Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Clickity Click – The Microsoft Dilemma

Posted in computers, microsoft, windows by commorancy on April 30, 2010

Once upon a time, the mouse didn’t exist. So, the keyboard drove the interface. Later, Xerox came along and changed all of that (with the help of Steve Jobs and Apple). Of course, as it always does, Microsoft absconded with the mouse functionality and built that into Windows… not that there was really much choice with this decision.

We flash a decade forward or so and we’re at Windows XP. A reasonably streamlined Windows operating system from Microsoft. In fact, this is probably and arguably the most streamlined that Microsoft’s Windows has ever been (and will likely ever be). Granted, security was a bit weak, but the user interface experience was about as good as it can get. With only a few clicks you could get to just about anything you needed.

Flash forward nearly another decade to see the release of the dog that was Windows Vista. Actually, Windows Vista’s look was not too bad. But, that’s pretty much where it ends. Microsoft must not have done much usability testing with Vista because what used to take one or two clicks of the mouse now adds 1-3 extra clicks. The reason, Microsoft has decided to open useless windows as launchpads to get to underlying components. Added layers that are pointless and unnecessary. For example, you used to be able to right click ‘My Network Places’, release on properties and get right to the lan adapters to set them up. No more. Now this same properties panel opens a launchpad interface that requires clicking ‘Change Adapter Settings’ just to get the adapters. Pointless. Why was this added layer necessary? And this is the best of the worst.

More than this, though, is that sometimes the labeling of the links to get to the underlying components is obscure or misleading. So, you’re not really sure what link to click to get to the thing you need. That means you end up clicking several things just to find the thing you need. Yes, you can use the help to find things, but that then means opening even more windows and clicking through even more time wasting events just to locate something that should have been one-click anyway.

Server Operating Systems

This issue is not limited to the desktop OS world. In the server world, such as Windows 2008 R2, these launch pads are now excessive and in-your-face. For example, when you first install Windows 2008 R2, two of these panels open as the first thing after you log in. So now, I’m already starting out having to click closed two windows that I didn’t even need to see at that point just so I can get to the desktop. Likely, if you’re installing a server operating system, you’re planning on hooking it into a domain controller. So, setting up anything on the local administrative user is pointless. That means I have to close out of these useless panels in order to get to the panel where I can import this machine into the domain. It would have been far more helpful to have the first thing open be the join-the-domain panel. I don’t need to set up anything else on that newly installed machine until it’s in the domain.

Desktop Systems

Most people are much more familiar with the desktop operating systems than the server versions. But, these added clicks are all throughout not only Vista, but now Windows 7. Because Windows 7 is effectively a refresh of Vista with added compatibility features, these extra clicks are still there and still annoying. Why Microsoft had to take a streamlined interface and make it less efficient for users, I’ll never know. But, these added clicks to get to standard operating system tools is a waste of time and productivity. It also requires a higher learning curve to teach people the new method.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

This motto needs to be ingrained into the engineering team at Microsoft because they clearly do not understand this. Added extra layers of windows does not make the OS more efficient. It makes it bloated, cumbersome and extremely inefficient. That extra click might only take an extra second, but those seconds add up when you’re doing a repetitive task that involves dealing with those windows as part of your job.

As another example, opening the default setup for control panel in XP shows the control panels themselves. In Vista / Windows 7, it now brings up a launch pad of abstract tasks. Tasks like ‘System and Security’ and ‘User accounts and family safety’. Clicking these leads to more sub concept tasks. So, instead of just showing the actual control panels, you have to click through a series of abstract task pages that ultimately lead you to a tool. No no no. Pointless and inefficient. Let’s go back to opening up the actual control panel view. I want to see the actual control panels. The abstract task idea is great for beginners. For advanced users, we want to turn this crap off. It’s pointless, slow and unnecessary. Power users do not need this.

Windows for beginners

Microsoft Bob is dead. Let’s not go there again. So, why is it that Microsoft insists on trying to spoon feed us an interface this dumbed down and with excessively clicky features? This interface would have been a great first step in 1990. But, not today. Taking this step today is a step backward in OS design. Anyone who has used Windows for more than 6 months doesn’t need these added inconveniences and inefficiencies. In fact, most average computer users don’t need this level of basics. Only the very beginner beginners need this level of spoon feeding.

Microsoft needs a to create new version (or, alternatively, a preference to turn ‘Newbie mode’ off). Simply put, they need Windows for the Power User. A stripped down design that gets back to basics. A design that eliminates these cumbersome beginner features and brings back the single click features that let us navigate the operating system fast and using the mouse efficiently (read, as few clicks as possible). Obviously, if you’re running ANY server edition, this automatically implies the power user interface. Let’s get rid of these helper panels on startup, mkay?

Microsoft, can we make this a priority for Windows 8?

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Windows 7: Vista Rehashed — Missing the Mark

Posted in computers, microsoft, windows by commorancy on November 27, 2009

While the initial response of Windows 7 seems to have been positive from beta users, I have personally found it really no better than Windows Vista.  In fact, most of the touted improvements really aren’t there.  Here is a basic review of Windows 7 as compared to Vista.

Not much improved

Windows 7 has not really improved enough over Windows Vista.  It’s no wonder why Microsoft was able to shove this one out the door so rapidly.  Effectively, Microsoft gave Vista a slight UI facelift, added a couple of tweaks here and there and then pushed the product to the shelves.  In fact, I’m really wondering why it took as long as it did with so little improvement.  The same issues that exist in Vista still exist in Windows 7.  Namely, these include limited driver support, application compatibility and enhanced security that gets in the way.  I’ll discuss these issues below.

Driver Compatibility

When Vista was released, one of the main issues was driver support.  This issue is exactly the same with Windows 7.  For example, I have a Dell Studio XPS system running Vista 64 Home Premium edition.  It’s running 64 bit because I have 12GB of memory and that won’t work on 32 bit Vista (or Win 7).  Dell has had months to ready drivers for this brand new system (purchased July 2009).  Yet, Dell does not offer any drivers on their support site for this hardware.  Yes, they did support an upgrade disc, but that’s about it.  Dell expects you to accept the drivers that come with Windows 7 rather than obtaining the proper and updated drivers.  Worse, Windows 7 driver support is still very bare.  I wouldn’t expect to see full driver support for Win 7 until at least this time 2010 (possibly longer depending on adoption rate).

Note that 64 bit Windows requires 64 bit drivers.  Windows 7 cannot load or use 32 bit drivers under the 64 bit edition.  So, if you need to use 32 bit drivers, you should use the 32 bit version.  Of course, that means you are limited to 4GB of memory.  So, if you have older printer drivers that do not support 64 bit edition, you will have to hope that Windows 7 has a driver or be prepared to throw the printer out and buy something new.  This also follows with devices like Dlink’s Skype phone adapter.

You may be able to get around some of these issues using Sun’s Virtualbox or MS’s Virtual PC and loading 32 bit XP under a virtual environment.  Note, however, that not all devices offer passthrough to the virtual machine, so you may not be able to run those older devices requiring 32 bit drivers.  You may be able to get this working under Win 7 Ultimate’s XP mode.

Overall, driver support is rated 1.5 stars out of 5: poor

Application Compatibility

As with Vista, Windows 7 fails in this area still.  Frankly, because Windows 7 is effective Vista with a face lift, all of the same compatibility problems still exist in Windows 7.  So, don’t expect your old XP apps to run properly under Windows 7 in many cases.  This is especially true of apps that also tie to hardware devices that require drivers.

Worse, I have some 3D apps that work fine on Vista, but do not work at all under Windows 7.  This indicates to me that Microsoft has further broken application compatibility between Vista and Windows 7.  So, be prepared to lose some apps that may have worked under Vista.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars: fair

Enhanced Security – User Access Controls (UAC)

Security of your operating system and data is a big priority and is understood.  Any level of security has to straddle a fine line between securing the system and not getting in the way of using the system.  Frankly, UAC is a complete and utter failure.  This system is so in-your-face about security that it is a turn off.  Combine this with its constant verbose ‘Are you really sure’ messaging, people will soon ignore the messages just to get the work done.  Basically, this system is likened to ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’.  If you make every alert important and nothing ever happens, people stop listening.  Will UAC stop a system from being infected?  Probably not.  People will still run apps they shouldn’t run.

Beyond UAC, Windows 7 changed nothing over Vista.  Windows 7’s UAC appears identical to Vista for all intents and purposes.  Frankly, it’s still so much of a hassle that I still turn it off.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5 stars: in-the-way

Other problems

Other than the above, not much else has changed.  All of the main usability problems that were introduced in Vista are still in Windows 7.  For example, when you open file requesters, they tend to default to large icons.  I prefer ALL of my file lists (whether a file requester or a Windows explorer window) to be in list formatted with the columns Name, Size and Date Modified.  Both Vista and Windows 7 default to Name, Tags, Rating and Date. Sometimes it even adds Date Taken. I have no intention of rating or tagging every file on my filesystem.  For files in a photos folder or a music folder, yes.  Definitely not every file on the filesystem, so these columns are completely inappropriate for 98% of the filesystem.  Yet, the headers are there each time a new file requester opens. Why?

When you’re constantly having to change the columns to show the data you need, that’s very inefficient and wasteful.  Let me set it once and forget it.  No, can’t do that.  I have wasted a ton of time just rearranging these windows each and every time I open a new file requester.  Please Microsoft, figure out a way to let us save our favorite columns and make it actually STICK.

In Windows explorer, this USED to work in XP.  In Vista, and it also now appears Win 7, you could set up your preferred folder view and go into the options and ‘Make all folders like this one’.  That works for a while.  However, inexplicably the folders eventually revert back to their old column headers without any warning.  So, changing this setting and saving it doesn’t work.  Again, it’s another inefficient use of my time.

Time Wasters

On top of the above inefficiencies, Microsoft has decided to bury many functions down up to three layers deep to change system settings.  For example, you used to be able to right-click ‘My Network Places’ and get right to the settings for the network adapters.  Now, however, if you do this you get to a new UI interface that requires you to click one or two additional links to get to the configuration panel.  In some cases, they’ve split features out into multiple separate windows to do the same thing that one panel used to do in XP.  Again, this requires not only digging through multiple places, you now have to dig through multiple panels.

Windows 7 should have been redesigned in a major way.  Instead, we get a rehash of Vista.  The learning curve is still there.  Nothing has been done to increase user efficiency in the UI.  Overall, I’d give Windows 7 a 3 stars out of 5. Microsoft has a lot of work to get Windows 7 even close to the efficiency level of XP.  They also need to address the lack of drivers, driver compatibility and application compatibility issues.  Eventually, they won’t be issues once developers redesign their apps to work with Windows 7, but there are still lots of legacy apps that do not work.

Should you buy Windows 7?

That’s really the question of the year.  If you are buying a new machine that comes with Windows 7 loaded, go for it.  If you are running Windows XP, you might want to think twice.  Windows 7 does not solve all of the XP compatibility problems.  So, if you’re looking at upgrading an existing system, I would recommend against that.  In fact, you can’t directly upgrade (see below).  You will find that most of your apps may no longer work.  So, be careful when thinking about an XP upgrade. Note that you can’t directly upgrade XP to Windows 7 anyway.  Windows 7 will move Windows to Windows.old and then install a fresh copy of Windows 7.  This means you will need to find all of your app discs and reinstall (assuming that that he apps are Windows 7 compatible).  So, this is a real pain.

I would recommend that you buy a new hard drive and place it into your XP machine and install onto the new hard drive.  Then set it up to dual boot.  So, then you can boot into Windows 7 or XP depending on what you need. Dual booting is a hassle, but at least it retains your apps.  You can even create a virtual environment out of your XP hard drive and run it under Virtualbox or Virtual PC in Windows 7.  So, you might want to consider a virtual environment for your XP system for compatibility (assuming you aren’t running games).  Note that virtual environments work great for Windows desktop apps.  Games, on the other hand, don’t always work that well… so be careful with games as they may not work in a virtual environment.

In answer to this question,  only upgrade to Windows 7 from Vista.  Do not upgrade XP  to Windows 7 as it’s a waste.  Instead, buy a new hard drive and install Windows 7 fresh. Then, copy over your files from your XP hard drive that are important to you.  Consider the age of XP, you probably need to buy a new hard drive anyway just strictly considering the hard drive’s age.  Hard drives are only rated to last about 5 years reliably and XP is long older than 5 years since it was released.

[Update 2/11/2010] After upgrading several systems, I highly recommend against upgrading from Vista to Windows 7 using the upgrade process.  The reason: while it appears to work, you may find the system somewhat strange during use.  Some things won’t install and work properly. Basically, the system just doesn’t always work 100% after an upgrade. It seems that Windows 7 retains too many Vista files and settings and leaves the system in a slightly unstable state.  A state that no amount of repair can fix.  If you have Vista and want to upgrade, don’t.  Instead, install a fresh copy of Windows 7 and reinstall all of your apps. Windows 7 doesn’t have to format your hard drive, so you won’t lose your data.  However, you will need to find it all again after installing Windows 7 fresh.  So, if you aren’t familiar with reattaching existing data to newly installed apps, you may need to enlist the help of the Geek Squad or someone who knows what they are doing.

Good luck.

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Update: iTunes 9 and Windows 7

Posted in Apple, itunes by commorancy on October 29, 2009

As an update to an earlier Randosity article, I have upgraded my system to Windows 7 and then installed iTunes 9. Since making this change, I am no longer having the registry issue documented in this previous Randosity article. So, it may be worthwhile to upgrade your system to Windows 7 to alleviate this issue. Of course, it could be a fluke, but iTunes installed and started up without any issues on Windows 7. Before you upgrade, though, you’ll want to remove iTunes from your system, then run the upgrade to Windows 7, then reinstall iTunes 9. If you still experience registry issues with Windows 7 and iTunes 9, refer to this previous article for tips on what to do.

What’s wrong with Vista / Windows?

Posted in microsoft, tanking, windows by commorancy on July 6, 2009
This post comes from a variety of issues that I’ve had with Vista (specifically Vista 64 Home Premium).  And, chances are, these problems will not be resolved in Windows 7.  Yet, here they are in all their glory.
Memory Leaks
Vista has huge and horrible memory leaks.  After using Vista for a period of time (a week or two without a reboot) and using a variety of memory intensive 3D applications (Daz Studio, Carrara, The Gimp and Poser.. just to name a few), the system’s memory usage goes from 1.69GB to nearly 3GB in usage.  To answer the burning question… yes, I have killed all apps completely and I am comparing empty system to empty system.  Worse, there is no way to recover this memory short of rebooting.  If you had ever wondered why you need to reboot Windows so often, this is the exact reason.  For this reason alone, this is why Windows is not considered ‘stable’ by any stretch and why UNIX outperforms Windows for this reason alone.
Startup and Shutdown
Microsoft plays games with both of these procedures.
On Startup, Microsoft’s engineers have tricked you into thinking the system is functional even when it isn’t.  Basically, once the desktop appears, you think you can begin working.  In reality, even once the desktop appears, you still cannot work.  The system is still in the process of starting up the Windowing interface on top of about 100 background services (on many of which the windowing interface relies).  This trick makes Windows appear snappier to start up than it really is.  In fact, I would prefer it to just ready the system fully, then present the Windowing interface when everything is 100% complete.  I don’t want these tricks.  When I see the windowing interface, I want to know I can begin using it immediately… not before.
On Shutdown, we have other issues.  With Vista, Microsoft Engineers have done something to this process to make it, at times, ridiculously slow.  I have seen 8-15 minute ‘Shutting Down’ screens where the hard drive grinds the entire time.  I’m sorry, but shutdown time is not housekeeping time.  That needs to be done when the system is running.  It should not be done during shutdown procedures.  A shutdown should take no more than about 1-2 minutes to complete flushing buffers to disk and killing all processes.  If it can’t be done in 1-2 minutes, shut the system down anyway as there is nothing that can be done to finish those tasks anyway.
Windows Updates
Microsoft was supposed to eliminate the need to shutdown/reboot for most Windows updates.  For some updates, this is true.  For the majority of Windows updates, this is still not true.  In fact, Microsoft has, once again, made this process multistep and tediously slow in the process.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that they are now at least verbose in, sort of, what’s going on.. but that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s horribly slow.  The steps now are as follows:
Windows installation process (downloading and installation through the Windows dialog box).  You think it’s over when you..
Restart the system and it goes through finishing Step 2 of this process during shutdown… and then you think it’s over again when
The system starts back up and goes through Step 3 of the update process.
Ok, I’m at a loss.  With Windows XP, we had two steps.  Those first during Windows updater and the second when the system starts back up.   Now with Vista, we have to introduce another step?
Windows Explorer
For whatever reason, Windows Explorer in Vista is horribly broken.  In Window XP, you used to be able to configure your Windows how you liked then lock it in with Tools->Folder Options  and then View->Apply to Folders.  This would lock in exactly how every window should appear (list or icon format, size of icons, etc).  With Windows Vista, this is completely and uterly broken.  This functionality just no longer works.  I’ve tried many many times to lock in a format and Windows just randomly changes the folders back to whatever it feels like doing.
For example, I like my windows to look like this:
Unfortunately, Windows has its down agenda.  If I open a file requester (the standard Vista requester… the one that looks like the above) and I change the view to ANY other folder than this one, it randomly changes folders on the system.  So, I might open the above folder and it will later look like any of these:

This post comes from a variety of issues that I’ve had with Vista (specifically Vista 64 Home Premium).  And, chances are, these problems will not be resolved in Windows 7.  Yet, here they are in all their glory.

Memory Leaks

Vista has huge and horrible memory leaks.  After using Vista for a period of time (a week or two without a reboot) and using a variety of memory intensive 3D applications (Daz Studio, Carrara, The Gimp and Poser.. just to name a few), the system’s memory usage goes from 1.69GB to nearly 3GB in usage.  To answer the burning question… yes, I have killed all apps completely and I am comparing empty system to empty system.  Worse, there is no way to recover this memory short of rebooting.  If you had ever wondered why you need to reboot Windows so often, this is the exact reason.  For this reason alone, this is why Windows is not considered ‘stable’ by any stretch and why UNIX outperforms Windows for this reason alone.

Startup and Shutdown

Microsoft plays games with both of these procedures.

On Startup, Microsoft’s engineers have tricked you into thinking the system is functional even when it isn’t.  Basically, once the desktop appears, you think you can begin working.  In reality, even once the desktop appears, you still cannot work.  The system is still in the process of starting up the Windowing interface on top of about 100 background services (on many of which the windowing interface relies).  This trick makes Windows appear snappier to start up than it really is.  In fact, I would prefer it to just ready the system fully, then present the Windowing interface when everything is 100% complete.  I don’t want these tricks.  When I see the windowing interface, I want to know I can begin using it immediately… not before.

On Shutdown, we have other issues.  With Vista, Microsoft Engineers have done something to this process to make it, at times, ridiculously slow.  I have seen 8-15 minute ‘Shutting Down’ screens where the hard drive grinds the entire time.  I’m sorry, but shutdown time is not housekeeping time.  That needs to be done when the system is running.  It should not be done during shutdown procedures.  A shutdown should take no more than about 1-2 minutes to complete flushing buffers to disk and killing all processes.  If it can’t be done in 1-2 minutes, shut the system down anyway as there is nothing that can be done to finish those tasks anyway.

Windows Updates

Microsoft was supposed to eliminate the need to shutdown/reboot for most Windows updates.  For some updates, this is true.  For the majority of Windows updates, this is still not true.  In fact, Microsoft has, once again, made this process multistep and tediously slow in the process.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that they are now at least verbose in, sort of, what’s going on.. but that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s horribly slow.  The steps now are as follows:

  1. Windows installation process (downloading and installation through the Windows dialog box).  You think it’s over when you..
  2. Restart the system and it goes through finishing Step 2 of this process during shutdown… and then you think it’s over again when
  3. The system starts back up and goes through Step 3 of the update process.

Ok, I’m at a loss.  With Windows XP, we had two steps.  Those first during Windows updater and the second when the system starts back up.   Now with Vista, we have to introduce another step?

Windows Explorer

For whatever reason, Windows Explorer in Vista is horribly broken.  In Window XP, you used to be able to configure your Windows how you liked then lock it in with Tools->Folder Options  and then View->Apply to Folders.  This would lock in exactly how every window should appear (list or icon format, size of icons, etc).  With Windows Vista, this is completely and utterly broken.  Basically, this functionality simply no longer works.  I’ve tried many many times to lock in a format and Windows just randomly changes the folders back to whatever it feels like doing.

For example, I like my windows to look like this:

Favorite Format

Favorite Format

Unfortunately, Windows has its own agenda.  If I open a file requester (the standard Vista requester… the one that looks like the above) and I change the view to ANY other style than the one above, this change randomly changes other folder views on the system permanently.  So, I might open the above folder and it will later look like any of these:

Format Changed 1

Format Changed 1

Format Changed 2

Format Changed 2

or even

Format Changed 3

Format Changed 3

All of which is highly frustrating.  So, I’ll visit this folder later and see the entire headers have changed, or it’s changed to icon format or some other random format.  Worse, though, is that I’ve specifically changed to the folder to be my favorite format with Tools->Options.  In fact, I’ve gone through this permanent change at least 3-4 times after random changes  have happened and inevitably it changes to some other format later.  Again, highly frustrating.

Access Denied / Enhanced Security

For whatever reason, Microsoft has made shortcuts to certain folders.  Like for example, in your profile directory they have renamed ‘My Documents’ to simply ‘Documents’.  Yet, for whatever reason, Microsoft has created shortcuts that don’t work.  For example, if I click on ‘My Documents’ shortcut, I see ‘Access Denied’.  I don’t get why they would create a shortcut and then prevent it from working.

The only thing the enhanced security has done for Windows users is make it more of a problem to work.  Security goes both ways.  It helps protect you from malicious intent, but it can also get in the way of usability.  Security that ultimately gets in the way, like UAC, has failed to provide adequate security.  In fact, it has gone too far.  UAC is a complete and utter failure.  Combining this with making nearly every security issue tied to the SYSTEM user (with practically zero privileges), makes for stupid and exasperating usability.

Filesystem

To date, Windows still relies heavily and ONLY on NTFS.  Linux has about 5-6 different filesystems to choose from (Reiser, VxFS, XFS, Ext2, Ext3, JFS, BSD and several others).  This allows systems administrators to build an operating system that functions for the application need.  For example, some filesystems perform better for database use than others.   On Windows, you’re stuck with NTFS.  Not only is NTFS non-standard and proprietary (written by Veritas), it also doesn’t perform as well as it should under all conditions.  For database use, this filesystem is only barely acceptable.  It has hidden limits that Microsoft doesn’t publish that will ultimately bite you.  Microsoft wants this to become a pre-eminent datacenter system, but that’s a laugh.  You can’t trust NTFS enough for that.  There are way too many hidden problems in NTFS.  For example, if you hit a random limit, it can easily and swiftly corrupt NTFS’ MFT table (directory table).  Once the MFT table is corrupt, there’s no easy way to repair it other than CHKDSK. Note that CHKDSK is the ONLY tool that can truly and completely fix NTFS issues.  And, even CHKDSK doesn’t always work.  Yes, there are third party tools from Veritas and other companies, but these aren’t necessarily any better than CHKDSK.  Basically, if CHKDSK can’t fix your volume, you have to format and restore.

Note, however, that this isn’t a general Vista issue.  This problem has persisted back to the introduction of NTFS in Windows NT.  But, Microsoft has made no strides to allow or offer better more complete filesystems with better repair tools.  For example, Reiser and EXT3 both offer more complete repair tools than NTFS ever has.

Registry

The registry has got to be one of the most extensive hacks ever placed into any operating system.  This kludge of a database system is so completely botched from a design perspective, that there’s really nothing to say.  Basically, this system needs to be tossed and redesigned.  In fact, Microsoft has a real database system in MSSQL.  There is no reason why the registry is not based on MSSQL rather than that stupid hack of a thing call a hive/SAM.  Whomever decided on this design, well.. let’s just hope they no longer work at Microsoft.

Failure

For the above reasons (and others), Microsoft has completely failed with Windows Vista.  This failure was already in the making, though, when Longhorn was announced ages ago.  In fact, Microsoft had planned even more draconian measures to enable heavy DRM on Windows.  Thankfully, that was removed from Vista.  But, what remains makes Vista so encumbered and exasperating to use, it’s no wonder users are frustrated using Vista.  Combining that with its incredibly large footprint (1.6GB of memory just to boot the OS), and you have a complete loser of an OS.

Windows 7 is a glimmer of hope, but it is still heavily tied to Vista.  If UAC and these stupid SYSTEM user security measures remain, then nothing will really change.  Microsoft needs to take Windows back to the drawing board and decide what is necessary and what isn’t.  Preventing the user from actually using the operating system is not and should not be a core value, let alone part of security.  Yet, here we are.

Microsoft, you need to take a look at the bigger picture.  This is your final chance to get Windows right.  There are plenty of other unencumbered operating systems out there that do not get in the way of desktop computing.  These operating systems are definitely a threat to Microsoft’s continued viability… especially with blundering mistakes like Vista.  Windows will never win any awards for Best Operating System with issues such as these.  Consider Microsoft’s stupid filesystem layout that allows operating system and application files to be thrown all over the hard drive and you’ll begin to understand why Windows continues to fail.

The single reason why Microsoft continues to exist is because users feel compelled to buy this antiquated dog of an operating system strictly due to application support.  If developers would finally and completely jump ship to other more thoughtfully designed operating systems, then Windows would finally wither and die… eventually, this will happen.

The Microsoft Botch

Posted in botch, microsoft, redmond, windows by commorancy on January 14, 2009

Well, what can I say?  Microsoft has been one series of botch jobs after another recently.  I guess every company goes through a spate of problems, but this series of problems seems a bit excessive (and avoidable). Consider that Windows ME more or less started the botches (ignoring Microsoft Bob).  But, after ME they had the successful 2000 and XP series… then Vista.  Vista is the albatross that Microsoft would like to soon forget.  But, that’s not all of their problems.  We’ll come back to Vista.  

The Office botch

Office 2008 for the Mac has been a huge bust (just check the reviews on Amazon) by the users because of the lack of VBA (among other compatibility issues).  Then, there’s Office 2007 for Windows, which some developer in their infinite wisdom decided to use Microsoft Word’s HTML parser to render HTML emails!  So, when you’re viewing HTML emails in Outlook 2007, there are page breaks!  I’ll say that again, “page breaks”.  You read that correctly.  Since when does anyone paginate web sites?  What makes Microsoft think that people want to see web pages paginated?

That doesn’t even take into account the entire GUI change they made between Office 2003 and Office 2007.  Sure, 2007 is supposed to look modern and streamlined.  But, instead, the new GUI ends up with a huge learning curve and is basically incompatible with previous versions of Office.  Instead of doing actual work, now you have to chase down the function you need because it’s not where it used to be. The addition of the stupid round Windows Flag button instead of an actual menu bar is completely assinine design.  Let’s hope that whomever thought up that innovation no longer works in Redmond.  There are some things that just need to be user tested and this product clearly wasn’t.

The Zune botch

Consider the Zune 30GB had a leap year bug that caused the entire unit to completely freeze up.  This required the owners to wait until the battery completely drained to reset the unit.  That and wait until after the new year, otherwise it would refreeze.

The infamous Xbox 360 overheating botch

To this date, Microsoft STILL has no clue what’s causing the issue or how to resolve it.  They *think* it’s related to heat so they’ve added a heat sink to try and help the issue.  Even still, they had to take a huge financial hit and extend the Xbox 360 warranty out to 3 years from its original 1 year.  

The Origami botch

“What was Origami”, you ask?  Nuff’ said.  If you really want to know, read this Wiki article.

Tablet Computers

Um, where are they today?  No where. People don’t want to lug tablets around.  They didn’t want to lug them when Grid was around.  What made Microsoft think people would want to lug them around 10 years later?  Oh right, I guess they thought they would because that oh-so-heavy tablet was running such a wonderful touch screen version of Windows.  Doh!

The IE7 botch

Ignoring Microsoft’s constant security flaws as a botch job, although some of them certainly qualify, another is Microsoft’s decision to remove the ability to uninstall IE7 after you install Service Pack 3 (SP3) on XP.  So, for an IE repair that should have taken all of about 15 minutes, you’re now saddled with the task of whipping out the Windows installation media and running repair on the entire operating system (broken or not).  Thanks Microsoft.

Note that Microsoft’s justification for this IE change stems apparently from some files that SP3 installs.  The SP3 installer may overwrite either IE7 or IE6 files that, were Microsoft to allow removal of IE7, might leave the system in an unstable state if you were to use IE6.  Well, hello, you guys wrote the software!! So, instead of actually taking the time to write SP3 properly to still allow software removal of IE7, you take the easy way out and leave the system owner saddled with a huge task just to repair IE7 when it breaks.

Why does this matter?  Been living in a cave?  IE7 is not completely stable.  Much of the time the search provider installation process doesn’t work.  You try and you get ‘Errors on page’ and the search providers cannot be loaded.  Then you have the ‘Save Your Settings’ problem.  Once you install IE7, it asks to save default settings.  Yet, much of the time this process won’t save settings and always continues to present this panel on startup.  I’ve searched and searched and have been unable to find a workable solution to either the search provider or the save defaults issues.  The ONLY workable solution (uninstall/reinstall) was conveniently taken away by Microsoft in their infinite wisdom.  So, instead of a 15 minute fix, it now takes 2-3 hours to completely repair the system, reinstall windows updates and test everything.  Of course, it is possible to remove SP3, but at what risk to the system?  These things rarely work once you’ve installed apps on top of the system after an SP is installed.  In other words, be prepared to have things begin breaking and applications to need to be reinstalled.

The bottom line is that Microsoft made this change to make things easy for Microsoft.  For the end user, however, they will now incur high priced repair bills simply because Microsoft decided to make things easy for themselves.

The Vista botch

Well, what can be said about Vista that hasn’t already been said?  Vista has so many user interface problems, lackluster performance, the overreaching and underperforming Aero system and the constant flickering between various modes and resolutions that make Vista seem more like Windows 3.1 than it does a mainstream OS.   Combine this with constant driver issues, Vista is completely unsuable for any real purpose.  You’re forever repairing it instead of actually using it.  Vista also requires a hefty powered system to even perform decently.  So, it’s no wonder businesses didn’t adopt it.

Combine all of this with the marketing of Vista, it’s just been a disaster.  For whatever reason, Microsoft decided to put out 5-8 different version of Windows Vista… 3-4 of which were targeted at home consumers.  This is more confusing for consumers than it is helpful.  This should have been paired down to 1 to at most 2 versions.  Consumers don’t want 4 choices in an OS.  They also don’t want to pay $400 for an operating system.  Yet more botch.

Windows 7 botch or not?

If Microsoft adopts Vista’s codebase to build Windows 7, this product will be no better than Vista and will likely end up being yet another botch.  Vista’s codebase for the driver subsystem is a complete disaster (and continues to be a problem even as of this blog article).  By taking Vista’s codebase for Windows 7, Microsoft ensures that Windows 7 will be just as problematic as Vista.  The interface is only half of Vista’s problem.  People can overlook the GUI learning issues when the components under the hood simply work.  But, they don’t.  For example, one of the most significant problems that Vista suffers from is “Display Driver has stopped responding and recovered”.  Ok, now what is this?  We’ve never ever had this issue before.  Granted, maybe it prevents the blue screen of death, but having the display driver stop responding means what exactly?  And, why is it now that the video drivers are just now having this problem.  Using Vista’s codebase practically assures this issue to contiinue in Windows 7.  So, 7 will end up just as driver problematic is Vista.

Suffice it to say that Microsoft is going through a bad way.  Perhaps they’ve had an exodus of people who actually knew where to take things. But, Windows has become such a bloated hodge-podge piece of trash, I don’t know if Microsoft can honestly salvage it.  Vista and Windows 7 may end up being the death knell for this operating system.  By Microsoft basically botching their two flagship products (Office and Windows), I don’t know if they will be able to recover easily.  Combine this with stupid programming mistakes (like the Zune) and clearly, Microsoft has major internal issues that need to be addressed.

Whatever the issue, I don’t see this botch trend ending any time Zune (pun intended).

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iTunes 8 never installs or upgrades, requests to reboot over and over in Vista

Posted in itunes bugs by commorancy on December 15, 2008

[UPDATE: 9/15/10]

This issue is back (without the rebooting part) in iTunes 10 and Windows 7. Please see my most current post describing how to resolve this issue. Note, the information contained in the article below is here for historical value only. Please see my latest post describing how to fix the most current issue with iTunes 10 and Windows 7. -Brian

[UPDATE: 10/28/09]

As an update to this Randosity article, I have upgraded my system to Windows 7 and then installed iTunes 9.  Since making this change, I am no longer having the registry issue documented in this Randosity article. So, it may be worthwhile to upgrade your system to Windows 7 to alleviate this issue. Of course, it could be a fluke, but iTunes installed and started up without any issues on Windows 7. Before you upgrade, though, you’ll want to remove iTunes from your system, then run the upgrade to Windows 7, then reinstall iTunes 9. If you still experience registry issues with Windows 7 and iTunes 9, refer to this article for tips on what to do.

[UPDATE: 4/08/09]

Note: I’ve just found that the permissions issues resurface after the upgrade to the 8.1.1.10 version of iTunes.  If it happens to you, you will want to follow the instructions below to fix the permissions problems such as to enable the use of the itms protocol (the protocol that lets you get to iTunes URLs from your browser through the iTunes app).  Note that you may be able to uninstall iTunes and reinstall it with success.  However, I wasn’t able to do this on my system.  So, I had to utilize the instructions below.  Note also that when you use the Software Update tool under Windows that it will change the permissions back to being non-functional.  So, you will, again, need to follow the instructions below.

Note that I have simplified these instructions.

[END UPDATE}

What is this all about?

I ran into this iTunes problem on my Windows Vista 64 Home Premium installation.  If you have an iPod or an iPhone, this can be extremely frustrating.  I am also using the iTunes 64 bit version.  I spent probably 2-3 days poking around on the Internet for answers to this problem.  The answer is not as easy as one might have hoped.  This fix should work with all versions of Vista, but specifically works for Vista 64.  However, there is a solution.

So, let’s describe the problems you might encounter because of this issue:

  1. iTunes upgrades and asks you to reboot.  You reboot.  You try to start iTunes and a Windows Installer says ‘configuring’ again.  It asks you to reboot again.   You do this 2 -3 times and realize this is a dead end.  iTunes won’t start from the icon.
  2. You launch an itms, itmss or itpc protocol in your browser and the browser tells you there is no application associated with this protocol.
  3. Quicktime gives you an ActiveX error and won’t run.

There have been several proposed solutions to this issue.  The easiest being, go to your Program Files folder and create a shortcut from the iTunes.exe file to your desktop (or wherever).  While this first resolution does work and will let you play your music, it will only work to a degree.  It doesn’t fix Quicktime.  It also doesn’t fix the underlying issue and it doesn’t fix the browser launching problem described above.  For that, read on.

The Reason Behind this Issue

Feel free to skip to the The Solution below if you want to get started right away.

Windows Vista adds in much stronger security protections within Windows including Windows registry entries.  So, things tend to run as the psuedo user SYSTEM (sometimes called Local System) and also apparently some registry entries get installed as the SYSTEM user.  Note, the SYSTEM user is not an actual user.  So, you cannot log in as this user, nor can you easily use RunAs on this user.  Fret not, there is a way to get an interactive session with the SYSTEM user in Vista.  We’ll come to that under the solutions section.

With the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft has completely thwarted the idea of a superuser.  No longer is there a superuser on Windows Vista.  Because of this change, there are now permissions that can be set onto objects, things and registry entries that can even prevent Administrator (the once previous superuser) from getting access to that object within Vista.  That doesn’t mean that Administrator can’t ulimately get access to the object, it means that the initial permissions prevent it.  The superuser Administrator can still change the permissions and ownerships always, but the initial permissions prevent access.  In a truly superuser system, this should never happen.  There should always be a full superuser that always has access 100% of the time regardless of set permissions.  That’s the idea behind a superuser.   Thus, Microsoft has officially broken the Windows’ superuser.

The Broken Apple Problem

Because the superuser is now broken in Vista, there are registry entries that get placed (or replaced) as a result of Apple’s inept handling of the installation of iTunes (and probably Quicktime also).   So, entries get built with only SYSTEM user permissions.  No permissions are given to Administrator, Users or any other group or user on the system.  Because SYSTEM has such limited privileges (created specifically by MS to thwart privilege escalation exploits), the installer for iTunes (actually the Windows installer) cannot reset the broken permissions that  the initial installer created in the first place!

In other words, let’s say you’re logged in as your account named ‘beaners’.  The account ‘beaners’ is not allow access to read objects that are created by the SYSTEM user (where this object has no other permissions set).  Since your ‘beaners’ account doesn’t have permissions to SYSTEM created objects, your account gets ‘Access Denied’.  That would be fine if the object were intentionally supposed to be set this way.  However, because of Apple’s ineptness, the iTunes registry entries get set up this way.  So, your ‘beaners’ account again gets ‘Access Denied’ to these registry entries.  This breaks iTunes and is probably not what Apple intended.  In fact, the permissions for these registry entries should have been set so that all users have full control over these registry entries.  Yes, there is a Users group that includes all users of Windows.

This is a fairly serious and stupid mistake by Apple.

The Solution

As of 4/08/09, I have found that the reason the script didn’t work for me initially wasn’t related the administrator account.  Instead, it was the script itself being incomplete.  I have, therefore, included a lot more registry fixes for mostly iTunes, but it also includes many Quicktime registry entries.  Because of the fixed script, I am able to present a far easier methodology to get iTunes working.  As a result of fixing this script to work better, I was able to reduce this article down to only a few steps.

Actually, the solution relies on a script that ultimately resets the permissions on the iTunes and Quicktime registry entries to give Administrator and Users (the group described above) access to all of these entries.  The script must run as Administrator to be successful.  Therefore, you will need to use the ‘Run as administrator’ feature on the script.  This fix will not succeed if the script isn’t running as Administrator.

To proceed with this fix, you will need the following things:

  • Subinacl: Download ‘subinacl.exe’ from Microsoft here.
  • Reset.cmd: You can download the script from here.

Find your script where you downloaded it.  Make sure that subinacl.exe is in your path or place this subinacl.exe in the same directory with the script.  Next, right-click the reset.cmd file and choose ‘Run as administrator’ (see image below):

Run reset.cmd as Administrator

Run reset.cmd as Administrator

Once you run it as Administrator, it will open a command shell.  You may see the security warning below:

Security Warning

Security Warning

If you see the security warning, it is just asking you to confirm that this is what you really want to do.  Click the ‘Run’ button to run reset.cmd script.  Once it runs, it will open a command shell:

Command Shell Running Reset.cmd

Command Shell Running Reset.cmd

Press any key to begin the repair or close the window to abort.  If you want to see what the Reset.cmd command does before you run it, open it in Notepad.  You will see that it simply modifies the permissions on the registry keys associated with Quicktime and iTunes to allow Everyone to access these registry keys.  Once this task is completed, your iTunes will be repaired and functional.

Good luck and let me know if you have questions or if you have a success story.

Disclaimer:  You are responsible for your use of this information.  This information is provided as-is with no warranty expressed or implied.  Use the above information at your own risk.  You should always make system restore points or backups before making registry changes so you can restore your system in the event of unexpected problems.

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