My partner – otherwise known as 'The Boss' – recently decided to invest in a laptop to help her work from home more frequently, and also to assist with a distance learning course she is currently studying for.
As the unpaid technical support, it became my job to help pick out a model that would meet both her needs and her budget. As always seems to be the case, this advice could be parodied as "buy the most powerful processor and the largest memory capacity you feel you can afford". Job done, I thought. Oh, but all the models she was interested in run something called Windows Vista – is that a problem? Not at all, I said.
How wrong can you get? The laptop takes an eternity to boot up, and seems to spend an inordinate amount of its time chugging away at the hard disk. Vista makes a brand new system with a 1.7GHz dual-core Athlon 64 processor and 1GB of memory feel like a Reliant Robin trying to climb a very steep hill.
The new user interface has also caused some difficulties. I'd grown accustomed to this after using the beta releases of Vista last year, but The Boss expressed her frustration at the disappearance of familiar landmarks as 'My Computer' and also her utter contempt for Vista's much-vaunted search facilities.
The lesson from all of this is just how easy it is for us techies to forget how daunting computers can be to those less familiar with it all. In this respect, I am coming to believe that Windows Vista is actually a retrograde step from earlier versions; the Windows 95 desktop was a huge advance over Windows 3.1 in making it as clear as possible to untrained users exactly what they had to do to find programs and other information.
By comparison, Vista's user interface seems to have been thrown together in a hurry by someone desperate to differentiate it from other operating systems and earlier versions of Windows.
Then there are the compatibility issues. The Boss has already run into problems with some applications she wants to use. But it's not as simple as Microsoft saying that a program will not work; instead, one particular application installs and runs fine, then in the middle of being used, throws up an odd bizarre error message that gives little clue about what might be causing the problem.
Small wonder, then, that businesses whose bottom line depends on their workers being able to actually get their job done have so far regarded Vista with a less than friendly eye. You might argue that all new versions of Windows have thrown up compatibility issues, but these were minor compared to the troubles Vista seems to have. I regularly use several handy little utilities that were designed for Windows 95 on my office system running Windows XP, for example, and they work just fine.
Based on this experience, My advice for businesses is; don't assume that your users will be able to operate Vista without some training, and don't even begin to consider migrating until every application you need to run has a Vista-compatible version available. Whatever some people might say, Vista is possibly the biggest ever change in the Windows platform, full stop.
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