Windows multi-user multitasking?
I have to be honest and state up front that I haven’t yet given Windows Vista a serious workout, so Microsoft may have actually produced a system that properly manages multiple users and multitasks sensibly. As of Windows XP patched up to date they haven’t managed it though. Let’s look at a few of examples of things that still niggle me on a daily basis when using XP.
- First off let’s start with something simple. Whatever a window on the screen is doing you should be able to move it around so you can get it out of the way if necessary. Well sadly Windows XP still cannot manage this properly. You will frequently find that when a Windows pops up another window for a sub task of the parent window will be locked in place, unable to move until the task has finished. Perhaps the most annoying example of locking a window in place is the Winzip self extractor. If you happen to be unzipping a large file using this and click on it to drag it somewhere out of the way it asks you if you want to ‘Abort unzip operation?’.
- Next let’s look at drivers, specifically a wireless networking driver from USR. Now unfortunately the driver in question, and other wireless networking drivers I’ve tried on Windows, run under a user account and not as a service. Presumably this is to allow the security information to be secured, but in practice it can cause problems in a multi user system. In this case the problem is if a non-privileged user logs on the networking will not work, so you are forced to give at least some administrative privileges to the user, thereby reducing the security of the system. Either that or you have to log on as an administrator to start the networking each time the system is used
- Lastly a quick look at internal messaging. I have a wireless print server from 3Com that has one of my printers attached to it. When it there is a problem with it things can get a bit confusing, and the first few times I had problems it took me a while to work out what was going on. Basically if there is a message to pop up to tell you about an error, usually the fact that the server is not responding for some reason (often I’ve forgotten to switch it on!), you don’t always see it. The reason for this, I’ve found out, is that the pop up message will appear on whichever user desktop logged onto the machine first, and not necessarily the one that sent the print job. I spent a good while trying to debug why a print job wasn’t printing before I stumbled across the reason by switching to the user account that had the message popped up on the desktop!
Now clearly there will be those that consider that these problems are down to the individual applications or drivers and nothing to do with Windows itself. The fact remains, though, that there are many such badly written applications, so at least some of the blame has to lay at the feet of Microsoft. I’ve not covered applications that don’t seem to be able to decide which screen to use
when using multiple monitors, or the nightmare of windows sitting underneath the taskbar if you dare to put it at the top of the screen! There must be something inherent in Windows programming that encourages these errors. Some of it is probably the way it has grown up from DOS and is based on a system that had no concept of networks, users or even a GUI. There is a lot of Windows legacy holding it back. That said, Linux, BSD, Unix, etc. have managed to evolve better, to my mind anyway, all be it they had a much more solid foundation on which to build.