Best Version of Windows Ever

Sorry to be negative on a Monday, but when the lede on reviews of Windows 7 is “best version ever”, that is very bad news. That is the buzz for a service pack, not for a major release. Is it news that it didn’t get worse?

“Best version ever” is not even as strong as “sucks less”. It might mean there is some groovy new feature you will never use. For example, explain to me how “aero shake” is better than Option-Command-H. Shaking titlebars with the mouse multiple times a day? I can feel my wrist hurt already.

Ten years ago, I was a full-time Windows NT developer, running our local Primary Domain Controller (so Infoseek could have ClearCase on Windows). Since then, it’s been all Unix and Mac. For the past six weeks, I’ve been using Windows Vista on a fairly new laptop. I’m really amazed at the current state of Windows. I thought it would be better after a decade.

For comparison, I’ll go through the steps needed when I get back to my cube and want to open my laptop and get back to work.

Mac OS X:

  1. Plug in the power and mouse.
  2. Open the laptop.
  3. Wait two seconds.
  4. If you have password locking, type your password.
  5. Do work. Total time, under 10 seconds.

No wasted motion. Everything you do is essential and the waits are minimal.

Windows Vista SP1 on an HP 6910:

  1. Plug in the power and mouse.
  2. Open the laptop.
  3. Look at the hard-to-see green power light to see whether the battery has run down to zero. The light flashes pretty slowly and isn’t very bright, so you’ll have to lean over to see it.
  4. Remember that it doesn’t matter, and click the power button.
  5. Wait a while.
  6. The screen says to press Ctrl+Alt+Del, so do that.
  7. It ignores the keypress (because it put up the screen before the keyboard driver was ready?), so do Ctrl+Alt+Del again.
  8. Move the mouse to choose from the three options for authentication.
  9. Oops, the mouse doesn’t work yet, so use the trackpad to select the password option.
  10. Type your password.
  11. Wait some more.
  12. Do work (the mouse works now). Total time, probably a minute and a half.

Ever wonder why people carry their Windows laptop around half-open?

You can’t go get coffee during that time, because you have to keep checking and clicking or typing. There is a flashing light that doesn’t change what you do. The UI even lies, telling you to type something when it isn’t listening. Why would someone think it is OK to release this?

Plenty of other things waste my time. Software installs still need a restart. I couldn’t find a way to hide a window using the keyboard. Printing blocks all input to applications (unchanged from Windows 3.1). I can’t switch from Reply to Reply All once I’ve started a message in Outlook (have to copy the text, close the window, start new message, paste the text). In Firefox, Ctrl-T (new tab) works some of the time, but not all the time. Battery life is silly, about an hour and a half, unchanged from my Toshiba 486 laptop in the mid-90’s.

There are other places where it actually feels like a step backwards from Windows NT. Applications crash or hang, both Microsoft apps (Outlook) and apps that are rock solid on other platforms (Firefox). What a mess.

Yes, Vista was released a while ago, but the Mac OS X wake from sleep is unchanged since my rev. B Titanium PowerBook in December 2001, so there is no excuse. In fact, the fast wakeup was the major reason I moved from MacOS 9 to X. I hear that Windows 7 has faster wakeup from sleep, but responding to the competition after eight years? Not acceptable.

As icing on the cake, I just opened up the Windows laptop to unpack a Windows-only distribution. I sftp’ed it over, then Windows Explorer greyed out on me and showed the spinning rave ring of death. I waited two minutes, then started trying to kill it. Took three dialog boxes. It’s restarted, but I’m watching the rave ring spin while it tries to run this exe archive. Wish me luck.

Ah, it was checking for viruses, I guess, though it certainly didn’t tell me what it was doing. Now it is (slowly) installing 23 updates when I tried to power it off. I guess I’ll be at work for another fifteen minutes before I can put it back in the drawer. The gift that keeps on giving.

So I’m back to Mac, and not just because it removes dozens of daily annoyances, but for a deeper reason. Using Windows lowers my standards for what is OK to ship. Maybe Microsoft can stay in business shipping this stuff, but I can’t. I actually need to be better than the competition, not just better than my last release.

Note: Troy Wolverton in the SJ Merc used this lede in my sense this morning. He’s more tolerant, but still “underwhelmed”.


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