Vista: Windows ME’s Successor

(Apologies if this seems a bit ranty, but it is a rant, so…)

About a month ago, I decided to buy a new computer to use as a home theater PC and backup file server. I opted for a Shuttle, and with it came Windows Vista Ultimate. I had already used Vista a little bit at this point, but not on a day-to-day basis, so I decided I would give it a chance.

It’s a month later and I’m ready to wipe the partition. Vista is Microsoft’s latest greatest failure. Not since Windows ME have I seen an operating system cause so many problems.

Crashing Applications

Let’s start from the base case: Running your applications. Sure a lot of third party programs are marked as being incompatible, but would you expect your device manager or notepad.exe to run without problems? You might be wrong. It turns out a lot of people, myself included, experience crashes in several pre-installed and third party applications. Sometimes it’s while you’re using it, but often just quitting the program causes Vista to think it has crashed.

This makes for an unusable operating system. I have no idea if the program I’m about to run will survive more than a few minutes. The computer is essentially useless, and there’s nothing I can do about it, aside from installing another OS. Now, maybe Service Pack 1 will fix this problem, but it never should have been a problem in the first place. Extensive testing should have caught this. At the very least, my manufacturer should have seen this and never shipped Vista with this problem.

Vista UAC

The Vista UAC, or User Account Control, is Microsoft’s answer to the security problems that plagued previous versions of Windows. It’s brilliant in that it creates an excellent illusion of security, aggressively prompting the user for any action involving the system.

The main problem with UAC, though, is that the user is being bombarded with dialogs. Now, think about what happens when you encounter a dialog. Often times, you don’t read it, you assume what it’s saying, especially if you’ve encountered it before. I know of several non-techy people who blindly click dialogs, and that’s where UAC falls apart. There could be a virus on the system and the user, having had to click through these dialogs time and time again, may not realize that this virus-activated UAC dialog was not caused by their own actions and click through it.

Some people have no idea what goes on in a computer and assume that if the system needs to do something, there must be a good reason for it. Since the UAC dialogs are a bit cryptic at times, I can see users thinking, “My computer wants to do this, it must have a good reason for it!” and proceeding to allow the operation.

The UAC dialogs are also pretty verbose. If you perform a file operation in a system directory, you’ll get 3 confirmation dialogs. The first to confirm you want to do this in a system area, a second to ask if you want to go to the admin confirmation screen (why, I have no idea), and a third to confirm that the whole operation is allowed.

Now, think about when you create a directory. You’re performing two file operations. First, the initial creation of the directory and second, renaming the directory based on the name you gave it. This common operation will punish you with six dialogs!

</rant>

There’s more I could say but I won’t. I’m really looking forward to Vista SP1 with the hope that it will fix a lot of these problems, because as of right now, this is a really unstable, frustrating OS. I think it has potential if they can get these problems sorted out, though.

Adventures with the MS Office Keyboard

For the past few years, I’ve been using the Microsoft Office Keyboard. It was a gift from my mom, as my previous keyboard stopped working one day. Now, I’m sure a lot of people’s first thought is that this keyboard sucks because it’s from Microsoft, but so far, I’ve really enjoyed it. I have the Application Left/Right buttons mapped to switch desktops quickly and easily, and the Cut, Copy, and Paste buttons for making a window sticky, shading it, and launching a terminal. Works well enough.

Until just the other day, I had this all configured through .xmodmap and my window manager settings. However, in GNOME 2.5.x, the keyboard settings are apparently supposed to be controlled by the Keyboard control center applet, and my xmodmap settings are now ignored. My latest build of gnome-control-center CVS even shows a dialog saying that the xmodmap settings will be ignored.

So, I launched the keyboard control center applet and selected my MS Office Keyboard from the list. Perfect, I thought. That is, until I learned that my End key no longer worked, and none of the shortcut keys on the keyboard did what they were supposed to. I put it away for awhile and started manually using xmodmap and resetting the shortcuts every time I launched GNOME, until I had time to actually fix it.

The other day, I decided to fix this. The problem was actually in XFree86’s inet keyboard symbols file, in the Microsoft Office Keyboard definition. After poking around and learning how these files were constructed and what the <I#> and <E#> codes meant, I finally patched up my definition. It was an almost 100% change, so I’m assuming that either the guy who wrote this entry was on crack, or that it was for an older version of this keyboard (unless it’s a newer one, but I kind of doubt that).

I’m mostly writing this so that if any Linux users with this keyboard want it set up properly, they’ll have the information available. I have a replacement inet file available that works with my keyboard. I’d be curious to know if there are MS Office Keyboard users out there that have their xkb settings set to use this keyboard who aren’t experiencing problems.