Windows Vista - too little, too late?

· by Steve · Read in about 7 min · (1312 Words)

Does anyone even care about Windows Vista (aka Longhorn) anymore? Microsoft have been harping on about it for so many years now I’m well past caring about it, and what I’m hearing about it doesn’t exactly fill me with excitement.

Feature 1: A 3D desktop. It’s been attempted in various forms (mostly academic) and I still have to be convinced that it actually makes anything any better. For one, a desk is inherently a 2D item - sure there’s the third dimension of ‘pile height’, but lets face it, anything under the top layer gets forgotten about. If you simulate that 3D aspect in a windowing system I’m guessing it is no better than ALT-TAB. Similarly full 3D walkthrough ‘deskspace’ environments haven’t been particular intuitive, and MS isn’t ready for that level of leap any time soon, they know it will alienate people. Which leaves the 3D feature as just a whiz-bang window-dressing feature, which means it’s mostly throw-away. OSX has some nice GL-powered UI features but MS has proven time and again that they have no idea at all how to match that - their interfaces always seems to end up cluttered and messy. Bottom line is it does not justify the fuss around Longhorn. You’ve also go the fact that windowed GL programs will have a harder time in Longhorn, which won’t make many 3D modellers happy (since most use GL, not DirectX).

Feature 2: Schema-driven filesystem. Oh, wait, they dropped that.

Feature 3: The Gadget Bar. Hmm, sounds rather similar to Dashboard doesn’t it? Lets see if MS can copy yet another feature in an inferior fashion (and give it a rubbish name too).

Feature 4: IE 7.0, a long-overdue update to a deeply crappy browser so it can finally catch up with more standards compliant alternatives. Oh, wait that’s going to be released before Vista too.

Feature 5: XML interface architecture. Hmm, again that’ll be released for XP too.

So what exactly would we be paying for with Vista? A more expensive but largely vacuous 3D desktop and a rip-off of another OSX feature? Come on. If I were Bill Gates I’d be wondering what the bloody hell my Longhorn engineers have been doing for the past few years, and how the hell I’m going to sucker people into paying money for it.

Then there’s Office 12. Yet another update that no-one asked for - despite MS’s attempts, most people are still running old versions of Office, if they’re still using it at all (I’m not). Of course, Mr Gates is trying to pursuade the armies of MS solution providers to shovel their incremental crap for them by tying their products into Office, because obviously it will result in better systems. In my experience, integrating any product with Office at anything other than a superficial level just increases the chances that it will become a bloated, flaky piece of crap, whilst at the same time making yourself and your customers even more dependent on overpriced, stagnant software. I liken it to saying ‘Ok, you can buy our software, but in addition you have to let a giant multinational rip you off for new versions of what is basically the same software for the next few years, ok?’. I realise MS have fat wads to toss around to partners, and that by being close to this giant rip-off machine you get to absorb a piece of the action, but it really isn’t an excuse for making poor design decisions like roping a perfectly good app to the latest product MS wants to ream people with.

I really dispair at the number of small businesses getting advised by ‘professionals’ that to solve their (minimal) IT requirements they simply must buy an MS 2003 Server, Exchange Server, client access licenses, Office licenses etc, all at a very tidy sum. There’s just no need for it - for file / print sharing and mail / groupware serving a linux server is much cheaper and much less hassle in terms of maintenance, and OpenOffice will satisfy the vast, vast majority of user needs. And you get PDF export right there in the box. All for no server licenses, no client access licenses, no ‘Software Assurance’ (you know, that system where you get to pay for software updates that may or may not actually exist). But, people are generally underinformed, know the MS name and believe the FUD, and of course no-one ever gets fired for buying MS (even if they should do ;). For the supplier, selling MS systems to people that don’t need them lines their pockets quite nicely, of course - not just because of the markup, but because it typically involves PC upgrades too. Don’t tell them they could reuse that older kit to run a perfectly stable set of linux server, that wouldn’t be good business, would it? Then of course you’ve got the whole .Net environment, which pretends to be open but in all practicality roots you further and further into a single-option setup. MS knows that owning the desktop PC is becoming less important as ubiquitous computing creeps closer, so they want to own the middleware instead. And in turn, they aim to own you, and milk you annually for another decade like the docile herbivore you are. Some people don’t care about that - it’s the major OS so why does it matter? Well, it matters because monopolies and supplier lock-in hurts all of us. It might be dressed up in a friendly way, but it’s exploitation in all but name, and one day you WILL regret ceding so much control over your IT choices to a single supplier.

You might have guessed I don’t like MS a great deal. There are some MS things I do like - the VC++ IDE & debugger (if not so much the compiler), SQL Server is good so long as you don’t need really advanced features (but overpriced - if it were my own money I’d be picking up PostgreSQL or Ingres, both very mature systems available via open source now), and I’m quite happy working in XP. Office was worth the money up to about 2001/2, but it isn’t now; MS is trying to justify it but since most of the new features are lock-ins they’re not exactly attractive. Their excuses for not supporting the Open Document Format are laughable, I don’t know who they think they’re kidding with that. IE was useful at one time, now its standards-breaking, insecure behaviour is a liability. And most fundamentally I disapprove of the MS mentality - that open standards are there to be abused, corrupted and consumed for their own gains, at the expense of their customers (even if they don’t realise for a few years, poor suckers). Sure, all businesses need to try to gain advantage, but MS has done more damage to open standards than any other company out there. They are utter control freaks - if they cannot own something, they pervert or reinvent it, force or cajole people to accept their (initially substandard or bastardised) version, and then wait until they have total control before moving on to some other target. It’s happened with browsers (IE), with graphics subsystems (OpenGL), with networking protocols (LDAP) and countless other previously standardised technologies - so much wasted time reinventing the wheel and causing countless integration problems for customers (who are of course advised to buy all MS products since they integrate better - with each other - of course).

To quote a great series of books, “The world has moved on.” - when will MS? At least in a useful direction. Today’s world is about open standards, interoperability and flexibility. MS of course pays lip service to these things whilst (not so) secretly doing all it can to undermine them. I don’t think many people are fooled any more.