Windows

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.

  1. 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?’.
  2. 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
  3. 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.

16 Jan 2008

Catch 98

OK, so that should be catch 22, but this is a Windows 98 problem so…

So the starting point is that I have a machine that I am reinstalling Windows 98 onto. That’s a bad start already, even if you ignore the fact that it is Windows 😉 Anyway, the machine is not currently networked, it’s safer that way, so anything I need to get onto the machine in terms of drivers is heading across from my Linux box on a USB key. So far so good. Until we get to the graphics driver that is. The card in question is an old ATI Rage 128, and I tracked down the driver and transferred it onto the machine ready to install. Unfortunately the install required DirectX. I don’t since the machine is only an office machine to do a bit of word processing on and run some old DOS and Windows accounting software on.

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11 Jan 2008

System building

I was planning to head to the LUG meeting today, but a combination of over tiredness, things that needed doing and apathy set in and it didn’t happen. What did happen was supposed to be reasonably productive – once I’d got myself going that is!

The first achievement was a good positive one. I tried the scanner I picked up from Jamies a while ago for the second time and found it actually worked. My first test was simply a power on test and when the scanning light didn’t come on and it made no noise or other indication of life I feared the worst. Well it seems that the modern USB scanners do the sensible thing and stay dormant until required – and this includes keeping the light off. My ancient SCSI one has the bulb lit permanently and makes a solid clunking sound as the mechanism checks that it is settled in the parked position as soon as power is applied.

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02 Oct 2005

Me vs Windows: a printer installation

Daft subject? Maybe, but one more reason why Windows is clearly not ready for the desktop yet! I’ve spent good chunk of today trying to install 3 Hewlett Packard network printers onto a Windows XP Professional installation. This is a clean install of the OS, so shouldn’t be far away from pristine condition.

It should be easy, especially with the Install Network Printer Wizard that HP provide. This scans the network to identify any printers available and will then configure and install all the necessary settings. Well it will if it doesn’t get to the last stage and then decide that it has an unknown error and back out the whole operation. This happens every single time it is used on all three network printers.

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30 Sep 2005

7 versions of Windows Vista!

Just noted this link Windows Vista product editions revealed on the ALUG list. Is it wishful thinking that this is likely to cause enough confusion and dissatisfaction for people to start looking more seriously at the alternatives to Windows on the desktop?

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14 Sep 2005