21 March 2007

Mediocratic Microsoft

My experiences with Microsoft products have mostly been fairly good. Although the company (like many others) has a tendency to do updates more often than necessary, and to add more bells and whistles than is optimal.

However, I wonder whether Gatescorp is succumbing to the mediocratic virus.

I've been helping a colleague get used to her new PC, which came bundled with Windows Vista, the latest version of Microsoft Windows. Her previous PC had Windows XP. Two things (so far) have struck me as pretty damn unsatisfactory.

1) Her Hewlett Packard printer/scanner, which is a fairly recent model, wouldn't work with Vista. When I tried downloading a driver, I was told by the HP site "Driver not yet available. Should be available March 2007." (It was March 2007.) Now surely MS shouldn't release a new version of its operating system until it has ensured it's downwardly compatible with all existing products, especially those from major suppliers such as HP?

2) Several emails in her inbox cannot be deleted. Windows Mail reports an "unknown problem" and directs you to the MS support site. Where someone, who appears to be MS-authorised, advises in one of the threads (which you have to search through to find the relevant one) that the solution is to use the command prompt and instruct your PC to reorganise the mail files. And that it probably shouldn't be necessary to delete all your mail files. What??? You have got to be kidding me.

Do you try to do things perfectly, or do you aim for "99% error-free"? Looks like MS have started to pick the mediocratic option. Let's hope for all our sakes other major corporate players like British Airways don't follow suit.


Paul said...

Yeah, I had similar problems getting Vista to behave on my brother's new laptop.

"Looks like MS have started to pick the mediocratic option."

I think really that they opted for it pretty much at the beginning. My own experience with the various Windows rehashes haven't been particularly pleasurable. I've long since given up on using anything by Microsoft on my machine at home, though unfortunately all my work still requires it.

However, there's hope --- a decade or so ago, I began to get interested in Linux. I summoned the nerve to install it on my computer at home, and in time found myself using it more than Windows. Now I run Linux exclusively: I can't recall the last time I booted into Windows.

Of course Linux does have a bit of a reputation for being tougher to master than Windows, but really it's not so difficult. And you'll have a machine which is ultra-stable, secure and fast (if you pick a bloat-free distribution). I imagine you wouldn't have much trouble getting it all up and running, Fabian. With a dual-boot system, you can try out Linux whilst retaining your previous Windows setup, allowing you to make the learning curve as steep or shallow as you like. (UNIX does take some getting used to --- although I'd guess you used it when you were at the Cavendish, no?)

My apologies, by the way, if you do already use Linux!

Graeme said...

Just one thing to add to what Paul says. The main difficulty with Linux is that most people install it themselves, rather than getting pre-installed on their PC.

Fortunately, PCs with Linux pre-installed are becoming available. The only UK retailer with a decent range seems to be Efficient PC. The Americans have a wider choice with the likes of System 76

Once installed, it is not more difficult to use. I have installed Linux (usually Kubuntu) for a number of people so this is based on experience.

Paul said...

"The main difficulty with Linux is that most people install it themselves, rather than getting pre-installed on their PC."

Yes, I should perhaps have expanded on that a bit: there are a couple of options.

The most common practice is to install it in some unused space on the hard drive used for Windows. This requires a number of free partitions on the drive, which usually means repartitioning: a backup is made of the existing (Windows) installation, the disk is repartitioned, and Windows is reinstalled on one or more of the new partitions, before installing Linux on the others. Alternatively, instead of reinstalling Windows, one can use a non-destructive partitioning program like Partition Magic (costs about twenty-five quid). Backups are still advised, though!

The other option (less hassle) is to put a second hard drive in the machine and use it as a dedicated Linux drive. A 20GB drive by a decent manufacturer (Quantum/Seagate) will cost you about thirty quid.

There is also the option of running Linux straight from a CD/DVD, though this isn't as satisfactory as having a proper installation. These "Live" CDs are really useful only to see what a given Linux distribution looks like (not really as a substitute for installing Linux on your hard drive).

"Once installed, it is not more difficult to use. I have installed Linux (usually Kubuntu) for a number of people so this is based on experience."

Interesting --- were these people very IT-literate, or just ordinary Windows users? I ask because I'm forever having to sort out people's Windows nightmares, and I wonder whether it might be easier just to start some of them up with Linux. Do you find Kubuntu particularly user-friendly? I don't use it myself, although I did install Ubuntu on one of my pieces of salvaged junk and turned it into a nifty little gateway/firewall/webserver. By the way, Fabian, if you're interested, you can get older versions of Ubuntu sent to you free here. Slackware's still my favourite, though.

Graeme said...

Not very IT literate, pretty typical for people who had been using Windows for a few years. The last was the principal of my daughter's pre-school.

My major experience was myself and three other people using Mandriva in a small office environment for two years. It worked very well for us.

I give people Kubuntu because I think KDE is an easier transition for user familiar with Windows because you can discover functionality by exploring the GUI. The easy software installation (as long as it is in the repo!) also gives then an immediate clear win over Windows. Mandriva is also very nice (Iued to use it), but you have to either pay for access to their repo, or manually configure a free one.

Incidentally, my wife now finds it hard to adjust back to Windows when she has to. She would be a wonderful example of a non IT literate user switching. Her total experience before using Linux was using a trading system and a DOS accounts system at work, and about four years of using Word, some email clients, and web browsers at home. Of course, she had me helping her and I do the admin on our PCs.

Incidentally, to expand on what you said again, Ubuntu sends people version 6.06 free, this is designed for people who do not want cutting edge technology or frequent upgrades. The other current version can be bought or downloaded free.

Paul said...

Thanks for the reply, Graeme: interesting to hear about your wife's switch to Linux. When my dear old Ma declared last year that she wished to join the information revolution (she wanted to send somebody an e-mail), I was initially going to set her up on "user-friendly" Windows.

However, I thought twice, and (not without some trepidation) opted for Linux: after the expected initial instructional difficulties, she was away! And the system (running on an old Pentium II) worked like a dream --- faster than my brother's bloat-addled P4/XP system. As far as she's concerned, computers don't hang, crash, get viruses or bombard you with pop-ups. And I've stuck loads of software on it, yet it runs just as quickly as the day Linux was installed. Which is jolly well as it should be.

...By the way, another option I forgot to mention, Fabian, would be to test-drive Linux on an old unused computer: I don't know whether you (or someone you know) has an obsolete PC lying around gathering dust, but a 300MHz PII will happily run one of the leaner distributions (not Fedora/Mandriva/etc.).

Roger Thornhill said...

Get a Mac. It runs UNIX, runs OSX and can also either boot into Windows or run simultaneously using Parallels.

People tend to use Windows for either or both the following reasons:

1. Their customers or work environment demands it
2. They know of nothing else.

You are right in that Windows is utterly Mediocratic.

Paul said...

Roger's comment about Parallels reminded me about WINE, which does the same job (though in a different way) on a Linux box. (WINE re-implements the Windows API whereas Parallels --- I believe --- runs a virtual machine.) You can download WINE free for Linux, but there is also a commercially available version (called Crossover) for Macs.

I (and I'm sure everyone else) would be interested to hear of your progress and your findings. Good luck!