We need less whining, more complaining about Vista

We need less whining, more complaining about Vista

Summary: The single most frustrating thing about working with Vista today, just as it was back in the year after XP's release, is that the collection of accumulated experience hasn't turned into a searchable trove of solutions yet. It takes time and effort for early adopters to build that sort of distributed knowledge base. So how do we get there? Less whining, more complaining.There's a big difference.

TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft

[For background, see my earlier post: No more Vista whining, please]

All computers have problems. Most of those problems have solutions or workarounds. XP users have had six years to build up a distributed encyclopedia of tribal knowledge documenting those problems and their solutions. If you get an error message with XP, you can Google the error code or message text and have a reasonable expectation of finding a solution. If you encounter an error or a broken feature in Vista, on the other hand, you're much less likely to find an answer today and much more likely to find others asking the same question as you. (With luck, they'll all update their posts when the answer turns up, as it inevitably does.)

This phenomenon isn't new. I remember struggling with the same frustrating information vacuum in 2001 and 2002, after XP's RTM and before SP1. The single most frustrating thing about working with Vista today, just as it was back then with XP, is that this collection of accumulated experience hasn't achieved much mass yet. In another year or two, early adopters will have made that distributed knowledge base (not to mention Microsoft's official Knowledge Base) considerably larger.

So how do we get to that point? Less whining, more complaining.

I've got no patience for Vista whiners, but I will make extra time to read and respond to a good Vista complaint. What's the difference? Take a look at any of Tim Anderson's information-rich posts on Vista, like Audio in Vista: more hell than heaven, where Tim makes a pretty convincing case that "the actual, real-world experience of audio in Vista is mixed at best." Here's an executive summary that I clipped together, but it's worth reading the whole thing (including the comments):

Maybe some of these problems are specific to my machine or the way it is configured. Maybe, and I look forward to your tips. But ... I don’t see many posts from musicians raving about how much better Vista is for their work. I see plenty of posts about problems with audio in Vista. ...

The bottom line is that Vista audio should be great, but in practice it is problematic for many users. Why? Here are a few possibilities.

And then he lays out those possibilities in provocative fashion.

The post is filled with enough personal experience to assure me that this author knows what he's talking about and hasn't taken anything for granted. It includes plenty of sharp, detailed questions that he hasn't been able to answer yet. Tim offers some interesting theories for discussion and debate, and best of all, he offers links to other information-rich, detailed conversations on the same topic so you can get up to speed quickly. There's no doubt that Tim has a legitimate complaint about how Vista is working for him. He's not just whining.

And guess what? Some top Microsoft developers showed up in the comments section at Tim's blog to answer some of his questions and ask for more details. Respondents included Larry Osterman, who works on the core Windows audio engine for Vista and whose blog is a must-read if you're even slightly interested in the Windows Vista audio stack.

Whiners don't link, either, except to their own stuff. If you're having audio-related problems with Windows Vista and you try to find answers, who's going to be more helpful: the elite columnist trolling for page views by mixing up a big batch of snarky, whiny bloggage about how much Vista sucks? Or the blogger or newsgroup contributor who provides the one tiny technical detail you needed to fix an annoyance?

I thought one comment from the previous thread was right on the money. Voska writes:

I think it's because people have forgotten all the problems they had with XP when it first came out. ... [P]eople forget that it's XP with Service pack 2 and years of driver support that gave them this system that worked. The same will happen with Vista too. That's why I'm staying away from Vista right now, I know it will get tons better with time. Those that want to live on the bleeding edge running the latest hardware with the latest OS are the people that find the problems that makes my life with a new OS better in the future. It's silly to hear them complaining like, it makes no sense. [emphasis added]

Right. If you buy an off-the-shelf PC from a big-name retailer like Dell or Toshiba or Sony (or Apple, if you install Vista using Bootcamp or Parallels or VMWare Fusion), you're going to have lots of company, because tens of thousands, maybe millions of fellow customers will be using the same OS on the same exact hardware as you. Problems with those popular configurations will show up quickly and, presumably, be fixed (or at least documented) in short order.

But what happens when you build your own PC by mixing and matching parts, including a new version of Windows that handles hardware in some radically different ways? You've just increased the complexity of the system and the risk that you'll encounter some strange toxic interaction of hardware and software that only affects the exclusive club of fellow enthusiasts of people running that exact combination of hardware, software, and OS. That type of issue can be extraordinarily frustrating to solve. But you can't expect to get help or answers if you don't provide some details.

And if all you're gong to do is whine, you're part of the problem instead of being part of the solution.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft

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  • Excellent post!

    I wish lots of people read your article, specially all those bloggers and technical writers that spent half their time criticizing Vista. Even mild critics, like Dwight Silverman, can be a real PITA some times when the start whining.
    • Agreed

      One reason why I refuse to move is I hear all sorts of crap about Vista, but nothing detailed enough to give me reason to jump or not to jump.
    • agreed

      Everything you said is true. Thanks.
    • Excellent

      I have to agree with you on this. I had no problems with XP home or XP pro before SP1. Like wise I opted for Vista basic when upgrading My Vaio S150 and have had no problems with the OS. I also have a new Dell XPS notebook with pre-installed Vista Premium that was sluggish due to only having 1 gig of ram after upgrading to 2 gig the computer runs flawlessly. It will take time for Microsoft to work the kinks out of Vista although I do wish Basic had a few more advanced features but it is a good alternative for older computer that cannot run Aero.
  • The value of a good error report

    Well, frankly, they're golden at worst.

    The trick is getting people to file them, and part of [u]that[/u] is providing tools to help people file good ones. If you go to the Bugzilla pages at, for instance, [url=http://bugs.gentoo.org/]Gentoo[/url], you'll find several tools to improve bug reporting:

    * A bug search tool to reduce redundant reports as well as to point people to fixes.
    * A bug-report form that guides the user to provide useful information
    * Perhaps most important: a built-in issue tracker, so that bug reporters are kept up to date on the status of the bug.

    The first lowers the noise level, the second increases the "signal" level, and the last helps motivate the, if you will, "complaint to whine" ratio.

    I won't claim to have any personal knowledge of Microsoft's bug reporting system, but I've never heard anything positive about it from users. That may be purely a perception problem, but "perception problem" has a pretty strong tendency to produce exactly the low "complaint to whine" ratio that you describe.

    BTW: "complaint" is, itself, a poor choice of words. It starts off immediately with a adversarial presumption. I work with a lot of vendors, both personally and professionally; the ones worth keeping don't let a "customer problem" turn into a "customer complaint" and the best make their handling of inevitable problems such a strength that I'll unhesitatingly refer others to them.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • MS and Linux distros have different audiences

      The MS error reporting tools are largely automatic; most MS users are not, and probably cannot be, technically astute to the extent one is when reporting a bug in a Linux program as a user, or as I would do in my IT shop.

      That said, I've found the error reporting in Vista to be an improvement. If Ubuntu could scan itself and, say, recommend an updated driver and prompt the user to install it, that would be on the same level of what MS can do now.
      • Funny you should mention that

        [i]If Ubuntu could scan itself and, say, recommend an updated driver and prompt the user to install it, that would be on the same level of what MS can do now.[/i]

        It does. Among many other things.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Lightning/Lightning Bug

      The right word is "critique", not "complaint".

      Or "assessment". Or "evaluation".
      JJ Brannon
      • BUGS

        And in Chimes Ms. Manners!
        This is done for the ?General Public? information; I doubt they care although you are correct these words could have been used! But also to point out your post was fragmented sentences!
  • Vista is already better

    I've had the released version of Vista on my home PC since the first weekend after its release. My experience has been that it has only gotten better in the months since release.
    Scott K.
  • Vista is not very good - actually pretty bad

    Sorry Ed, although I can sympathize with your wanting to support new technology, my personal experience with Vista 32bit and 64bit is pushing me to consider Apple or Linux as my next OS. Vista just plain stinks.
    • There's nothing wrong with feeling that way

      However, unless you are really serious about that Apple or Linux move (perhaps you are, but most people aren't), you aren't helping yourself or anybody else by saying that unless you get into more detail as to why your personal experience was a bad one. That's what Ed is driving at with this blog entry.

      And just so you know, in case you are serious about that Apple or Linux move, moving to either one does not eliminate problems. The most it will do is make your problems more tolerable. I am a Linux user, a pretty knowledgeable one at that if I may say so without sounding too cocky, and even I will admit that I do no eliminate problems by using Linux. What Linux does for me is give me more control over the problems (or rather the solutions), which for me makes the problems more tolerable. The trade-off, of course, is that I have to have the skills to solve whatever problem turns up. More often than not that only means I need to be able to read instructions and surf the discussion boards. And if you go with Apple, you get the complete opposite. You lose control over your problems in hopes that Apple will work out of the box. Which is great if everything works, but when it doesn't you generally feel more helpless than with the same type of problem in a Windows system.
      Michael Kelly
      • Exactly

        Your comment is a keeper. Thanks for the addition.
        Ed Bott
      • My amiable disagreement with 3% or so of your comments

        With regards to your final bit of advice, my experience has differed. Because the
        Linux and OS X system diagnostic command line tools are the same, both systems
        allow for remote login via ssh, and both systems have man pages (actually, here I
        think Apple has kept truer to the tradition of BSD man pages where on Linux
        systems 'info' page may contain the key documentation and this makes research
        ocassionally less efficient,) I find that dealing with a troubled OS X machine is still
        easier -- and I feel more in control -- than with a Windows machine.

        I will say this, if one is curious about the richness and satisfaction of being
        Windows-minimal, the ante at the Linux table is a lot less than the ante at Apple's
        table. At the very least, you can make a live CD or dual boot your existing system
        and learn the power of gui + command line.
        • My bad experience with OS X

          was with using a MS Bluetooth keyboard/mouse combo. I know Apple's combo works fine, but I had a MS combo, so that's what I wanted to use. They would just drop out, all the time, whenever they were idle for a rather short period of time or whenever I would boot/reboot. And the only way to get them back up was to re-pair the devices through the control panel. It didn't happen every time, I'd say maybe 40% of the time either the mouse or keyboard would drop. But that also meant that some of the time BOTH would drop out. Which meant I'd have to hook up a USB keyboard or mouse to get them back up again, which is exactly the scenario I wanted to avoid by using a Bluetooth combo in the first place.

          The Apple and MS combos differ in that Apple's have broadcast switches that are either on or off, whereas MS's have buttons (ones that are hard to press by design) that you only press for discovery. Perhaps OS X is looking for that discover all the time and that's the difference, I don't know. But I was never able to figure out a way to have these devices not drop out, and the only help Apple gave me was a suggestion to buy their own Bluetooth combo.

          So as long as you are happy to buy all Apple branded products, I agree, Apple will always be much simpler. But if you're not willing to make that commitment, then Apple either just works, or you run a serious risk of flushing your investment down the toilet.
          Michael Kelly
          • The problem of poor research, documentation and spreading FUD

            Well before buying hardware you should find a review of the product before buying it if it is possible. Without proper research you will have a bad experience with any operating system. Always do your research first before purchasing your product. Not all products were created equal that's why you just can't buy one brand all the time. If I read correctly many users report that the MS Bluetooth Keyboard & Mouse combo has problems working at a 3 ft. range. If you had received that information, that should have made you aware about the performance of the product you are purchasing. I use a Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard, an MSI USB Bluetooth Adapter, and a Logitech Bluetooth Mouse. My keyboard stops responding after 15 minutes of inactivity and gives a good 10 second lag to respond again. I think this design is used to save battery life but can get annoying but probably not as frustrating as your situation. Research is key when buying any product. But if your Bluetooth hardware bothered you that much you should've returned it for a refund.

            Read the user product reviews on NewEgg and CNET and compare them, they'll help you weed out the bad products from the good products. Just because it works fine for one user doesn't mean it works fine for everyone else. I also notice that people who complain and whine also poorly document their hardware and software they are running. It could possibly be a user error, or a hardware & software compatability bug or error. If people whined less and document more on what hardware and software they are running on it would probably become apparent to the other users and the manufacturer that there is a trend going on that creates the problem. This will then help solve the problem instead of hearing such poor excuses like "blah blah blah sucks, don't buy it!" Which doesn't help anyone at all.
          • Here's the thing though

            The same exact hardware (MS Bluetooth combo on a Mac Mini) works perfectly at a range of 12 feet on both WinXP and Ubuntu Linux. And I used same Bluetooth combo for about 6 months on a home built Athlon64 running Gentoo Linux with no issues.

            And yes, I did try a new set of batteries.
            Michael Kelly
      • Well put...

        AMEN nicely said.
    • How flattering

      [i]my personal experience with Vista 32bit and 64bit is pushing me to consider Apple or Linux as my next OS. Vista just plain stinks.[/i]

      You do know that MSWinXP is still available? For that matter, so is MSWin2k. If Apple or Linux are only tolerable alternatives when compared to the Spanish Inquisition, then your best bet is to simply Not Go There. Stick with something you like.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Vista Bad (and or not good)

      I just spent 4 hours with MS Tech support in an "attempt" to upgrade my 2 month old (home built) system from XP-Pro to Vista Ultimate. After encoutering a very cryptic error message (installer can not copy or find the files needed for installation... along with a error code.) I used 2 cd's, 1 retail and 1 OEM. No good. After removing all the security apps and most of the drivers from the xp install, i got to the point where Vista could procede to install, but failed on the 'final' reboot/start up. I have never seen such an unforgiving installer before and I too, am now begining to consider a Mac or Linux as a serious possibility.