With some reviewers, Microsoft can't win

With some reviewers, Microsoft can't win

Summary: Last year, one prominent technology journalist complained - loudly, in America's newspaper of record - when the hard drive on his Windows PC crashed and some of his important files were lost. The new Backup program in Windows Vista would have saved the day for him. So why is he complaining about it?

TOPICS: Windows

America's newspaper of record, The New York Times, published David Pogue's review of Windows Vista a couple days ago. After reading it, I got an e-mail from a longtime reader who wondered whether this excerpt is true:

Windows finally comes with a prominent backup program. That’s great, except that you can specify only which categories of things to back up (pictures, e-mail, and so on), not which specific files or folders.

Well, yes, that's true. But here's the part Pogue didn't mention: The reason this feature exists is because he asked for it.

I could not make this stuff up. And you don't have to take my word for it, because Pogue's New York Times column of August 25, 2005 has all the details you need. Back in the summer of 2005, the hard drive on Pogue's Dell PC crashed, wiping out all his data. Being the smart and savvy techie that he is, Pogue had everything backed up. Or so he thought:

Now, I do back up my My Documents folder. So I had a safety copy of all my books, columns, music and pictures. And I have my original installation discs for all my programs.

But I suddenly I remembered two items that Windows does not keep in My Documents: First, my Outlook message database, containing about 2,000 recent e-mail messages from readers to whom I hadn't yet replied (sorry, gang!).

Second, the voice files for Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the program I use to dictate my books and e-mail. Over the years, I've added hundreds of customized terms and commands, and honed the accuracy to a shine by making thousands of individual corrections.

They were gone. Needless to say, I was DEEPLY annoyed.

David Pogue is not the only person that has lost valuable personal information because he didn't understand how Windows programs store data files and settings. When Microsoft's designers put together the new Backup program for Windows Vista, they wanted to make it simple, easy, and as close to foolproof as possible. So they created an interface that allows you to specify the types of files you want to back up, including e-mail. And you don't have to understand how or where those files are stored.

Windows Vista Backup

No, you can't select individual folders. Why not? Well, because if you could, then people would probably just choose to back up their Documents folder - not realizing that there's important stuff in the %LocalAppData% and %AppData% system folders - and their e-mail and settings wouldn't be backed up. And when their hard drive crashed, they would write a column in The New York Times complaining about it.

So if David Pogue were using Windows Vista's Backup program (which, by the way, backs up your files automatically on a schedule of your choosing - daily, weekly, monthly) and his hard drive were to crash again, he would be able to recover his e-mail and the settings from his speech-recognition program. In other words, the designers of Windows Vista solved the problem he complained about a year and a half ago.

So, naturally, in this review, he criticizes Microsoft for adding this capability.

Sometimes you just can't win.

Topic: Windows

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  • Customers are like that....

    ... we get similar things on frequent enough basis to be well used to it. The phrase [i]"Can we have facility xxxxx?"[/i] followed some time later by [i]"Can you remove facility xxxxx?"[/i]. On follow up the most common reason for removal is [i]"We did'n't think it would look/work like that"[/i].

    There would be a lot less problems in computing if we all had no customers. Of course, there would be a lot less computing as well... :(
    • The customer is always wrong

      That's why you have to have a benevolent autocracy that figures out what is the most straight forward way of doing something.

      Like uh, say, put all the files in obvious places? That way backing up (and restoring) files and preferences is simple. Perhaps like in System 7 or dare I say DOS?
  • My wish ...

    ... is that the backup utility would clearly explain to users the difference between doing a complete backup of the PC (which can be handy in the event of having to wipe the system) and doing a data backup. The mess I've seen people get into (people who thought that they were safe) trying to reload a complete backup onto a machine with different hardware configuration.
    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Actually...

      Have you tried restoring a Complete PC backup from Vista onto a completely different machine? It works! You have to re-activaste, of course, but the drivers etc. take care of themselves.
      Ed Bott
      • Yep ..

        ...it works ... sometimes. Where the machines aren't too dissimilar it's OK, but I've also encountered some big disasters with third-party drivers relating to motherboards. Not that I blame Microsoft for this - I didn't really expect it to work.
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • I've done that a few time

      Works pretty slick in Windows 2000. Of course Microsoft could make it easier and it sound like they did in Vista. No need to reload the HAL via the install disk doing an install repair. If that's the case I'm very happy!
    • Time Machine

      It looks as though the suspicion of ARS Technica contributors was correct. Time
      machine in Leopard is actually an implementation of Sun's innovative ZFS file
      system. Look for dramatically quicker read/write time, the end of data corruption,
      and a simple intuitive safety system. This is a technical flanking maneuver that
      puts Vista's scheme solidly behind with little chance of catching up. No one would
      know about it around here however unless someone gets off their can and does
      some real comparisons.

      David Pogue is right and Ed is wrong. When you take a step outside Windows
      fanboyism, a new world opens up. David compares Windows to OSX, rather than
      comparing Windows to Windows. His review is even handed and returns a largely
      favourable review. "Mac Zealots" like myself don't have a problem with this kind of
      due process, and we won't have a problem with the result, whatever it may be. It
      just has to have been thorough and even handed. Consumers are no longer
      interested in Microsoft talking points. Windows is coming up lacking when
      something shoots back, and Pogue is allowing this real comparison to happen. It's
      journalism, rather than the myopic Windows-centric agendas that have
      characterized much of ZDNet of late.

      Time Machine won't be available to Windows users in two ways. There will be no
      ZFS forthcoming for Windows users, No resolution independence anytime soon
      either. No universal 64 bit addressing while we're at it. And no freedom from UAC
      kludges and WGA snafu's and onerous system requirements. The list goes on.
      More importantly however, you won't be able to go back and recover the last 6
      years of virus riddled problems and paranoia and magically erase it.

      Ed wrote a riff the other day in which he praised Vista's speed to market?

      Is it me?

      The fact is, it's 6 years late, a second rate OSX clone at shipping. The thing that
      facilitates it's adoption, is lock-in, the inability to make one's own tech decisions,
      and the collective lowered standards of it's user base.
      Harry Bardal
      • What?

        "Ed wrote a riff the other day in which he praised Vista's speed to market?"

        Where have I ever said that? You continue to just make stuff up, Harry, in your knee-jerk quest to post your rambling Apple love letters. I presume you're referring to this:

        "The modular nature of the project is what allowed it to come together at the end in record time (faster than I thought possible)."

        "Come together at the end" is not the same as "speed to market."

        PS: I'm using the Previous Versions feature in Windows Vista today and have used it in Windows 2003 for several years under the Volume Shadow Copy name. It doesn't have the groovy Time Machine label, but it does exactly what Time Machine says it will do sometime next year. In Windows. Imagine that.
        Ed Bott
        • Fanboyism

          The issue is 6 years. Address this issue. Vista hit the deadline it was obliged to hit
          to prevent a stock tumble. It did it just barely. Congratulations on finding a way to
          value modular code (in late 2006). If you took the blinders off, you'd have been
          able to appreciated it many years ago.

          I prefer love letters to codependency.

          Volume Shadow Copy? You mean the ability to copy files? These are not safety
          systems, this is disc writing combined with a set of poorly written instructions. It
          took 6 years to produce it. Are you really going to compare this to ZFS
          Harry Bardal
          • There you go again...

            You lie, Harry. And when you get called on it, you change the subject. "The issue is 6 years"? No, the issue is you quoting me as saying something I never said and then ignoring it when you get called on it.

            It's why I don't take your comments seriously. Arguing with you is like trying to nail jello to the wall.

            PS: It's five years. Oct 2001 to Nov 2006. Why am I not surprised that you can't count?
            Ed Bott
          • I Lie?

            Last point first. I was using the OSX beta in a production environment from
            6/20/2000. Vista is not yet available commercially. It won't be ready until January
            2007, and the beta was not capable of being used in production. Regardless how
            I'm rounding it out, I'm just as happy to argue the 5 year thing, and a little
            astonished that your trying to score points by arguing it was 5 not 6. Do you see
            anything wrong with this picture? Are you saying 5 is ok?

            Secondly, you've failed to address any of my cogent points and tend to troll for
            instances of your name. Once you see it you foam at the mouth at a paraphrase.
            Your indignation over the alleged misuse of your words is what drives your
            responses to me. None of my overarching points have been addressed, nor do I
            expect them to be. As I've said before, my responses to your blogs are not
            intended for your benefit, I gave up on that some time ago. I think your agenda is
            misguided and I belive that an Ed Bot blog usually requires an antidote.

            Finally, complimenting Microsoft on "finishing" the "end" of the Vista dev cycle
            after 6, 5, 4 or 3 years of wasted time (pick your preference, I win either way), is a
            massive platitude. I wouldn't call it a lie, but then, I'm not losing the argument
            either. I would call it spin. This pollyanna nonsense demands a response and
            some measure of counter rotation.
            Harry Bardal
          • I'm not sure if he's ignoring you....

            ...or there's just a complete lack of comprehension of what you're saying. It could very well be that your point about his (and ZDNet's in general) myopia has failed to penetrate that very myopia. I prefer this interpretation to the more sinister one, that he's deliberately ignoring your point.
            tic swayback
          • Not Sinister

            I don't think it's sinister either. My issue is, that I don't mind if Windows is good.
            But relative to what? I trust Pogue if he says it passes because he's not in a
            vacuum. As someone who takes responsibility for technology in the broad sense
            it's his job to gain exposure to the things may get past me the reader. I benefit
            from the discourse. A 6 year gap between OSX and Vista is being glossed over, the
            security record is glossed over, the user loyalty is outright mocked. Meeanwhile
            the real possibility Apple is poised to leap further ahead looms large.

            Problem is, I can't trust good Apple news if it comes from the "Apple" ZDNet
            columnist, any more than I can trust Windows info from the Windows columnist.
            Everyone who presumes to be a technologist and write about it has to have
            exposure to a more broad spectrum of tech on behalf of those who can't.

            So I try to fight the good fight, try to address a hopelessly imbalanced tech
            market, and get a Windows guy to give Apple the time of day. The excuses, denile,
            and obstinence point to something outside the realm of logic. Not sinister, just
            not logical.
            Harry Bardal
          • 6 years eh?

            [i]A 6 year gap between OSX and Vista is being glossed over[/i]

            Considering that NT has had [b]important[/b] functionality since the early 90s that Apple users had to wait 7 years to get (restricted rights users and preemptive multitasking anyone?), I don't quite understand why the comparison is always between OSX and Vista. NT and Win9X completely and utterly blew all the classic MacOSs out of the water and Win2000/XP compared very well to OSX. About the only place where Windows has been behind has been in flashy graphics. Keep 'em. Quite frankly, I haven't been the least bit upset that my Windows didn't look like they were getting sucked down a drain while they minimized... as long as the end result was the same. I'll take restricted rights users and preemptive multitasking first please!

            So keep comparing OSX to Vista and gloss over the fact that 2000/XP ever existed and compare extremely well with OSX... with the added benefit of no hardware lock-in!! At least you can do so safe in the knowledge that tic, while he will be the only one, won't think you are an Apple zealot. :)
          • You sir are a cheezeball of magnanimous and corpulent proportions.

            As is typically the case with those afflicted with the "Grand Apple" mind mash disease you seem to think that Apple and OSX has something of value over Windows, well very good for you if thats what you have chosen to believe because if you are using OSX you most certainly using an Apple computer, meaning you have already had your pocket picked, so I'm glad you enjoy being robbed. I'm also glad you have no interest in upgrading your computer hardware, just simply replacing the whole works every two years, at that bloated price an Apple cost I might add.

            I'm also glad you have no interest in games, although I am hardly surprised given your particularly droll attempts at 'desert dry' humor you just do not sound like the "HAPPY APPLE JACK" in the anti Microsoft commercials. While he comes across as a rather smug individual he seems to be able to at least crack a smile.

            And interestingly enough...ask most XP users, in-fact just about all the 100+ XP users I know if they care if Vista was 5 years in the making, and the universal answer is 'NO'. XP is so damn good they haven't even thought of wondering when the next Windows OS is coming out. In fact, the way they look at it, they paid for XP 5 years ago and have never had to spend another dime on their OS in 5 years. And they are quite happy.

            On the other hand, why don't you add up the dollars the average Apple Jack has spent on OS's for their chicklet between Oct. 2001 and Jan. 2007 if they upgraded everytime OSX came out with a new version...oh wait..I heard someone say they are called updates over at the Apple Jack camp, so how much would your 5 years of 'updates' cost?

            My advise is this; if you actually really think Apple makes the better computer and OS then fine. Goody goody for you, but its time the chicklet lovers got a clue and accepted the fact that for most people Apple and OSX dosnt have what it takes to be a real computer, and who wants to lay out all that cash for second best. So if your happy with second best then sick with Apple and you will continue to be right where you feel comfortable.
          • Ed, you are such a Windows apostle!

            I definitely see how
            "Ed wrote a riff the other day in which he praised Vista's speed to market?"

            shows your intended push when you wrote

            "The modular nature of the project is what allowed it to come together at the end in record time (faster than I thought possible)."

            Get it? 'in record time' rings just like 'we got their fast' or 'speed to market'.

            Typical Microsoft shill....just change a few words and hope you change minds. Sorry! That day for MS is long gone. Revisionist history will NOT help anymore!
          • Hilarious

            With a name like nomorems you accuse me of being a shill. Ha!

            It would also be nice if you quoted some context from that quote. Like this, for example:

            "During the beta testing process, those pieces weren't always in sync, leading to some pretty miserable experiences for testers until the very end."

            Like I said, hilarious.
            Ed Bott
          • I read that as...

            Record time at the end of the project to finally put it all together. Not the actual development time from Start to finish.
          • Considering many Linux distros release 2 versions a year

            Ed's calling the Vista release record time is laughable. Even by Windows standards this is slow.

            If Microsoft would have released a free upgrade to WinXP fixing all of it's many many security issues I might have not considered switching to an alternate OS in the first place.

            Microsoft owes the users that made it rich a decent OS for free. I waited and bought Win95, Win98, Win2k, WinMe & WinXP and all I really wanted was them to fix what I already had.

            This is a consumer issue. Microsoft has bad Quality Control. I will no longer by the Yugo of OS's.

            I can get Linux for free. I can pay for a commercial Linux of a Mac. I can get BSD for free.

            Why would I pay for the garbage that is Windows.
          • Ignorance

            [i]"Volume Shadow Copy? You mean the ability to copy files?"[/i]

            No harry, Volume Shadow copy is about more than the ability to copy files. It enables you to retrieve multiple versions of your files going back in time. The first implementation of it was on XP, five years ago. At that point in time, the only function it provided was the ability to copy locked files, but it was added to Server 2003 and made it so users could access multiple file versions. Now it's in Vista, and they will be made available to consumers via Vista before Leopard ships.

            One other cool Vista feature that OSX cannot touch with a ten foot pole is the ability to recover on the fly from GPU hardware failures or buggy graphics drivers (ATI users rejoice!) without a bluescreen or even the need for a reboot.