Why MS software is driving me nuts

comment Have you ever wondered why Microsoft hasn't done something about error messages? I'm planning to bring this up (or maybe now I won't have to) in a future meeting with Jim Allchin, who runs OS development at Microsoft.

commentary Today is, for most people, the first workday of another glorious holiday season. It's a time for joy and happiness and goodwill toward all. For me, however, it's just another occasion to bitch and moan about Microsoft.

Yes, despite the large portion(s) of turkey I consumed over Thanksgiving, and despite all the thanks I gave for my considerable blessings, all that tryptophan and gratitude has worn off. I'm wide awake now, well-rested, and angry.

Have you ever wondered why Microsoft hasn't done something about error messages? I'm planning to bring this up (or maybe now I won't have to) in a future meeting with Jim Allchin, who runs OS development at Microsoft. But it's not just Windows that's the offender; the applications do it, too.

For example: I've recently been trying to get my Macs talking to my Windows network (accomplished) and to my Exchange Server (partially accomplished). When I first tried to get Entourage, the Microsoft mail program for Mac OS X, to connect to Exchange, it failed to do so and reported back an error message.

I think it was a 509 error, but don't hold me to that. It took me about 15 minutes to find out, via the MS support Web site, what the code was trying to tell me. Turns out it meant that Entourage couldn't connect to the IMAP server on Exchange.

So I went to the Exchange admin program and checked protocols. Darned if IMAP and POP3 aren't both turned off by default, even if the user settings say they're on. Microsoft calls this "secure by default," don't you know?

Now why Entourage couldn't have just told me it was unable to connect to an IMAP server rather than presenting the TDN (three digit number), I don't understand. Microsoft's love of TDNs is reminiscent of the way medical doctors used to write prescriptions in Latin, lest we mere patients find out what we were being given. In this age of enlightenment, the medical profession has opened itself up. Not only can I read my prescriptions but also my lab results and the same reference books my docs use to treat me.

Isn't this precisely the kind of information democracy Microsoft supposedly stands for? You know, seamless information? Heck, one of my docs looks up drugs on Google before he prescribes them to me. (I do the same before I take them, BTW).

So if doctors can manage to open up huge amounts of information to patients, why can't Microsoft make error messages comprehensible to normal mortals? Why must I spend time looking stuff up when the program was quite capable of telling me what I needed to know?

Worse, I've occasionally run into error messages that could not be deciphered even after a full-text search of the Microsoft support site. How do you explain that?

While I'm on what Mom used to call "my high horse," let me mention the Add or Remove Programs control panel. Would it be too much to require software that's installed on our systems to tell us what it does, when it was installed, who or what put it there, and why?

Right now, I'm on a machine with two copies of Python on it and a copy of Tcl. I know that both Python and Tcl are programming languages. But I have no idea how they got on my system, what program installed them, or why.

I'd like to trash all three but worry that doing so could result in a program crashing and having to be reinstalled. Do I still have the disks?

Maybe this is something that can be fixed with all the XML and metadata that's supposed to be part of the Longhorn file system. I hate having to wait until 2006 to have this problem solved--it should really be an embarrassment to the Windows group. But I've waiting this long.

Something else I'd like to see is an automatic way for Windows to maintain a separate recovery partition. This would go beyond what HP and others do by providing a Windows installation package hidden on the hard drive for use when you need to wipe the other partition and start over.

That's a real help when Windows eventually crumbles, as it will do if you install and uninstall enough software. What I would like to see is for applications to optionally load copies of their installation packages into the recovery partition as well, including the authorization/license codes. That way lost installation disks wouldn't be a problem anymore.

I'd also like to see Microsoft provide better clean-up tools, especially for the registry. There are several commercial products, like those from Symantec, but isn't the evil Registry supposed to be Microsoft's problem to solve?

These are all issues that Microsoft needs to address. But merely sharing them with you makes me feel a whole lot better. Now, if I can just find that holiday spirit I seem to have misplaced.

David Coursey is executive editor with ZDNet's AnchorDesk


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