Tag Archives: Windows Vista

XP and the User’s Loss of Nerve

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Poor old Microsoft. They’ve had to extend the life of XP by offering it as an option to customers buying new hardware for another six months at least. They realise that people aren’t going to buy a Vista machine unless XP—what’s wonderfully called “downgrade media”–comes with it:

“As more customers make the move to Windows Vista, we want to make sure that they are making that transition with confidence and that it is as smooth as possible,” Microsoft said. “Providing downgrade media for a few more months is part of that commitment, as is the Windows Vista Small Business Assurance program, which provides one-on-one, customized support for our small-business customers.”

There’s a deeper issue here: Microsoft is beginning to recognise that no longer is there any appetite for users to upgrade operating systems themselves. Remember those lines around the block for Windows 3.1, 95, 98 and XP? Well, OK, maybe not all of them, but according to Wikipedia the fanfare surrounding the release of Windows 95 would nowadays be reserved for the ending of a major war. Or the launch of an iPhone, I guess.

Now we’re only interested in software upgrades if it’s a hardware upgrade. If then.

To be fair, I suspect this isn’t just the fault of Vista. I think a few other things have changed:

  • we’re less excited by software these days. Hardware we can get excited about, but as the proportion of people using technology has grown, the appetite for tweaking that technology has shrunk. Apple understand this, which is why they merge hardware and software, something Microsoft’s Balmer still doesn’t get.
  • Part of this is that I don’t think we believe our computers will do the things we think they will anymore. We drank the kool aid back then. We really thought the next iteration of an operating system would seriously improve our day. And, for the most part, it didn’t. So we moved on.
  • We’ve learned that our computers are getting too complex, and we trust them less. If it works, we’re happy. We don’t want to tempt fate by changing it. This feeds into security issues: We don’t feel safe online and so if we have any configuration that hasn’t arisen in calls from our bank or weird things popping up on our screen, we don’t want to experiment.

This feeds back to my running theme of recent weeks: The computer is becoming more and more like an appliance. We need it to to work, preferably out of the box. Apple (and the likes of Nokia, up to a point) have shown that to be possible, and so now we increasingly expect it of all our computing devices.

For the record I don’t necessarily think this is a good thing, because a dulled appetite for experimentation and change is never good, but after the ups and downs of the past few years, and the apparent failure of Vista, I can understand it.

In short, we users have lost our nerve.

Windows XP gets another lifeline : News : Software – ZDNet Asia

Photo credit: Bink.nu

Vista – Upgrading Without Dignity

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Calvin & Hobbes, © Universal Press Syndicate. Original work by Bill Watterson. Found via Transmogrifier.org

I’ve often wondered about Windows Vista, and I’m still wondering. Admittedly, I was slow to adopt Windows 3.0, 95, 98 and XP — I think I’ve had too many wasted days upgrading, and am deeply skeptical of the whole “there’s a new operating system out, so let’s buy a new computer” thing, so I know how much pain is involved in installing an operating system. Assume your day is pretty much gone.

So when Microsoft said that part of its impressive quarterly figures were in part down to Vista, I was as gobsmacked as anyone. I don’t know anyone in my (admittedly small) circle who has installed Vista (as opposed to buying a computer with it already on), so I was wondering who all these people are who have bought it? Jason Hiner of TechRepublic wonders too, and writes a good piece taking a look inside.

As he points out, “it looks like there are three primary factors driving Microsoft’s surprising spike in Vista revenue:

  • Worldwide growth (10%) in PC sales, featuring Vista on over 90% of them
  • Consumers buying the higher-priced Home Premium and Ultimate versions of Vista
  • Businesses signing general licensing agreements that include Vista (future-proofing their PCs for if and when they deploy Vista)”

But as Jason puts it, this is not quite as impressive as it could be. Unless you really know what you’re doing, you’re unlikely to opt for an XP-installed PC if you’re offered the choice in a shop, especially with all the whiz-bank eye-candy of Vista and heavy breathing from the sales dude salivating on your collar. The truth is that we don’t really have any choice about upgrading in the long run. It’s like Calvin being forced to have a bath; we know we have to and we know we will, but that doesn’t mean we’ll do it until all other avenues are exhausted.

“These developments,” Jason says, “are not a ringing endorsement of Windows Vista. They merely make it a melancholy inevitability.”

» Sanity check: The truth about Windows Vista adoption in 2007 | Tech Sanity Check | TechRepublic.com

The Gecko in the Machine

 (This is the text of my weekly Loose Wire Service column, syndicated to newspapers like The Jakarta Post. If you’re an editor interested in subscribing to the service, drop me a line. Regular readers of the blog, meanwhile, will be familiar with some of the themes here)

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I found myself reading the words of one Timo Veikkola one morning.

Frankly, before then I did not know that Timo existed, although I do know of his colleague at Nokia, Jan Chipchase. Not only do these men have far more interesting names than I, they also have far more interesting jobs: peering into the way we use technology and how we might use it in the future.

But this column isn’t about them. It’s about you and your computer. Timo and Jan made me realize that often we focus on the minutiae of computing, as if that’s where the whole thing stops.

It’s as if we’re car owners who blame the car for our being stuck in traffic. It’s worth remembering that if we are not happy with our computers, it’s not all the computer’s fault.

First off, I can understand why you’re frustrated. Computers don’t work very well (though a lot of Mac users, and even Windows Vista users, convince themselves that their particular computers do). The truth is they don’t, because computers don’t help us think better.

They are merely tools, when they should be more than that. They help us send e-mails. They help us download and listen to music. They help us draft long resignation letters we never send. They help us crunch numbers.

All of this would make the early developers of the computer initially excited (“All that computing power in the head of a pin! Back in my day we had to make do with the computing power of a toilet brush in a box the size of Angkor Wat”). They were also, quickly, disappointed (“So everyone has these computers in their homes, bags and hands, and they do WHAT with them?”).

But it needn’t be like that. Computers can be used for good stuff. Here’s how:

* Collecting stuff: Computer hard drives are big enough now for you not to worry about storing stuff (unless you take 5,000 videos and photos a day, in which case you may want to consider an external hard drive or six.)

The trick about collecting stuff — whether it’s words, pictures or audio — is to organize it. After all, you want to find it again quickly. So, if you’re not a Mac user (who has Spotlight) install Google Desktop, which will index your hard drive and let you find stuff as easily as if it were on the Web.

But that shouldn’t be an alternative to organizing your stuff. Each batch of photos you store on your computer should have its own folder, usually organizing by date (for example, 20070722 as today’s date is best).

If you’re saving information you find on the web, save it to one place. I use something called MyInfo, an outlining program that includes a button you can install in your Firefox browser, which makes it very easy to save anything you read online.

* Brainstorming: there are some great tools out there to help you brainstorm, but in my view the best are those that bring mind mapping to the computer. (A mind map is a drawing where the central idea is put at the center of the piece of paper, and other ideas are added to it, floating off like branches.)

If you’ve not done mind maps I recommend them; if you’re a big computer user then it makes sense to do them on your computer. (Mindjet’s MindManager works on both Macs and Windows; for Mac users there’s also NovaMind, which looks promising.)

* Think stuff up: The computer won’t think for you, but it will do the next best thing — help you recall things you forgot. You’re probably aware of the fact that however smart you are you won’t be able to remember what you want into the kitchen to get. Most of what we do, read, hear and say is forgotten within minutes. This is where the computer can help.

But whereas it’s great about storing stuff, it’s not good at recalling things that we don’t know we knew. Search is great if we know what we’re looking for, but for that tip-of-the-tongue stuff I’d recommend something else: PersonalBrain.

PersonalBrain is a program that I have bored my friends with for several months now — it works on Mac, Linux and Windows, and has a free version available.

It looks odd, and will take some getting used to, but think of it as a place to throw everything you know into. You add “thoughts” and then you link those thoughts to other thoughts: The more the merrier.

For Timo Veikkola (the Nokia guy) I added a thought called “Timo’s predictions” and “Timo’s ideas”. To the latter I added all the ideas I liked, including one “travel is the best stimulant”.

This is something I know but I keep forgetting. So I linked that to another thought I had elsewhere in my PersonalBrain called “Guiding principles”.

Already linked to that thought were a bunch of ideas I had added (and promptly forgotten about) which, together, form a philosophy of sorts (if you call “Don’t write columns like this before your morning coffee because they won’t make any sense” a philosophy.)

Put simply, the brain works not by hierarchy, but by connections. We watch a movie and it reminds us we haven’t sent a letter to Auntie Marge. We find a website we like but it looks vaguely familiar: We don’t realize we actually visited the same website two days ago. We are looking for a friend in Nongkhai but can’t think of anybody, forgetting that Bob used to work there five years ago.

PersonalBrain helps you add this data when it first hits you and, more importantly, map its connections to other things so that you can find them again when you need them. When I add my friend Bob to my PersonalBrain, for example, I can link him not only to my other friends, but also to the places he’s worked at, the places he’s lived in — anything that may increase the chances of his name popping up when I might need him, but when I might not have thought of it.

PersonalBrain is the kind of software that makes you realize a) You spend way too much time using your computer to watch YouTube videos; and b) Your brain may be big, but you can’t remember anything that happened more than 30 seconds ago.

So, grumble as much as you like about your computer and what pain it causes you. But then set your sights higher and turn it into something that really complements you and the way you do things.

Vista: Preloaded With Gunk

My colleague Walt Mossberg writes a scathing piece about preloaded Vista machines; definitely worth a read. I’m trying installing Vista on a virgin machine, and the experience isn’t much better so far.

clipped from ptech.wsj.com

I have set up many computers over the years, so I wasn’t shocked that the out-of-box experience was less than ideal. Still, I was struck by just how irritating it was to get going with the new Sony Vaio SZ laptop I bought about 10 days ago. It was the first new Windows machine I’d bought in a few years, because I had been waiting for Microsoft’s new Windows Vista operating system. I was amazed that the initial experience is still a big hassle.

Fripp, Eno and the Microsoft Sound

I don’t know whether to be delighted or depressed, but it seems many of my musical heroes are now writing music for computers. And it’s emerging as something of an art form in itself.

Robert Fripp, for example, is doing the music for the Windows Vista startup sound, as part of an 18 month project, according to this AP piece, to create good sounds for the software:

Fripp, best known for his work with the ’70s rock band King Crimson, recorded hours of his signature layered, guitar-driven sound for the project, under the close direction of Ball and others at Microsoft. Then, it was Ball’s job to sort through those hours of live recordings to suss out just the right few seconds.

You can hear the start-up clip there, and I have to confess it sounds lame. Perhaps it’s not the finished product but it doesn’t sound like Fripp. Scoble seems to agree, saying the final product is a version with very little of Fripp in there :

I was there while he was recording this, and I TOTALLY agree. You should have heard the raw sounds while they were being recorded. He did THOUSANDS of iterations.

In fact the sounds Fripp makes in that video are a piece in themselves.

The challenge they set for themselves is a tough one. Jim Allchin at the Windows Vista Blog says the startup sound

  • is made of dual ascending ‘glassy’ melodies played on top of a gentle fading Fripp ‘AERO’ Soundscape
  • has two parallel melodies played in an intentional “Win-dows Vis-ta” rhythm
  • consists of 4 chords, one for each color in the Windows flag
  • is ~4 seconds long, end-to-end
  • is a collaboration between contributors Robert Fripp (primary melody + Soundscape), Tucker Martine (rhythm) and Steve Ball (harmony and final orchestration)

Indeed, it was Brian Eno, another hero of mine, who recorded the music for Windows 95. If you’ve forgotten what it sounds like, it’s here, and now I realise why I love it. Eno found himself enjoying the limitations set for him and it triggered a creative spurt. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Brian Eno from The SF Chronicle explaining how he came about to compose the music:

Q: How did you come to compose “The Microsoft Sound”?

A: The idea came up at the time when I was completely bereft of ideas. I’d been working on my own music for a while and was quite lost, actually. And I really appreciated someone coming along and saying, “Here’s a specific problem — solve it.”

The thing from the agency said, “We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah- blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional,” this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said “and it must be 3 1/4 seconds long.”

I thought this was so funny and an amazing thought to actually try to make a little piece of music. It’s like making a tiny little jewel.

In fact, I made 84 pieces. I got completely into this world of tiny, tiny little pieces of music. I was so sensitive to microseconds at the end of this that it really broke a logjam in my own work. Then when I’d finished that and I went back to working with pieces that were like three minutes long, it seemed like oceans of time.

According to the Music thing blog, Eno was paid $35,000 for the sound. What I’ve not been able to find out is who did the music for Windows 98, Windows Me and Windows XP. One rumor in the comments to the Music thing blog posting is that

The story I was given by an Microsoftie was that Eno set up the contract to be paid royalties for playing it, meaning that Microsoft’s attempts to use the sound for branding purposes in a commercial would mean royalty checks sent to Eno for each person that heard the sound (not merely hearing as the machine booted up). Way more expensive than the initial $35,000 payment.

Next time around for Win98, Microsoft farmed out the splash sound to an internal sound production crew. 🙂

I’ve no idea whether that’s true. I’ll try to find out. Of course, it’s not just system sounds that big musical names are getting involved with. Ryuichi Sakamoto, another god, has been recording ringtones for Nokia’s high end 8800. You can hear some of the sounds here. And Sakamoto’s most recent collaborator, Alva Noto (Carsten Nicolai), has offered up some ringtones of his own, which you can download as a ZIP file (go to the music page.)

I think that’s a cooler idea. How about David Sylvian, Bill Nelson, Thom Brennan and Tim Story put together their own collections of sounds for Windows, Macs and cellphones? I’d buy ’em.

Windows. How Much Pain Can You Take?

If you’re still happy with your Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Millennium Edition then you’re on your own. Microsoft won’t help you out after July 11, 2006, when it ends public and technical support. This doesn’t just mean not having someone to talk to on the phone. It means no more security updates, too, effectively rendering these operating systems useless. It’s a bit like Mad Max shoving the weak and helpless members of the Thunderdome community out beyond the gates at the mercy of those really ugly people whose name I can’t remember. Maybe they didn’t have a name. Maybe this analogy isn’t as good as I thought it was when I started writing it.

Anyway. Microsoft says it is “is ending support for these products because they are outdated and these older operating systems can expose customers to security risks.” Well, yes, but isn’t this because you’re not updating them anymore?  “We recommend,” Microsoft goes on, “that customers who are still running Windows 98 or Windows Me upgrade to a newer, more secure Microsoft operating system, such as Windows XP, as soon as possible.” Of course it’s natural to suggest your latest product is the best one, but it always makes me chuckle when Microsoft say this. You can almost hear their salesmen at work with recalcitrant customers:

“Why did you buy Windows 98? What were you thinking?”
“Well, at the time you said it was great. You said it was the best thing ever.”
“That was then, buddy, this is now. Now it’s the worst thing ever, and you should get our best operating system ever, namely XP, right up until Vista is ready and it becomes the worst thing ever. Then you should buy Vista, which by then will be …”
“The best thing ever?”
“You got it.”
“Shouldn’t I wait for Vista, then?”
“I wouldn’t do that, buddy.”
“Why not?”
“Well, er, frankly we’re not sure when it’s coming out.”
“So you know when products die, but you don’t know when new ones are coming out.”
“That’s right. So you want this XP or not?”

Actually, there are lots of things going on here. There’s the fact that people are so excited about Web applications — programs you run from your browser, rather than as a bigger separate program — that there’s a question mark about the need for Windows. You can run a Web application from any operating system (and most browsers.) And even if you are using Windows, it doesn’t really matter which one — it won’t really improve the quality of the Web application you’re using. So if you can’t get the user excited about the operating system, at least you can get them scared about security. That might prod them to upgrade.

There’s also the fact that operating systems just aren’t as exciting as they used to be anymore. Windows 95 had people queueing up around the block. Since then users have had to be bullied, enticed and scared into upgrading. Sure, XP is better than 98. Actually a lot better. But better for who? For what? A lot of folk, it seems, are still quite happy with Windows 98. If you’re using a computer more than 5 years old, it makes more sense to use 98, because XP will limp along. If you have an office full of computers, you might not want to splash out on XP licenses for all of them, in which case 98 makes sense too. If you’re the kind of person that just doesn’t feel the crazy urge to throw away your computer every few years, chances are you’re still using Windows 98. In fact, according to anecdote, there are still a lot of them out there. They don’t tend to show up in statistics because they’re not often, or at all, on the Internet. (Think old folk; think fixed incomes; think people who aren’t gaga over the whole Web 2.0 thang as we are.)

Then there’s my own pet theory. Most people don’t install operating systems. They just buy a new computer with it already installed. So: Hardware manufacturers are so upset that Vista won’t be out for Christmas — meaning that millions of people won’t bother buying a new computer then because there’s no new operating system to run it — that Microsoft decided to retire 98, Me and all the other slowcoaches, knowing that people won’t “upgrade” their software, they’ll upgrade their computer.

Microsoft has tried to shove Windows 98, and Me (not me, but Windows Me, the operating system) out to the knackers’ yard before. In early 2004 they backed off retiring support for these versions of Windows hoping to keep customers from wandering across the street to Linux. One piece on ZDNet back then quoted a Microsoft senior marketing manager as saying of customers, and I quote: “The more they are used to working one way, the more [it is] likely they will want to continue working that way, so it plays to our advantage. If they move to another operating system, they will need to rethink and relearn. For some people, that is painful. This is also why so many people are resisting an upgrade from Windows 98.” I love this argument. Turns out it’s all about pain. “Our software is so hard to figure out,” the pitch goes, “it actually causes our users pain. We’re counting on this pain to keep our customers. Do you want our pain or someone else’s pain? We’re going to get them hooked, and then they figure the pain they’re used to is better than the pain they’re not. Of course one day we’ll make it impossible for them not upgrade, but by then they’ll be so used to the pain, they would prefer a little extra pain than to switch to another vendor. Which would cause them even more pain.”

That day has come. Paid incident support and critical security updates for Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Me will end on July 11, 2006. No other security updates will follow after this date. You’re on your own, buddy.  Good luck out there.

98P.S. Actually, not entirely. There is a Microsoft web page that is dedicated to Windows 98 users. But it hasn’t been updated since October 31, 2002, and is it a coincidence that the only photo on that page is of someone in a d’oh moment, where it looks like they just lost all their files or had a major security breach on their Windows 98 computer? Talk about subliminal messages.

 
 
 
 

TaskTracker’s Virtual Folders

Interesting how different people get different things from the same software. I love TaskTracker (and listed it in my top 10 programs) because it remembers what files I’ve been using, even if I don’t. Makes finding something real easy. But one reader gets something quite different from its latest incarnation:

…much more useful on a daily basis is TaskTracker because of its Virtual Folder feature. I work on numerous projects simultaneously, drawing files from my long-standing Windows Explorer hierarchial folder arrangement. TT’s file lists enables me to drag shortcuts to those files into Virtual Folders. The Virtual Folders can be converted to permanent folders thereby maintaining all the project references in one file. If the project is a bust, just delete the Virtual Folder. None of the ‘original’ files are disturbed.

I must confess I don’t use that feature very much, but maybe I should.

Killing The XP Crash Message

Nothing new here, but I figured worth passing a tip from Annoyances.org for those of you who want to stop Windows XP from asking if you want to send a report to Microsoft whenever a program crashes.

Annoyances.org offers the following:

* Open System in the Control Panel (or right-click on the My Computer icon and select Properties.
* Choose the Advanced tab, and click Error Reporting.
* You can disable error reporting entirely here, or enable it selectively for certain programs. Click Ok when you’re done.

Voila.

TaskTracker Branches Out

Just been chatting with Michael M Ross, the man behind TaskTracker, software I’ve recommended several times here (it’s on the list to the left of this post) and in the column. It’s Real Useful Software in that you save time, you don’t waste time trying to figure it out, and in the end it all seems really, really logical. Oh and it’s free.

Well, not quite free anymore. Michael has just released version 1.1 and is now charging $25 for it after offering it as freeware and then donationware. Which is cheap, and you should buy if you can afford it, but Michael tells me that if you don’t the program won’t actually stop working, it will just nag you a bit more than it would otherwise.

Version 1.1 includes some nifty new features which are worth checking out. One allows you to automatically review images within TaskTracker; another ensures that loading the program doesn’t take too long (by only adding newer files and validating older ones) and, most intriguingly, ‘virtual folders’ which Michael says is in its early stages, but which I think could really go places.

Virtual Folders are collections of files you want to keep in one place. A small window appears — which then allows you to add a folder, and to drag files of any type from the TaskTracker list into it. The files themselves aren’t moved, but as long as those files exist on your computer, the virtual folders will keep them in their list, making it easy to get to stuff, irrespective of what kind of file they are. So if you’re working on a project, for example, you could keep all the bits and pieces in one virtual folder without ever having to root around in subfolders or Windows Explorer. Sort of WinFS without the Long (horn) wait.