Friday, January 23, 2009

Hasta La Vista

Microsoft is beta-testing Windows 7, the replacement for Vista.

For an operating system that took five years to create, Windows Vista’s reputation went down in flames amazingly quickly. Not since Microsoft Bob has anything from the software giant drawn so much contempt and derision. Not every company lives to see the day when its customers beg, plead and sign petitions to bring back the previous version of its flagship product.

One thing’s for sure: it won’t take Microsoft five years to produce the next Windows. The company wants to put Vista behind it as soon as possible. In fact, the next version of Windows is almost here already. It’s called Windows 7, and it’s available as a free download, in surprisingly smooth, stable test form, from (until Saturday).

It looks and works a lot like Vista. In fact, what Microsoft seems to be going for in Windows 7 is “Vista, fixed.”

If you ask the masses what they disliked about Vista (as I did using Twitter last week), you’re likely to get a certain common set of responses. That list of grudges makes as good a framework as any for assessing the prospects of Windows 7, which is expected to arrive within a year.

I won’t pretend I understand all the inside stuff that goes in writing a new platform, but all I can say is that I wish they would go back to Windows XP.

Case in point: I have Vista on my home computer, which is an HP laptop, and XP on my work computer. Last summer when the hard drive crashed on my laptop, I had the back-up on a little external drive so that when I got the laptop fixed, I would be able to restore everything back to where it was before the crash. Well, to make a long story short, it didn’t work. Vista couldn’t find my back-up even though I had saved it with Vista, and when it finally got around to pulling the old files in, it dumped them all over my hard drive without putting them in folders, and my local drive looked like the bottom of a birdcage. I tried getting Geek Squad to help me, but they were as useful as tits on a snake and charged me $100 for doing nothing. I took the hard drive to the office and within about an hour I was able to use the Search feature on the XP to find all the files all in neat order, and in a series of transfers from that computer to my jump drive, I was able to restore about 99% of my files. To this day, Vista can’t find my old files or my Outlook address book on that hard drive, and I spent another $150 to have the good guys at National Tech Express clean up my computer.

The Search feature on Vista is useless. For example, I have a folder of pictures on the old drive called “Fishing Trip.” I plugged the old drive into my laptop, opened the Search, and told it to look for anything in the computer labeled “Fishing Trip” or file or folder with that name in it or part of that name. After a few minutes, it came up with “No folders or files match your request.” I then took the hard drive to the office, plugged it in, opened the Search (and grinned at the little doggie), told it the exact same request and in less than a minute it found the file. I copied the file on to my jump drive, and then, just to be sure, I took the hard drive back home and tried again. “No folders or files match your request.” Sheesh.

Now I am sure there is someone out there who can tell me how to get Vista’s Search feature to do exactly what the XP’s little search doggie does, but the point is that I shouldn’t have to ask. It should just work.

I know; all you Apple fiends out there are chortling at my misery, but I am too deeply invested in MSFT, including a non-Mac version of FileMaker Pro, that prevents me from going over to the Mac side just yet. So whatever they come up with in Redmond to “fix” Vista, they could do a lot worse than going retro.

By the way, I see that Microsoft is feeling the pinch of the economic crisis and is, for the first time in company history, laying people off. Not that I’d wish bad fortune on anyone in particular, but it would be ironic justice if the person or persons responsible for the Vista Search feature were some of those out there looking for a job.