Saturday, September 11, 2010

An average Windows XP day

You probably know by now that I don't touch anything but Linux in my private life. I got a Linux laptop, a Linux mini-laptop, a Linux eBook reader, a Linux television and an Android cell phone. However, in my professional life I do not have that choice.

In the Netherlands virtually every single company uses Windows. Windows is not a very secure Operating System, so everything is bolted down. I cannot install new programs, I cannot kill system processes, I cannot add any buttons or change the menu. The whole thing usually boots from the network. So, don't comment that "this program adds that functionality" or "open up a settings menu and change this or that". It doesn't work.

During the day, these are the annoyances I have to deal with:
  • Bootup takes up to twenty minutes. It probably has to do with the fact that my entire profile has to be transferred to my workstation. That's stupid. Can't you just mount a /home directory with all my settings already there?
  • I get a message I cannot be logged in. I scroll down and see that the harddisk is full. I call the helpdesk, they log in and wipe all those useless profiles that have been accumulated over time. Half an hour later they're done.
  • The desktop comes up, but clicking desktop icons doesn't have any effect. I have to wait for an additional minute or two. In the meanwhile I've started and shutdown my Ben Nanonote over a dozen times.
  • Finally Outlook comes up. I have to wait an additional minute or two before clicking any folders has any effect.
  • Firefox comes up, I have to import all Explorer settings all over again. My passwords are lost. I have to reinstall and configure all add-ons all over again, including the FTP accounts of FireFTP.
  • I don't have any usable "notes" program, so I use the Outlook notes. Which moron designed this? It isn't even a regular window, so I can't scroll down.
  • Anything that Outlook considers to be a "dialog" blocks Outlook entirely. KMail does that a lot better. Why can't I copy an email address from the recipients dialog?
  • More Outlook woes. Using Excel to send the spreadsheet as an attachment freezes the entire desktop. I can't even save the file and do it manually. I kill both Excel and Outlook and start all over again.
  • Opening an RTF file attachment of 2K in Word takes minutes.
  • Copying and pasting items in a message changes the style over and over again. I change to pure ASCII text again.
  • Even pure ASCII text doesn't work the way it is supposed to be. More editing.
  • Clicking the box "The attachment is still open in [bladibla]. Do you want to close the message anyway?" for the zillionth time today.
  • If you don't get that message you may be even worse off. If you happen to open the attachment, manipulate it, save it and then close the email, you may get the message "Do you want to save it?" If you answer YES, your original attachment is lost. If you answer NO your changed file is lost. Yes, even if you saved it to disk. Which moron thought that was a good idea?
  • Mailbox full. I have to create a .PST file, copy all my messages there, put the .PST file on my memory-stick, fire up my laptop, import the .PST in Thunderbird, harvest the resulting file somewhere hidden in the bowels of the C: drive, copy it to Pegasus Mail, rename it, transfer all the messages in the correct folders and delete the .PST file.
  • I copy a template SQL statement in the braindead Notepad editor. Now I have to fill in the parameters. Although my desktop is quite cluttered, I cannot minimize all windows, nor open a new desktop and transfer one of the windows there, nor tell one window to stay on top of all the others.
  • I've copied one of the parameters, but when logging in to PHPadmin, I forgot all my passwords were lost. Since there is no Klipper, I have to open up my password file (sorry, no KDE Wallet, it's an ASCII file), copy and paste the password in the appropriate box, open up the message again and copy the parameter again.
  • When selecting a file in the file dialog, it has forgotten all my settings. I want a detailed list, sorted by modification date. I'm not even mentioning the fact I have to resize the window each and every time, nor that it seems to forget all the time what my default directory was for that program.
  • While editing a Word document, it changes styles all the time for no obvious reason. I have to correct that all the time. God, I miss WP 5.1..
  • While creating a table of contents it inserts empty pages. The table of contents itself doesn't honor the margin settings. Trying to correct that, well, you catch my drift.
  • Word document looks really good now. I save and reload it, only to find that my images are all over the place now, partially overlapping the text.
  • It fails while trying to generate a PDF file, simply because I have the previous version still open in Adobe Reader.
  • It seems unable to remember my default printer, not even for this session. When I'm too hasty, it sends my output to the printer in the first floor. Hurray! Fortunately, I'm not working on the top floor of the Empire State Building.
  • It fails to mount my memorystick, because it overlaps a network drive. Another memorystick works fine. The same memorystick mounts flawlessly on another Windows machine.
  • Windows seems to freeze for the zillionth time today. I frantically press [CTRL]-[ALT]-[DEL] because clicking the taskbar doesn't work anymore. The virusscanner has obviously kicked in, eating away between 25% and 50% of my CPU. Can't kill it. Work becomes virtually impossible, since the machine takes seconds to comply after each and every command.
  • Windows asks me for the zillionth time, how it has to open a simple ASCII file. Yes, try to find the appropriate program on the web, you moron. Can't select an alternative editor because it has been installed as an .MSI.
  • Notepad garbles my file, because it can't deal with Unix ASCII. I have to save it and reopen it with Wordpad.
  • [CTRL]-T doesn't work in Explorer v6. I have to open a menu, select a new window and enter the link. More clutter on the desktop.
  • Explorer explains to me for the zillionth time that it is very dangerous to open a .SVG file. I have to open the options, allow it and then it will finally show me what I want. I made a small error and have to open the file again. Explorer explains to me for the zillionth time that it is very dangerous to open a .SVG file, etc.
  • I press [PRT-SCRN] and try to copy the image in a HTML message. It won't do it. I get some cryptic error message. I open up Paint and try to paste the image again. No problem. I save it as .PNG, include it as an attachment and off we go. When I open the message again to view the image (check and doublecheck) Windows complains it can't open the image, because it is an unrecognized filetype. Maybe I want to look for an appropriate program on the web which I can't install anyway.
  • Another messagebox pops up: "You copied a lot of data to the clipboard. Do you want to retain them?" Since when do I have to manage your buffers?! Who is the Operating System here?! Deal with it!!
  • After uttering more F-words than an average Jerry Springer episode featuring Gordon Ramsay, my workday is finally over. I try to shutdown Windows. It takes another five or so minutes. Others would probably run away, but I dutifully wait until the thing has closed. The tramway is gone. Now I have to wait in the rain for ten minutes until the next one.
  • Dripping wet I enter the tramway and fire up the Nanonote. After I finish sneezing it is there.
  • I wonder what is so "professional" about "Windows XP Professional". Seems rather lame to me. How much was it they spent on usability tests?
  • Whatever happened to the Windows XP Media Centers? Haven't heard about them for some time..

Update: I got a lot of feedback to this post, both verbally and in writing. Some commenters blame it on the setup of Windows XP in this particular company. But I'm not just writing about performance issues. A better implementation does not fix the usability issues and the obvious bugs (especially in Word and Outlook).

Due to this feedback, I can add the following annoyances to the list:
  • A document written in Word 2007 and saved as Word 2000 crashes Word 2000 consistently.
  • Access writes Excel files in a different (older) format and cannot subsequently read them without conversion.
  • Word 2003 shows only the first 11 pages of a 21 page document. A full uninstall of all addons, registry cleaning and other measures are required before it behaves again as it should.
  • Reading an alien format into Excel 2000 and subsequently trying to email it leads to a complete breakdown of Outlook.
  • Word 2000 cannot correctly read an RTF file. Tables get garbled.
Update: a new collegue asked me: "Can I work with LyX here?" I answered him: "Yes, you can. They should be used to it by now. Just don't forget to install Latex2RTF." "Great!" he said "That saves me 40% of my time. That's the time I usually spend to correct the layout." Nuff said. Scrap Word. 40% more productivity gained by using an application that costs you $0. Good ROI.