Are you serious? They call that an operating system?

I will be mentoring Scott Peterson this year in the Google SoC. Scott has contributed a number of excellent patches to Banshee in the past, and I’m quite pleased to be working with him.

He loves tacos and coincidentally, so do I. As a result, he will be doing the official port of Banshee to Windows! Taco Power. The primary action items for Scott will be full hardware support, getting the GStreamer stack working (CD ripping, playback, transcoding), CD Burning, implementing a native playback engine, and all around fixes and refactoring where necessary. After that I’d like to see a slick installer wrapped around it that pulls in the necessary runtime components. I am quite eager for this work to start, as is Scott, and I’m looking forward to another great year of SoC. Good luck Scott!

In an ultimately related note, I installed VMWare Workstation 6 Beta, and it is bloody awesome. Finally USB 2.0 support, and all the devices show up automatically without having to tweak some files. With Workstation 6, I installed and ran Windows Vista for the first time. What a joke. I’ll be testing Scott’s work under XP and Vista, and I was curious to see what we’re up against anyway.

Vista validates my feelings towards GNOME, Linux, and our community. We are rocking in our world, and it shows. Vista looks like nothing more than some glassy upgrades to the XP UI with little change in functionality and lots of extra obfuscation. I don’t think these guys even know what HIG is. You also are constantly answering menial questions. Any time something happens, you get a message along these lines: “A program has been started, do you want to do this? If you started this action, continue.”.

Installing the VMWare Tools was really fun. First Vista asked me twice if I wanted to run the installer. Yes. Then for every driver the installer installed, Vista asked me to confirm that I wanted to install it. I think I had to click “Continue” at least 15 times. This is their answer to keeping the computer secure, the user safe. ASK LOTS CONFUSING OF QUESTIONS (at least you will choose the correct answer no less than 50% of the time!).

Even worse is that after all these years, they obviously have never tested any of their software on real users. It is incredibly hard to navigate through dialog boxes and prompts. It’s the classic usability issue we know so well in GNOME – the difference is that we have fixed it, we are aware of it, and we are better for it. Here’s a perfect example. I ran the Windows Update stuff, but wanted to restart since VMWare Tools finally finished installing. So I clicked “Stop” in the updater. I was stopped by the Vista police and had to answer some questions regarding my actions. It went something like this (mind you, the button I clicked was labeled “Stop”):

“Are you sure you want to cancel Windows Update?”
[Continue] [Cancel]

WTF? There are so many things wrong here. Let’s see. I clicked “Stop.” So here, does “Continue” mean “Continue Updating” or does it mean “Continue Stopping?” Maybe “Cancel” means “Cancel Updater.” Hmm. Maybe “Cancel” means “Cancel my stop update request.” Nothing about these statements are clear. It’s like a flow chart from hell. It really isn’t possible to make the right choice. You are playing Russian Roulette.

In GNOME it would have gone something like this.

“Are you sure you want to stop the GNOME software updater?”
“You can resume the updater at a later time by going to Control Center, Software Updates. The updater will resume from this point.”
[Continue Updating] [Stop Updating]

I don’t even have to read the dialog text to figure out my correct choice. This is simple stuff.

Anyway, there are so many other things wrong with Vista that I have run into, and I think I’ve explored the system for all of 15 minutes so far. This is the quality that comes out of the Microsoft Machine after 5 or more years of development. This is what they managed to produce. Awful. They live in a box of delusion.

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a Vista review, so I’ll stop before I become too irate. I had some other more important updates to write about, but I’ll save that for another post. GNOME rocks.

22 Replies to “Are you serious? They call that an operating system?”

  1. If there’s one thing which gets me more irate at how rubbish Vista is (when it’s being marketed as some sort of elixir of life), it’s how Microsoft will get away with it (and their $ -> £ pricing in the UK) and get Vista everywhere. :-(

  2. heh!
    The second time I started the preinstalled Vista on a brand new laptop, it said that it cannot start because of a critical error, and it was doing a system recovery that would have needed several minutes and some reboots.
    I urged to install Linux, so I decided to hit the [cancel] button that was there.
    It said “sorry, it is not possible to cancel this operation”.

    I wonder what that button was there for…


  3. While I totally agree with your assesment that vista is more confusing and uses dialogs and confusing prompts anywhere I must say that the Gnome dialog is also not a perfect example….

    “You can resume the updater at a later time by going to Control Center, Software Updates. The updater will resume from this point.”

    You don’t need that in the dialog. It’s extra text and HF guidelines tell us to reduce the amount of information a user has to process especially in a disruptive scenario like a dialog box where they don’t process all the information any because it’s disrupting their expected behavior which is indeed to STOP the updater.

    But Gnome is definitely on the right track!

  4. You also are constantly answering menial questions. Any time something happens, you get a message along these lines: “A program has been started, do you want to do this? If you started this action, continue.”.

    – The questions make more sense if you do not have administrative priviledges on your account. Some of them disappear and the rest turn into older style of alternate “run as…” sort of dialog that XP/2003 uses. Which is very near to the way how also Gnome handles the similar situation. Microsoft didn’t screw up the whole new security model, they just would have been upto great change resistance and went only halfway the right direction, the outcome being kind of silly. In some environments the new model is better than the old but not for home users and such…

    Then for every driver the installer installed, Vista asked me to confirm that I wanted to install it. I think I had to click “Continue” at least 15 times.

    – Yup, VMWare skipped getting proper certificates for their drivers and sending them to Microsoft so that it would have been completely automatic and painless process. Many software vendors haven’t even begun testing their stuff with Vista or just simply lack proper expertise in their development. VMWare has great products but that’s something VMWare quite honestly blew up. What happened was what was supposed to happen when you try to install some b-class pingpong hardware on your computer, made by some pingpong manufacturer no one has barely even heard of. For the real hardware the process is actually awesome, the hardware usually just works. I’ve seen plain stellar with my hardware so far, not XP or any Linux distribution has got even close the level of hardware support…

    I ran the Windows Update stuff, but wanted to restart since VMWare Tools finally finished installing.

    – I don’t think they have put any effort into the interactive side of windowsupdate in ages anymore. You’re supposed to have the fully automatic mode on in any case. They should remove that manual way already completely.

    Even worse is that after all these years, they obviously have never tested any of their software on real users.

    – Oh, they have great usability testing laboratories where they pay for real ordinary people to use their software. Then they record it all and make very throughout analysis (eye movements and what the user feedback was like etcetc). Their problem is that they want to be backwards compatible and not to change things too much. Imho that’s pretty plain policyMicrosoft’s #1 problem at this moment is complete inability of taking risks in any area. It’s a rigid juggernaut and it shows in the way they develop their products..

    I’ve run myself Linux from RedHat 5.2, for long times as my sole operating system.. At this moment I got Vista and it was a rational choice based on my needs and what fulfills them best. I’m not a fanboy and I’m not trolling.

  5. @Corbin: I wasn’t trying to say that my version of the message was perfect, just that contents of the buttons were clear without actually reading the dialog content, which is the point.

    @Erik: You sort of underline my feelings that Vista is like 5-6 years in the making, yet there’s no real innovation or change from XP. They are indeed afraid to take risks. They are afraid to fix things that have been wrong in the past.

    I’m sure they have usability labs and they use them, but they clearly do not take the research data and implement changes based on their findings, and the YES|NO|CANCEL paradigm is greatest proof of this. It is a horrid usability nightmare, and it hasn’t changed in decades. There’s no excuse to that, not even “keeping backwards compatibility” – regardless, you HAVE to read the BUTTONs.

  6. Oh look, another Linux fanboy hopping on the “Vista Suxorz” bandwagon!

  7. Aaron, don’t be shy, lot of people have told me that they feel totally confused about Vista – it should be “rockin”, but it’s not. it is utter mess at GUI level, and slow as hell without any real benefit. It is next ME in the making, in my opinion. It won’t fail just because Microsoft “owns” OEM market on operational systems. Literary.

    I am sysadmin in everyday work, so I need to work with Microsoft products. After several case tests I am saying that if Microsoft will won’t make Vista upgrade after two years, then it is gone – people simply will refuse to leave Windows XP. So far, Vista is utter mess which is very expensive in money sense, and is also costly in hardware resources.

    I am saying all my clients that they should drop any idea to migrate to Vista for now. Maybe in future, but with all DRM and hardware support (read as: lack of it) I won’t care.

  8. Well… you are right about the all these things. But you should not forget the fact that there are things in Gnome that suck too.

    Try to drag and drop a file from fileroller into nautilus with Gnome 2.18. It won’t work.

    If you tried the same thing with previous versions of Gnome it would work only if you gave sufficient time to fileroller in order to decompress the compressed file before dropping it in nautilus.

    It is ok to criticize the shortcomings of the others. At the same time it is wise to see the shortcomings of what you advocate for. Drag and drop is a very basic operation and it is a petty that it has not been done with yet. For command line guys (like me) it doesn’t matter at all. For my parents it does….

  9. @Aaron:
    Yeah, in 5-6 years they could have made something really stellar but they failed doing that. That doesn’t mean Vista is worse then XP btw. It has many of the same strengths and they actually managed to fix a few things. It’s just that their increment was too small.

    I don’t think that most of the users actually read the buttons. You have to remember their target group.. It’s very different from you or me..

    Microsoft did some changes to the way those dialogs are supposed to work, both in their development libraries (WPF dialogs look a lot saner and suggest better behaviour in some situation – however not even Vista uses wpf at many places… most of the new Windows software in the future will though) and their guidelines, which I believe you can read at:
    it’s a long read, with a lot of examples.. Some things they got right, some wrong. It’s not bad work at all. They are not very explicit about everything though.

  10. In fact, check the link I gave.. They have “Top Guidelines Violations” page, which uses actual Windows dialogs and windows as examples :-D Hilarious in a way.

  11. When it comes to getting Banshee bundled up in a nice installer you basically have two choices, NSIS or Inno Setup. I’ve used NSIS and although the syntax is fairly ugly the examples are good (even before Abiword took my work and made it better and all integrated with their build system). Another planet gnome blog was discussing Inno Setup and how his prior experience with Pascal made it particularly interesting for him to use. Suffice to say there is a whole lot of existing knowledge out there and your student would do well to use that part of his project in particular as an opportunity to get help from the community and reuse as much as possible, to really learn the methods of open development, rather than doing things from first principles without outside help as students all too often mistakenly believe they have to – just credit all your sources, collaboration is good!

    As for your review of Vista I can only do my best impression of Nelson Muntz and say “Ha ha!”. You certainly aren’t the first to point and laugh at those Continue Cancel dialogs.

  12. @Alan:
    As it is only Banshee, those installers are just fine. If you want anyone in a larger environment to deploy the software it has got to be MSI package. There really is no other chance besides MSI since the standard management tools (AD SMS) work with MSI. The lack of non-3rdparty MSI packages has been the 2nd largest blocker for Firefox adoption in any larger environments. Just keep that in mind…

  13. The “Vista police” is actually called “User Account Control/UAC” and can be turned off in the Control Panel. Once you´ve done this, Vista loses most of its “new” security features, but becomes much more usable.

    Maybe you are right about the advantages of Gnome, Linux and Free Software in general. But let´s face facts: People are not interested in operating systems and desktops. They are interested in applications. That´s what they need to get their job done, that´s what they use to bring their imagination to life.

    I´m talking about applications like Final Cut Studio, Aperture, Photoshop, Mellel, Montage, Journler, Logic and Reason. Professional creativity apps for the Mac, actually, but there are counterparts available for Windows. But Linux just cannot compete here.

    You see, that is my biggest issue with Linux: I´ve been watching the progress of Linux since the late nineties, and every year since then I´ve played with two or three current distributions. I installed them, tried to get all my hardware running, looked at the applications – and erased Linux again from my hard disk. Why? Whenever I want to actually do something with it, I discover that there’s no software for me. And I guess I´m not the only one out there with that feeling. For OS X and Windows I find the software that I need. But maybe I also “live in a box of delusion”?

  14. Gah, I had the exact same reaction when I tried out Vista on our VMware server recently.

    I didn’t install too much and so generally only saw the UAC dialogs where it was relatively sane, but the thing that annoyed me the most was how much everything was fragmented compared to XP.

    For example: in XP, you can go to the “Display” control panel where you have five tabs and can easily change everything you need. Vista has decided to take each of the tabs in that window and place them under their own separate control panels. They didn’t even remove the tabs, so you have five different windows, but with one tab in them each. It looks ridiculous.

    For some reason, Vista also comes by default with this odd sidebar thing on the desktop which shows a clock (in case you missed the one in the system tray) and a distracting rotating slideshow of stock photos. The worrying thing is just how many regular computer users never ever touch the default Windows settings and will end up suffering this sort of extraneous junk.

    Plus it ran unbelievably slow on a normally unbelievably fast VMware server, though you could well put that down to Vista virtualisation not being fully supported quite yet..

    As for installers, I can happily recommend NSIS.

  15. @erik

    > MSI packages has been the 2nd largest blocker for Firefox adoption

    yet strangely there has been enough enthusiasm to add it and not much in the way of third party developers offering to make it happen by action or sponsorship

    I’m waiting for bucking fig package with GTK and a whole load of GTK (and maybe even Gnome) apps before I even suggest anyone invest their time in an MSI package. It might be motivation to provide an MSI for the purpose bundling as much Freedom Software as possible.
    Bundling works, and has undeniably been a huge factor in the success of Microsoft, and if anyone is dedicated enough to do that work of MSI packaging I’d strongly encourage them to use their leverage to promote more than single application and go the whole hog to create a Ximian like meta distribution of applications for Windows. Blue skies dreamin’? Probably.

  16. It’s somewhat funny to see GNU/Linux/GNOME UI versus Windows Vista UI debates. This has been the mantra of the Mac folk for a long time. Highlights also the most basic OS assumption as well: There are two types of OS in this world, Windows and everyone else. With Linux, BSD and Mac OS X, this has never been more apparent.

  17. Ah i see you have finally met Billy. See according to myth Billy is Steve Balmer’s illegitimate second cousin and he felt sorry for the poor hick and decided to give him a job at $MS. Billy works out of the basement and he is responsible for writing error and information messages throughout $MS OS’es.
    See the theory is that in order for Billy to keep his job, Balmer issued a “bug per 100 lines” order. Now as you can clearly see … Billy seems to be a retard *runZ the hell away*

  18. If it were, me I wouldn’t bother spending the time on doing a Windows port, but would rather focus on functionality of Banshee for Linux users.

    Windows already has a quite good Media Player at this point, and it’s a sure bet most Windows users won’t seek out Banshee to use over the already installed (and much better) built in Windows Media Player 11.

    If anything, I’d like to see some WMP11-esque functionality in Banshee, such as the more visual “Album Cover” views with the stacking and such, ability to select by genre, artist, etc… without having to create “smart playlists” and some cool visualizations would be nice to have.

    Not knocking Banshee at all, it’s a fine start but miles away from WMP11. I’d hold off a port until it were somewhat closer in feature-sets… (or really, not do it at all for the aforementioned reason)

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