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ATPM 17.03
March 2011


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by Mark Tennent,

Hasta la Vista, or Maybe Not

A new member joined our retirement home for aging laptops. We now have an Acer Aspire complete with Vista.

This is our first time using Vista with it being so badly received by Windows users who preferred to stay with XP. We can see why they didn’t bother to upgrade; on the surface, there seems little changed from a user’s point of view.

Ours is the Vista Home edition without the translucent layers copied from Mac OS X of some years before. Also unseen in our initial poke-arounds are the many security features and the new shell, moving many commands to the toolbar, and so on. What we did note is the enormous number of updates needed to bring the laptop from mid-2007 to the present day.

This all had to be done over a wired network because Vista 2007 wouldn’t connect to our Virgin Netgear hub. Rather than placed on the coffee table as we sat watching telly, or more likely, snoozing through the dire new series Outcasts. For some reason, 22 people voted it as 9.3 at IMDB and they all had similar names to members of the crew and cast (probably).

In total, there were more than 100 updates. An initial 89 took an evening to download and install over our 50MBps line. The next day followed with further updates to updates and installing a new anti-virus and, most important of all, new drivers for the wireless card. It all resulted in a reasonable laptop, which is no slouch, either, considering it is four years old.

However, our MacBook from the same year is just as fast and could run Vista as well as Mac OS X if we wanted it to. We checked to see how many updates it had undergone over the same time period. From the total of fewer than 20, a handful had been for iTunes adding new features and a few security updates, but by far they were for Microsoft programs.

Compared with Mac OS X Leopard, also released in 2007, is Vista any better? After all, it is now installed on just under 20% of Windows PCs, less than Windows 7, or both combined are less than Windows XP (Wikipedia 2010). Given the choice, we wouldn’t run any version—and not just because we are Mac fans.

The problem we have with every Microsoft operating system is that they are a mess of multi-tabbed dialog boxes and helpful wizards that just aren’t and leave you high and dry—plus, Microsoft’s arse-about-face ways to do things. It’s like wearing boxing gloves and trying to use chopsticks—you feel you’re kept away from the good stuff. For example, the Internet connection wizard could see the network but not get out onto the Internet. Its solution was to suggest to keep rebooting the router, which every other Mac, Hackintosh, and iPhone could use without a hitch.

Then there is the famed “user choice” Windows is supposed to give. In our experience, this is just a way to make life more difficult. Most of the time, the average Windows users we work with haven’t got the faintest idea about changing anything. They still haven’t grasped the concepts of drag and drop or having multiple windows open and visible. If their PC is “broken,” IT—100 miles away—has to fix it, even if it is simply just a case of user error.

This article User Choice, Customization and Confusion explores whether user customization is a good thing or not. It might have been written by a Mac programmer.

The author, Mike Gunderloy, is a US-based lead developer and author of 20 or more books on the subject. He comes down firmly in the camp of the default choice, which is to offer no choice within an application. Or maybe just a little, à la Apple. Enhancements and customizations can be done via special and often third-party applications. Apple has always maintained this stance—tweaks can be made via the Terminal or by little apps such as TinkerTool and Onyx.

As Gunderloy says, “Many applications today expose dozens or even hundreds of customization options in this way; Microsoft Office applications are prime offenders in this regard.” We would add their operating systems, too.

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