We need less whining, more complaining about Vista

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.

[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.