Off-Topic: Encountering Windows Vista

So, on Thursday, the 19th of April, I upgraded from Xubuntu 6.10 to Xubuntu 7.04, on the very day of 7.04’s release. It was nice being able to do it over the internet, with no CDs to burn, and whatnot. It did not all go smoothly, though:-

  • The mouse stopped working. I had to choose an older kernel from GRUB’s boot menu to get a working mouse.
  • Xfce’s terminal window, xfce4-terminal, somehow crashes the X server. Fortunately, Gnome’s terminal works okay.

It took me at least a few hours, or even several, to overcome those initial problems. Other than that, there’s not much to say. It’s still Xubuntu, and I don’t notice much difference between 6.10 and 7.04. I wonder if USB will start working, now?

Perhaps I should also mention that this upgrade was on a rather old PC, which is nine years old this year. Yep, it’s from 1998. Not exactly the newest thing, though it has more RAM than it originally had, and an extra, larger hard drive, too, along with some other upgrades. It’s still the original, 366MHz Celeron, though. But Xubuntu runs quite okay on it.

So, on Friday, I assisted someone who’d just bought a new laptop and a new printer (and scanner, etc, combined). On the new laptop was Windows Vista. On his old laptop was Windows XP. The tasks for the day, though in no particular order, were: set the new laptop up; set the new printer (scanner combo thing) up with the new laptop; transfer stuff from the old laptop to the new; and prepare the old laptop for reuse by a new owner/user. It did not all go well.

Once the new laptop was up and running, and had an internet connection (dial-up), I decided it would be a jolly good idea to transfer stuff across from laptop to laptop. Vista provides some sort of “Easy Transfer” thingy for that – groovy! There were a few options, but only one was viable. Burning CDs to transfer stuff across was ruled out by the old laptop being unable to burn CDs. Floppies were ruled out by the new laptop not having a floppy drive. A network was ruled out by the old laptop not having a network port. That left USB-based options, including an “Easy Transfer” USB cable thingy. So, off my client went to buy one, while I continued getting things set up.

When my client returned, with cable, we turned our attention to the printer (as I’d already started setting it up while waiting for him to return). Following the instructions, I soon found that the printer driver software did not support Windows Vista. It looked like it just wasn’t going to work. But, just in case Windows Vista supported that printer anyway, I tried skipping the driver software installation step – it worked! Yes, installing the printer was actually easier than the instructions indicated. But, because the instructions didn’t take Vista into account, the whole process was more complicated, and more difficult, than it would have been if it had worked as the instructions said. Hidden difficulty in the form of hidden easiness. Some test pages confirmed the printer was working, and so we moved on to transferring stuff from old laptop to new.

I followed Vista’s “Easy Transfer” on-screen instructions, and installed the cable driver software on the old, Windows XP laptop (you need special driver software for what we used to call “null modem cables”?!?). That went okay, so then I was at the step where Vista was supposed to automatically identify the new cable. It didn’t. It did not recognize it. It just sat there.

So, I thought, perhaps, I should try installing the driver software on the Vista laptop as well. But, as with the printer, the driver software didn’t support Vista. Or, at least, it said it didn’t support Vista. But my client had been told, by the cable seller, to ignore such things. So, I tried ignoring such responses (like with the printer), and it seemed to work.

I tried the “Easy Transfer” thing again, but still it just sat there. It just wasn’t going to work.

Fortunately, the cable had come with its own transfer software. It was just like the days of connecting computers together with null modem cables, again. But what to transfer? And where to transfer it to? I just decided to transfer whole swathes of stuff across, and then put the right stuff in the right places afterwards. But there was a lot of stuff, and the transfer was taking a long time, so we left it running. I returned home, and I am returning there again tomorrow, to finish things off.

My client remarked on how difficult it all seemed to be. He wondered how those without someone like me available to help were supposed to cope. It had taken a few hours, with things just not going as they were supposed to, and still it wasn’t all finished. And he was paying me for my time, too – a hidden cost of Microsoft Windows Vista?

Let’s see. New laptop with Windows Vista. New printer. Old laptop with Windows XP with stuff to be transferred to the new laptop. Shouldn’t it all “just work”? How many years have Microsoft been developing Windows, now? How many years have they been developing their relationships with hardware vendors? Why did the “Easy Transfer” thing just not even work?

I noticed that Microsoft had invested in visual aesthetics in Vista. All very nice. All very pleasing to the eye. The window frames no longer look like they’re made of cheap plastic. I actually wished my desktop environment looked so nice. (Maybe it could, but I suspect my processor and graphics “card” just aren’t powerful enough, so I stick with simpler, less resource-hoggy stuff.) If only Microsoft had put as much effort into getting things to actually work and work properly.

That seems to be the thing with Microsoft. It’s superficial appearances that count, not how things really are. They seem to make things even more complicated by trying to make things seem easier. The printer was a beautifully perverse example. It really was just like how “Plug’n’Play” was always supposed to be after all, but when you followed the instructions, it ended up seeming like it just wasn’t going to work. And the “Easy Transfer” thing, which was supposed to “just work” on the Vista side, didn’t work at all on that side. I’m sure these things used to be easier before Microsoft tried making them easier.

And now I have a cat on my lap 🙂

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