Saturday, March 03, 2007

Microsoft blues

Back in February Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, blamed the slow sales of the new Microsoft Vista operating system on piracy. If it were only that simple.

People are finding all kinds of problems with Microsoft Vista which simply shouldn't be there. Christopher Null lists six very basic reasons why Vista is a dog in the world of computer operating systems:
1) Price. There's no way around this one. Upgrading to Vista doesn't just mean spending up to $400 on software, but also cash on RAM and video card upgrades, or buying a new PC altogether. If Vista was a $100 upgrade that anyone could use, it'd be a top seller, I'm sure.

Nothing new to see here. Love the visual style, but does photo tagging and 3-D window flipping really merit an upgrade?

It's annoying. I don't know any Vista user who hasn't turned off User Account Control, which nags you with an "Are you sure????" prompt every time you try to do anything beyond run the calculator. Yet UAC is the lynchpin of Vista's baunted new security system. Without it, it's really no different than XP.

Tons of stuff is incompatible with Vista. An acquaintance of mine got a new PC with Vista preinstalled. Neither her scanner nor her printer had Vista drivers ready. Both peripherals cost several hundred bucks, and now they're essentially paperweights (though the printer, at some unforseeable time in the future, may work again). Lots of software won't run on Vista, either, but it's the hardware incompatibilities that are daunting. (Update: Looks like the scanner driver's finally ready.)

It's confusing. Everything that XP could do, Vista can do... only it's buried under a different menu and it has a new name. While average users probably never use many of these settings, power users have found themselves starting from scratch to relearn Windows.

It's busted. Try connecting to a printer on your network that's hooked up to an XP machine. Or try downloading a file with a third-party application and then accessing it via another PC on the network. I won't go into a list of the endless bugs and flaws with the design of Vista, because I don't really have to: Vista needs a Service Pack already.
Can you say Windows Millenium Edition? That was the operating system released by the Gates crew for no other reason than it was the turn of the century. It was still DOS-based and it had a huge flaw: Tons of stuff would not run on ME and any real-mode applications and drivers were incompatible. Windows ME was declared by PC World to be one of the worst five tech products of all time. Windows Vista may soon join that list.

Microsoft has other problems. I have recently been involved in building a fairly straight forward network. All the hiccups of the system aside, there was a requirement to upgrade computers from Windows XP Home to Windows XP Professional. (Something I still do not think was necessary since I can access the network very successfully from an XP Home rig.)

I also have an aversion to "upgrades" of operating systems. It seems there is no such thing as a good upgrade. I have done it in the past only to discover that problems occur farther on down the line and it invariably leads back to the upgrade. It is a far better thing to do a clean install of the entire new operating system.

Sure enough, upgrades have already started to cause problems. I won't get into them, but suffice to say, Gates and Ballmer would have been voted off the island by most of the users of the new network. But, I digress.

On installing the upgrade in one computer it was discovered that the online activation would not work. Various attempts to work around it produced nothing. Worse, there was no activation screen, therefore there was no activation key, so it prevented activating the software by phone.

Onto the phone and call Microsoft product support. Again, one of Microsoft's problems start to appear. Having been bounced from one call-centre to another about three times, and then back to the original, I lost my composure and flat-out told the person, who insisted that I read the activation key to her off the activation screen, that I was getting an error message which immediately ended my "Out of Box Experience". She transfered me to another call centre where I was asked all kinds of things about the box, the CD, the colour of the packaging and the length of my toenails.

Now, I'm no genius when it comes to the internal workings of operating systems. They're enough of a mystery to me to insist that others solve the problems associated with them. But the guy I was speaking to, supposedly a tech, was worse. He had me start reading off the error codes.... number by number. That's a huge quantity of zeros with the occasional integer thrown in to relieve the boredom. After 15 minutes I realized this was going nowhere and announced that I wasn't going to do this anymore.

He asked me what time zone I lived in and, in the event that this call went over shift-change, what would be a convenient time to call back.

There's no need to repeat what I said. He will remember it forever.

I was asked to stay on the line and then put on hold.... for an hour.

When he came back on he asked if the computer had Internet Explorer 7 installed. I look and, golly gee, it sure does. So what?

Well, it appears that having IE7 installed causes a conflict with the XP activation process. Uninstall IE7 and it should all work. Except that I'm no idiot. You can't uninstall IE "anything" without doing serious damage to the operating system. That's one of the reasons Microsoft spent so much time and money in court.

No problem, go into RUN and enter a command which will eliminate IE7 and revert the computer back to a previous, more upgrade activation friendly version. This I do, all the while living in dread that smoke will start to rise from chipset. IE7 removed, I attempt yet another activation.

It worked.

Here's the thing though. The conflict between IE7 and XP activation was a "known issue". It should have been one of the first questions asked when it was apparent that I had a problem. But, no, it took over two and a half hours of talking to call-centres around the globe to resolve something Microsoft has been aware of since the day after they released Internet Explorer version 7.

That makes me wonder about Microsoft and its ability to service the product. If it takes two and a half hours to fault-find a problem with clear symptoms and a known issue, what happens when something really tough happens?

In any case, the whole operation needs an additional computer. If I had my druthers I'd try to find a whole different platform, but alas the applications require a windows-based machine. So, unfortunately it meant turning to the Gates crew again.

The operating system? A clean installed XP. It isn't great, but it's better than Vista.

And Steve Ballmer needs to get off his piracy kick.

No comments: