Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Website, 10 Years On; Vista, 3 Weeks On 

I'm sorry to say that Windows Vista has been acting more weirdly than anything I've experienced in any previous version of Windows. Without editorializing or speculating, I will cite only specific examples.

Note that I'm by no means anti-Microsoft -- or pro-Microsoft. I think it's amazing that relatively cheap personal computers do as much as they can do, these days. Yet, as a software engineer myself by background and trade, I'm sad to see these devices are not as 'robust' as they should be -- they seem to be sacrificing that kind of dependability for the every-expanding fringes of (erratic) capability. And don't tell me about Apple and Macs. As far as I'm concerned, a 'computer' that doesn't run the now-common home and small business database application, Microsoft Access, or some equivalent, isn't a computer at all, but a toy. (As I've mentioned before, I live and breathe Microsoft Access, and was astounded a while back during a visit to a shiny Apple iStore to discover that no version of Microsoft Office for Mac included Access.)

Anyway. I previously described how my original basic graphics program, Paint Shop Pro version 4, apparently did not install at all in Windows Vista -- it seemed to, but could not then be launched or found. Paint Shop Pro version 7 did install and can be launched, but -- here's the weird part -- it only works for a while between reboots. After a two or three days, clicking on the icon produces the Vista activity icon, a spinning circle (replacing the time-honored Windows hourglass), but then the spinning circle disappears and nothing else happens. *Poof*. Clicking on a jpg or gif file directly from an Explorer window launches not Paint Shop Pro 7, as it should, but Windows somethingorother. Rebooting the laptop (er, notebook) restores normal operation. I wonder (which isn't quite speculating) whether the new form of hibernation, or whatever happens when you close the lid of the laptop for the night until you open it again the next morning, somehow corrupts the standard settings.

There are similar functional failures that seem to appear after several days without rebooting, but which are cured by closing down one or more applications if not actual rebooting. I try to open WordPad, and get an error message about unable to launch null window, or something. I try to open my tracking excel spreadsheet, and am told the file does not exist. (It certainly does exist.) I try to open one of my databases, the one where I log in all by CDs, and am told I have a "missing or broken reference to the file 'dao2535.tlb' version 3.4". Thanks a lot.

There are minor cool things about the new Office programs. I'm most gratified by Access, which displays datasheets with subtle shadings in alternate rows, and stronger shadings in the row and column where the cursor is located, similar to the way Excel has worked; I do lots of data entry directly into datasheets (forms are for sissies), and this change makes it much easier for me to be sure where I'm about to type new data. OTOH, I've yet to be convinced that the new 'ribbons' that replace the old file menus are any sort of conceptual breakthough. Every time I try to do anything beyond file/save, I'm stopped with having to figure out where oh where is the command for what I want to do in the new hierarchy. Actually, the old alt-key commands still work, though the window that appears when doing this implies that they've been deprecated; but otherwise, I'd never have figured out how to compact one of my databases after it's been bloated by the standard Access practice of expanding required disk space for every single temporary table that's generated when building and exporting a series of webpages (e.g. the Locus Reviews Index).

One thing the new Outlook has *not* done... is figured out how to hyperlink long URLs that wrap within an email message. I still have to copy the tail end and paste into the browser window...etc.

I should say more about the website's 10th year anniversary, but I don't have time this evening to condense this ramble; I'll post more on another day.
This is why I never buy a version of windows unless it's at least a year old. Microsoft might as well call their first release a beta version, for all the screwups they always have. When you by a Microsoft first release, you're basically Bill Gates' guinea pig.
Congrats on surviving 10 years!
Frank Wu
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Mark R. Kelly

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mark R. Kelly, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine.
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