Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Very Foggy Vista

In a recent announcement, Dell has warned businesses against upgrading to the latest Operating System written by Microsoft. Called Vista, this O.S. has suffered years of delay and many cutbacks in promised features and functionality. Dell is recognizing and admitting that the Vista O.S. requires an amount of computer hardware resources that seem to be disproportionate to its abilities, especially when compared to previous MSFT O.S.

As a longtime participant in the world of software development, I have been around to see a lot of products come out of Redmond. This blog has my own reflections on what has recently come out of this software giant. I have no transparency nor intelligence into the internal workings of MSFT so these musings are simply based on observing and evaluating their output over a long period of time and not on any knowledge of their internal processes outside what they themselves have published.

Microsoft is, mostly, a software company. They produce products in many markets. I believe that, historically speaking, their strongest markets are O.S. and developer tools. From an end user perspective, Windows 3.1 and DOS was much superior when compared to the competition which was IBM's OS/2 and the X Windowing system of Unix. This was back in the 80s. In the 90s, Windows still led the pack with Windows 95 and NT. Even the early 2000s saw Microsoft still producing a great O.S. with Windows 2000, XP, and 2003.

With apologies to George Lucas, there has been a disturbance in the force recently. To put it bluntly, the latest MSFT O.S. is a step backwards. Gamers complain about Vista's sub-par 3D graphics performance. Security experts dismiss Vista's UAC approach. Although I don't use it on a daily basis, I have had occasion to work on a laptop where Vista came pre-installed. Although the hardware specifications of this laptop exceed MSFT's recommendations for running Vista, the performance is very lackluster. The latency is worse than another laptop, purchased four years ago, that runs Windows XP. How the GUI is organized is another complaint of mine. Everything has been refactored in a way that seems to me to be arbitrary. So, I'm having to learn a new organization of the computer's configuration without seeing any meaningful benefit from that new way. Another change that seems to be made simply for the sake of change is the move away from using menus which are now either cleverly disguised or completely removed. Why the GUI designers of Redmond have decided that menus are passé is completely beyond me.

And Microsoft's O.S. competition is catching up. I recently ran the live CD version of a recently very trendy distribution of Linux called Ubuntu. In my humble opinion, performance with Ubuntu was better than with Vista. This is especially disturbing since Ubuntu was running off of the DVD player and Vista was running off of the hard disk, which should have given MSFT an unfair advantage in performance. The Ubuntu GUI made more sense and was a lot more organized. Also, you get a lot more features with Ubuntu than with Vista since it comes pre-installed with an office productivity suite and a lot of other applications which Vista does not.

I have been working in the IT industry for more years than I care to reveal and I am very technical so I am not the target audience for this O.S. I would much prefer using Windows 2000 or 2003 than either XP or Vista, even as a workstation. The owner of this Vista laptop is a very representative member of the target audience who also prefers using XP to Vista.

Many industry pundits claim that it is the age of the network, and they are right. The days of the stand-alone computer are all but gone. However, everyone gets to a network through a computer and that computer, like every other computer, requires an O.S. in order to turn what would otherwise be a very expensive doorstop into a wonderful window on the world wide web. Perhaps MSFT has spent so much time sighting Google in their cross hairs, they have forgotten or gotten away from their core value proposition.

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