Tough Day at the Office with Vista

 


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ONE of the biggest surprises about working with Windows Vista was the initial difficulty I experienced connecting to the office network.

Made up of a few aging Windows NT 4.0 servers, a router and switches, the network is used to share files, printers and Internet access with desktop computers running Windows 98 and a handful of Windows XP and Mac OS X notebooks that connect wirelessly.

Into this mix I brought an HP Presario V3000 notebook computer running Windows Vista Ultimate, a loaner from Microsoft.

I was quickly disabused of the notion that it would be easy to connect it to the Windows network. Whether I used a network cable or a wireless link, I was unable to log in to the file server. The name and password combination that worked on my regular machine was rejected when I used the Vista PC.

The MIS department offered a theory—later confirmed—that the problem lay, not with Vista itself, but with the NT server, which had not been upgraded to Service Pack 6. Upgrading the server solved the problem.

The next challenge was printing.

When I tried connecting to the network printer, an HP Laserjet 5000, Vista complained: “Windows cannot connect to the printer. The printer is not compatible with a policy enabled on your computer that blocks NT 4.0 drivers. "

Vista came had its own Laserjet 5000 driver, but would only allow me to install it as a local printer. I searched Vista Help but the “Best 30 results for network printing in Windows NT" didn’t even mention this problem.

A product expert from Microsoft advised me to install the Vista driver, right-click on the local printer’s icon and call up the properties window. From there, I was to add a new port then type in the network path to the printer. Though unwieldy and unintuitive, the solution worked.

Like the compatibility problems I wrote about last week, this one is likely to cause a fair amount of frustration because the solution is far from obvious. Worse, the incompatibility in this case wasn’t even between Vista and third party software, but between different versions of Windows.

Other irritations got in the way of work, including persistent reminders to activate Windows Vista.

I’ve always been against Microsoft’s policy of product activation, which gives customers 30 days to “activate" their software over the Internet or by phone. Microsoft says this is aimed at stopping piracy, but I see it as an unnecessary imposition on legitimate customers, akin to a security guard at a department store chasing after you to demand proof of purchase after you’ve left the premises—and indeed, even reached home.

The biggest irony was that activation got in the way of my finishing this review, as Vista warned me I had only three days left to activate it before it would stop functioning. I called Microsoft, and after some checking, they told me the version I was testing was a demo and that they didn’t have a product key.

“But you’re Microsoft!" I protested. “Can’t you just give me a key so I can continue working on this machine?" No. They would have to reinstall Vista if I wanted to continue testing it.

Instead of doing this, we ended up swapping notebooks. The new one cheerfully tells me I have 22 days left before Windows will stop working.

In a perfect world, I or the MIS department would have the product key handy the moment I needed it. But in the real world, computers crash or get upgraded, operating systems need to be reinstalled, and product keys get misplaced—and having to put up with Microsoft’s activation rigmarole all over again is one more process that just gets in the way of work.

Product activation is great for Microsoft but brings absolutely no benefit to its customers.

Two other observations, hardly original, bear repeating.

First, the hardware requirements to run Vista well are steep, so companies are unlikely to upgrade existing computers to run it. Most Vista installations will come by way of new computers that already ship with the operating system installed.

Second, expect a period of adjustment. Despite major improvements in security and usability, the operating system and associated applications are just different enough from Windows XP that some retraining may be required.

Internet Explorer 7.0, which comes with Vista, is far better than 6.0, but its buttons have been moved around and not at all where you’d expect to find them.

Microsoft Office 2007, not really a part of Vista but designed to work with it, features a completely reworked menu system that is guaranteed to throw off old users. The default file formats, too, have been changed, and users in a heterogeneous computing environment will need to be reminded to save their files in a format that everyone can read.

As part of better security, workers who are signed in as standard users will have to get used to the idea that they need an administrator’s permission to install or remove software, much as they would on a Linux network.

The Windows Start menu has been vastly improved by the simple addition of a search bar that can be used to quickly find an launch programs. Mac and Linux users will say this sounds a lot like Spotlight and Desk Bar, but imitation isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it drives innovation and benefits end-users.

But maybe all this talk about copying from others has sunk into the psyche of Microsoft developers. Or maybe it’s just a marketing gimmick. It struck me as odd that Microsoft felt the need to attach the word “Windows" to so many programs. There’s Windows Calendar, Windows Contacts, Windows Defender, Windows DVD Maker, Windows Fax and Scan, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Mail, Windows Media Center, Windows Media Player, Windows Meeting Space, Windows Movie Maker, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Update and, oh yes, Windows Explorer.

It’s almost as if they needed to remind themselves—and their customers—that, for better or worse, they’re still computing in a Windows world.

From Digital Life by Chin Wong

http://www.chinwong.com

Chin Wong has been covering the technology industry since the 1980s, starting as a reporter for Business Day, Southeast Asia’s first daily business newspaper. He is now a lecturer in journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines and associate editor for the Manila Standard Today. Before that, he also served as technology editor of the Manila Times until October 2004.

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