new Vista”.

My Windows XP Desktop

I don’t believe I’m giving up anything in the way of elegance by not running Vista. This is XP with the Zune theme. I don’t keep files or a ton of folders on my desktop. I’m a minimalist who is a bit fanatical when it comes to keeping my computer organized and optimized.

I’m using UltraMon to manage the dual monitors. I also use Google Desktop Sidebar which I’ve hidden in the picture below. It does what the Vista Sidebar does doesn’t use much memory.

DesktopXP

Another great product from the Windows Live Team: Photo Gallery

If I were ever to return to work for Microsoft, one of the first groups I’d look at is the Windows Live Group because they are putting out some of the best Microsoft products I’ve used in years. While Vista, Office and Xbox titles garner the lion’s share of press, the Windows Live group continues to churn out great products such as Live Messenger and Live Writer. They don’t receive the hype of Vista but they are far better products in my experience. Vista works the way Microsoft dictates you should work while Windows Live products work the way I work.

In spite of my many problems with Vista one feature I liked was the way it handled photos. When I moved back to XP I decided to install Google’s Picasa Photo Organizer which does a nice job as well. Over time, it felt a bit too tied into Google’s other properties. I was happy to hear that Microsoft decided to offer the same photo management application found on Vista to XP users through a program called Live Photo Gallery.

In just a few seconds, I was able to import over 17,000 pictures into Photo Gallery’s database. The picture below depicts the folder view. I can also view by tags or data taken.
screen_2007-10-28 00.34.19

Tell Photo Gallery what folders to watch and it automatically loads your pictures into its database making it easy to tag, search, view and publish. It also includes several basic editing tools similar to those found in Picasa. My experience so far has proven to me that there are still groups at Microsoft who are passionate about end users. Photo Gallery is incredibly intuitive and works the way I work. It doesn’t try to replace more powerful programs like Photoshop. It’s primary a photo viewer with a few simple tools tossed in to round out the offering. But what it sets out to do, it does very well and it worth a test run even if you’ve happy with Picasa or another photo management product.

Kudos to the Windows Live team for creating yet another great product. Picasa comes off my machine tonight.