Something is out of wack with the spirtual side of the branding experience

Yeah, catchy title, eh? Do I know what it means? No, I don't have the slightest idea what on earth mr. Steve Ball, group program manager for the Windows Audio Video Excellence team (what do these people do?), meant with spirtual side of the branding experience. You can read all about it here: The startup sound in Vista (Scobleizer).

Yesterday, Microsoft released Release Candidate 1 (RC1) of Windows Vista. So I downloaded it and installed it on my Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop's Test OS partition. The laptop has an Intel graphics chip, so nothing fancy. Still, it's from May 2005, so not that old. Vista rates it: 1.0. That's right, 1.0. Hmm. 7200rpm drive, 1.89mhz centrino, 1gb ram... doesn't sound like stone-age tech to me. However, with the default MS Intel graphics driver, it's sluggish. But perhaps Intel will release a more advanced driver soon. I still find '1.0' a low rating for a fine laptop of barely a year old. On the same machine I've also Windows XP professional, and sorry to say it, but it's much faster.

Though that's not the only thing I have with Vista RC1. There are some things I find pretty serious, and I have a feeling they won't get fixed in the final version. I've enlisted them below. Overall, I don't think I'm looking forward to Vista, it's just not an OS that packs features I think are worth it to upgrade. Others might think differently of course. I'm sure there are large groups of people who find some Vista features reason enough to upgrade.

  • Hide extensions of known filetypes is still on by default. One of the most stupid decisions ever made in Windows is actually a combination of two things: a) the file extension decides how to open the file/with what program to open the file and b) these extensions should be hidden. Now, who hasn't seen the virusses floating around the net, often spread by email, where an attachment (packed in a zip file or directly packed as a file) has the extension .doc.exe. Hiding the extensions will thus make that .doc. Oh, a document, I can safely open that!. Nope, it's an executable. Welcome to zombie-land.

    Of course, there will be people who will argue 'but there's a virusscanner running, so nothing can happen!'. You're sure? Why keeping this default in windows? Why not showing the extensions by default, so the user always sees the .scr and .exe and what not extension, so the user is less likely to fall into the trap. It's a simply checkbox for MS to uncheck. It's hard to find for novice users where to uncheck that checkbox.
  • When the Windows font size is changed to another dpi size, not all fonts are resized. My laptop has a widescreen with 1680x1024 pixels if I'm correct. The default 96dpi fonts are pretty small. My eyes are ok, I can read the tiny characters, but I'm sure some people don't. Windows has the feature to change the Windows font size, so let's bump it up a little, say 110dpi, OK? It requires a reboot, so after the reboot, I expect every font in Windows Vista to be larger. No sir! Tab headers are still 96dpi, other fonts are sized OK, some dialogs have tiny characters still, others are sized OK. To borrow a phrase from mr. Steve Ball: it's a mess, a wild west. What if the user doesn't have good eyes and need the larger dpi fonts? And I mean: everywhere?

    Windows XP had this, and I expected Vista to take care of this for good. After all, it got a completely rewritten shell. Nope. And I'm not talking about forms of old applications, I didn't install a single app on Vista, these are all dialogs of Vista itself.
  • Why isn't the Windows XP look the 'classic look'? For Vista, it seems that the version before it was Windows 2000. There's no theme element which remembers you about Windows XP's shell / look and feel. You want a Windows XP startup menu behavior? Don't expect the only other option you have, 'Classic', to be Windows XP's startup menu. It will bring you back to the era before that. Similar to the windows look (how the window borders look etc.): you have the choice between Aero, or back to the stone age with nice gray bars and buttons. Very strange.
  • Windows 3.11 font selector is still alive, altering the path in system environment still uses a tiny screen There are a lot of small things which would make this a loooong list so I won't enlist them here, but two things still struck me as simply sloppy crap which should have been removed ages ago and which don't belong in an OS not even released today which has seen so much revisioning work. I'm talking about things like the crappy font selection dialog for example. It's not resizable and so tiny, you really wonder if Microsoft expects people to run Vista on a screen with just 320x200 pixels. Another example of how some things seem to be forgotten is the dialog to alter an environment variable, like the PATH environment variable. The path string can become quite long, however the dialog (not resizable of course! Do you know how hard that is?) is very tiny and forces you to copy/paste the string into notepad to edit it.

    The new Mail program doesn't allow users to search/replace text in the email editor. Even Notepad can do that. Apparently people shouldn't search/replace (or even search) in an email text. Am I the only one who needs that sometimes?

So, let's get back to the topic I started with, the startup sound of Windows. It's played before windows shows the login screen, so you can't control the speaker volume, as the controls don't work, at least not on a laptop. You also can't switch it off. Now, this sound (it's not included in RC1) will be composed (and likely played) by Robert Fripp. Mr. Fripp is a guitarist and I had the unpleasant experience to hear him perform live 2 years ago at the Arrow Classic Rock festival here in the Netherlands, right before Vai and Satriani would start playing real music. I truly hope the startup sound won't be as what he played there, because it will be 'fun' to go through that with every boot of the laptop... But that's of course a matter of taste. I don't expect that everyone likes the same music as a metal-head (and guitarist) like myself.

Now, reading about how much energy, time and thus money is being poured into this spiritual side of the branding experience, I have a hard time combining that with annoyances a user has to wade through every day, like the font issue. Why not spend all that energy, time and thus money on something which sells itself, something without rough edges?

Of course, people will now bash me for being negative, blablabla. The previous OS which was installed on that 20GB partition I installed RC1 on was Suse Linux 10.1. When I compare the two, I'd say that Vista and Suse Linux' user experience is on par with eachother, at least on my Inspiron 6000 laptop. I'm sure on a not-so-out-of-wack supersystem bought last week it will be completely different, however that's not something I have on my desk at the moment. What's striking is that the Windows XP Professional, installed on another patition on the same laptop is performing way better. Ok, it also has the out-of-wack font issues, but it's also an OS which is a couple of years old.

Let's hope RC2 and Final of Vista will bring more tweaks and will solve some (or all!) of the issues I've mentioned. After all, it's still a beta release candidate.


  • Unfortunately not all driver manufacturers have updated their drivers just yet. The quality of your video driver in particular makes a huge difference. If I use the standard VGA driver my laptop is sluggish (slow screen re-paints), whereas with the real driver it absolutely screams.

    Hopefully you'll see a similar experience once your video card has the updated driver (btw -- have you checked Windows Update yet with Vista installed to see if an updated one is available via there?)

  • It surprised me a little that Intel didn't release a (beta) driver for vista for this chipset yet, as it's one of the most used graphic chipsets in laptops. (I checked windows update and also intel's website)

    I hope the driver will improve :) It's not completely sluggish, it's 'ok', (but no 3D aero, but ok, I can live with that), however screen updates of applications give the idea it's slower overall... it's not snappy. But I read they're still working on performance, so let's hope it will improve :)

  • Hey Frans, I think you'll find your laptop has a screen rez of 1680 by 1050... ;)

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