There’s an old saying: Anyone who loves the law or sausage should never watch either one being made. That probably applies to Windows, too. I thought about that as I read Chris Pirillo’s attention-getting two-part series Windows Vista Feedback and 65 More Windows Vista Mistakes.
Is this what you get when you combine too much caffeine, a wee tendency toward obsessive-compulsiveness, and a finely honed sense of the controversial? Well, yes. It seems like half of the entries on the list are related to a font that’s in the wrong point size or a dialog box that has a few pixels of white space in the wrong place. Some of the “mistakes” aren’t mistakes at all. Like #19:
You only have seven settings in the Windows Mobility Center – can’t you just make up an 8th one, or are we really going to have to stare at this glaring empty space in the lower right-hand corner?
Hmmm. Here’s the Mobility Center on the notebook PC I’m using to write this post:
Eight boxes. No ugly empty square.
Ditto for #28:
Hey, would someone please fix the fact that the Task Manager’s Applications Pane has a horizontal scroll bar that never goes away – no matter what you do? It serves no purpose and has been annoying the hell out of me since Windows 2000. WHY IS IT THERE?!
Pssst, Chris: You can make that scrollbar go away. Drag the separation bar at the right of the Status column to the left, so it’s visible in the Task Manager window. (I’m pointing to it in the screen below.) As soon as you see the edge of the Status column, the scrollbar goes bye-bye.
Some of these “mistakes” are design decisions that reasonable people can differ about. Like the white volume control icon (#6) and the green progress bar (#64). I don’t see those as mistakes at all.
Some are just plain bugs, like the broken link to Indexing Options in the Performance Ratings and Tools section of Control Panel (#33). This is, after all, a beta. It’s supposed to have bugs. As a widely available beta, it should not have any data-damaging bugs, and fortunately nothing in Chris’s two long posts falls into the “Oh my God, I can’t believe that one got through!” category.
Some are just questions. Like #55:
“Search the Internet” – is that Live’s version of the Internet or Google’s? Can this be toggled to Google easily? If so, where? If not, why not?
It follows your search preferences as set in the Internet Options Control Panel. General tab, Search Options box. Right where one might expect it to be. I’ve set my default search provider to Google, so my searches from this box get sent to Google.
And I’m trying to figure out how #38 is a “mistake”:
Reliability Monitor in the Performance Diagnostic Console is pretty nice. A few controls and images are awfully old, but the tool itself might prove useful in troubleshooting scenarios.
Chris’s list really boils down to two realities of development:
Every design decision has a cost. Microsoft doesn’t have unlimited development resources, and every feature has to go through a massive test matrix. Ultimately someone decided that the ability to customize the metadata that appears in Windows Explorer won’t be added because no one is available to write the code for that feature, and insisting that it stay on the list would delay the ship date by another three months.
A lot of Windows reuses code written for a previous version. Many of the fit and finish issues that Chris is identifying exist because they were written by different teams at different times. In some cases the developers didn’t follow the user experience guidelines as closely as they should; in other cases the guidelines changed, but someone decided (see the previous rule) that the change was too expensive to make.
In item #50, Chris quotes a critic who describes the original post as “the most annually [sic] retentive post I’ve ever read.” His response: “[I]t’s attitudes like this which cause potentially ‘great’ products to come across as ‘okay.’ If that kind of sloppiness is happening on the surface, I cringe when I think about what’s going on underneath.”
Well, yes. A lot of what is going on underneath the hood of Windows involves shims, workarounds, and downright kludges to allow old apps and a gazillion third-party devices to work. From a purist’s point of view, it’s got to be ugly. If visual perfection and absolute design consistency are your benchmark, forget about Windows. In fact, forget about any modern operating system, because I’m sure you could do the same pixel-by-pixel critique of any Linux GUI or the Mac or just about any large, complex website, and they’d all come up short.
I can’t quite make out the subtext of Chris’s two posts. Is Vista just another in a long line of sloppy Windows releases? He’s been complaining about this stuff for years, after all, and Windows seems to keep selling. Or is this version so big and so late and so sloppy that it’s going to be a disaster? It’s hard to make out the forest when you’re focusing on all those little tiny trees.
We’ll know in about six months whether Vista is a pretty nifty Windows update with a bunch of tiny visual inconsistencies or a mess of Windows Me proportions. I sure hope the Windows development team is focusing on the stuff that matters.