Thursday, September 10, 2009

Please bear with me

I recently changed a setting that has borked many of my previous posts in that a lot of the whitespace has been eliminated. I'll fix this when I get around to it, but it's a lot of work.

Eight Things Windows Needs Before I'll Contemplate Using it Again

Windows 7 is better than Vista. Great. But saying that is like saying you'd rather catch the common cold instead of swine flu. I've demoed the release candidate for Windows 7, and I can safely say that I still don't like it. Aside from the default options being obnoxious and hard to use (the icons for running applications are identical to the directly-adjacent Quick Launch icons; running programs have no text to show you what they are; unless you have the hardware to back up the Aero interface, you can't get the window previews to help you, either), there are several things I need to see in a Windows operating system before I'll even contemplate switching back.

  1. Multiple virtual desktops — Windows is pretty much the only significant operating system that does not support this. Mac OS X's desktops may not be implemented very well, but they're there all the same. My cell phone has multiple desktops. Why can't Windows get with the program on this? It's an invaluable feature which reduces clutter. I think you'll find that clutter reduction is centric to many of my needs.
  2. Application organization — When I click on the Start Menu in Windows, I have a list of programs to sort through which aren't even alphabetized until I tell them to be. The list is huge, presenting me with a different "folder" for each program I have installed. When I have to go looking for a program, I want to be able to look in one of these "folders" that tells me what type of program it is. Is it an Internet program? A productivity program? Is it a minor accessory? One of my programming applications? Keeping this kind of organization to programs keeps the list short, which would be a blessing considering the tiny, half-height, scrolling list of applications which contains six times as many programs as will fit in its frame. Microsoft tried implementing something like this with games when they launched Vista, but that doesn't work automatically for everything because it's layered on top of the existing system, not integrated as part of the system. The way they implemented it required you to open a new window just to see your shortcuts. First of all, that's counterintuitive. Secondly, it clutters my desktop.
  3. Useful window management — In Linux, I can click and drag windows across my multiple desktops by dragging to the edge of the screen in the appropriate direction. I can move a window by holding the Alt key and clicking and dragging anywhere at all on the window. I can move a window to the best location and resize it so that it's as big as it can get without overlapping any windows it wasn't already overlapping at a single keypress (see video below). In Windows 7, they have added some window management features where the movement of a window to an edge of the screen resizes the window to fill half of the screen along that edge. Whoopee. What if I don't want it at exactly half size? What if I just want my window on the right-hand side of the screen? There's no customization here, only an assumption that I want my windows to be exactly where Microsoft wants them. I sincerely hope this feature can be turned off.
  4. Installation across drives — As it stands, I get a tiny speed boost and a major OS installation advantage by being able to install my home directory on a different drive or partition than the rest of my OS. This is great for home users because it means they can reinstall the operating system without damaging any of their personal data or application settings. It's also great for server users because MySQL databases can sit on a RAW partition, which is often faster because they don't have to follow the rules of the filesystem that way. The best I can manage in Windows is to create a separate partition and manually save and copy files to that partition after the fact. Nothing will be automatic, and I will have a large separation in functionality between the two. Unlike Unix OSes, Windows does not mount all filesystems fluidly together.
  5. Security built in — With Vista, Microsoft attached "User Account Control" to Windows, and that turned out to be a major annoyance that did little to aid security. It prevented nearly every program from running because Windows required administrative privileges to run nearly every program. When all users have instant administrative control, that's a bad thing, and a security problem. That's why they pushed UAC through. But UAC popped up for everything, and most users just turned it off so they could be allowed to use their computer. Again, this is a bad thing, creating even more of a security problem. With Windows 7, not much has changed. Users can now select how many UAC warnings they receive. What will be the effect of this? Just like last time, users will either be annoyed or turn it off. Still a bad thing. Still a security problem. When Microsoft manages to write an OS that has security layered into its core, when they can sort out what should and should not require administrative privileges, they might have a chance at winning me over.
  6. Fragmentation-free file system — I don't want to have to spend hours every month defragging my harddrive and slowing my computer to a crawl because my operating system allows fragmentation to happen. I certainly don't want my computer to do this in the background on a schedule that I'm unaware of, slowing my computer down when I need to use it. Mac and Linux do not allow for this to happen. A defragging program is not the proper solution. The NTFS file system is about a decade old now. It's no longer "New Technology." I never wanted to work for my computer in the first place, and it's time to ditch this abhorrable system.
  7. Singular application installer and updater — In Windows, when I want software, I go to the Internet and either search Google or go to a website that I know carries that software. I install it using a six-page installation wizard that probably only needs to be a one-pager. I install software one program at a time. And then a week later, when the fifteen programs I took the time to install last week have been updated, I have to either download the software from the individual websites again and then reinstall them all separately through more wizards, or I must run fifteen separate updater programs in the background constantly, just waiting there for an update to happen. Neither of these are viable options. Linux uses central, customizable repositories to pipe software through a single, centralized installer/updater/uninstaller program that allows me to install, update, and uninstall as many programs as I want simultaneously, and in one fell swoop. Again, even my cell phone does this. And as with the fragmentation problem, Microsoft should fix the core problem instead of adding on layer after layer of faux-solution to bandage it.
  8. Let me customize! — I don't want the ugly Aero interface, and I don't want the even uglier atrocity that I get when I turn off Aero. I want something that I like and that I choose. I want my colors in front of me. I want my style, my appearance, my everything. Please, Microsoft, let me do this without paying for third-party software that only adds a separate layer to the problem. The software linked above uses the Windows API to accomplish this, which means that the functionality exists deep within the Windows system files. If Stardock can do it, so can you. You can implement it straight into the software. Do it, already! Let me use my computer the way I want to.