Windows Vista Help

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Not an hour goes by when I don’t see a twitter, email, forum post, etc. chock full of Vista complaints. Reporters, bloggers, regular users, the galactic senate – they’re not just disappointed, they’re disillusioned.

As previously asserted, I moved back to XP the other day. Productivity: restored! Classic mode was usable again (but only after installing XPize). Microsoft Office 2007 ran well enough. All my old drivers were wicked wonderful – including SLI support from NVIDIA. After a couple days of working in XP, I realized: I missed Vista. XP’s Windows Explorer is faster, the drivers in XP “just work,” and none of Vista’s kinks are present in XP – but Vista’s DWM (Desktop Window Manager) . I had to find a way to make Vista work again with all my current USB hardware and non-compliant drivers – I had to find a way to fix my problems. Moreover, I had to find a way to make Vista work for most of these people – neophytes and experts alike.

“Great,” I thought. “Now everybody’s going to claim that all of this was a publicity stunt.”

Nothing could be further from the truth – because I’m still quite interested in doing 30 days on OS X with Windows running in virtualization. I’m just certain that there was a better path for Microsoft to take in this entire XP-to-Vista transition. Moving back to XP from Vista was painful, so… hats off to whatever you sprinkled throughout this thing to make me want to come back to it.

Indeed, I have quite a modest proposal:

Microsoft needs to license a stripped-down, slightly-modified version of VMWare 6.0 running Windows XP N – making this available for free through Windows Update for all activated users of Windows Vista. Yes, VMWare 6.0 is still in beta – but you can’t sit there and honestly tell me that beta software is any better or any worse than the bugs we’re all discovering in Windows Vista.

So, why recommend VMWare’s software over Microsoft’s own Virtual PC? That answer is exceedingly simple: VMWare is an amazingly robust virtualization tool – and it’s the only one that supports USB 2.0 device passthroughs. Virtual USB device support *ALONE* is makes it possible to run your XP-happy hardware on Windows Vista. Virtual PC is an inferior product by comparison – no arguments, my friends.

VMware Workstation 6.0 beta build 39849 is free for anybody to download, install, and use. I didn’t believe it would be possible – but my scanner actually works perfectly in Windows Vista… through a hardware-accelerated XP virtual machine. My FAX driver works wonderfully… through VMWare running Windows XP on top of Vista.

Apple gave its users “Classic mode” in OS X to give them some amount of backwards compatibility – and Microsoft did no such thing. In Vista (and earlier versions of Windows), you can right-click an executable and run it in “compatibility mode,” but this feature is (a) not foolproof, and (b) buried so that the average user will never find it. It’s the latter decision which brings my blood to a boil.

Microsoft: it’s not too late to save your users from further frustration. The only lucid proposal is the near-immediate deployment of a limited edition VMWare virtual machine with “N” pre-installed and ready to go. And don’t tell the world that you’re working on a new version of Virtual PC. Fact of the matter is: I got it working today, and I really believe that you can make it equally as simple for novices to do, too.

I’m not sure it’s possible to pull a “Convergence” (ala Parallels) user experience – it’s probably too late for that, sadly. But you can give them some resolution to problems they’re experiencing in Vista. Your influencer community is bleeding, externally AND internally. How long is it going to take for someone with some amount of power to wake up and shake up? Politics? Empower people who have great ideas, great voices, great perspective, general technology agnosticism – and, most importantly, people who have NOTHING to lose. You need to find an internal and external connector (what you almost had in Scoble).

I’ve got Excel installed on my computer – as does Ponzi, as does one of our new hires. But I recommended Google spreadsheets for a certain project. Why?! Excel is an amazing product with amazing features. But it doesn’t “work” in today’s world. It’s not about the software anymore – it’s about the people who are using the software, and despite all your R&D – these are the very same people you’ve effectively abandoned by not providing a smooth transition between XP and Vista. Remember me? Yeah, I dumped Vista because I didn’t think there was any other way of getting things done the way I wanted (and needed) to get them done.

You’re spending HOW MUCH MONEY on ADVERTISING an OPERATING SYSTEM that PEOPLE ARE HAVING MAJOR ISSUES WITH. Why NOT spend a FRACTION of that BUDGET on making SOME KIND OF SOLUTION AVAILABLE. I’ve spelled it out for you – it’s perfectly clear. Convenient? No. Affordable? Probably not. But who are you serving if you’re not serving your customers? You can’t count on all of your vendors, either – you have to take matters into your own hands, and don’t tell me you can’t do it. Microsoft *CAN* do anything.

Please, someone figure out how to make this happen? Please, for the sake of Windows? Please, for the sake of your community – even those who are experiencing nothing but smooth sailing inside Vista? If you really want to “WOW” the community, why not help them step forward? Why did I have to figure this thing out on my own?! Don’t point me to your newsgroups for peer support – my community is all over the place, all over the Web.

Let me put it to everybody else another way: I can only recommend Windows Vista with VMWare 6.0 Workstation (beta or beyond). So, if Microsoft (or VMWare) doesn’t give it to you, you’ll have to spend an additional $200 to acquire a license – possibly more if you don’t already have a copy of XP on hand. Of course, if you’re not having major problems in Vista – I’m not trying to help you, but the people who are likely around you.

VMWare solved my frustrations – VMWare brought me back to Windows Vista (which, as I’ve already stated in previous conversations, is fundamentally better than XP). Your marketing department won’t like it one bit, but I think it’s time to spend your money where it really, really, REALLY MATTERS. The Internet, my friends, is your marketing department – and I can’t believe it’s me who is telling you this.

Now, remember when Dwight disagreed with why I arrived at my decision to head back to XP in the first place? Check out what he wrote today:

When I booted my Windows Vista desktop this morning, I apparently had a corrupted user profile. Vista tossed me into a temporary user account from which I wrote this blog entry. At least the OS did recover gracefully — in earlier versions of Windows, I might not have been able to get in at all. Now I’ve got to figure out what the problem is and, if necessary, migrate my files & settings over to a new account. Chris Pirillo, let’s talk . . .

I’m not saying that VMWare would have saved him from this problem – but I am pointing out that just because someone’s having a wonderful time in Vista today doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to stay happy with it forever.

In a somewhat-related note (not to make this post any longer than it already is), I can’t tell you how frustrated and confused I was at TechFest the other day. For one, I *LOVED* it and want *MORE* of it!!! But I saw some working code that looked better than beta which may never see the light of day.

Hey, did the podcasting community know that MICROSOFT HAS WORKING CODE TO HELP YOU WITH PODCAST PRODUCTION!!! I really have to get one of my videos encoded to show you software (which can work at the driver level) which will eliminate background noise better than I’ve ever seen before. “No ship date.” Screw that. I’m having problems with your “production” code, and you’re telling me that you’ll hold back (indefinitely) code that clearly works well enough already? AAAAAAARGH?! WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU GUYS AND GALS THINKING!?!?

Oh, but it gets better. The same audio research group has a working client that will apply speech-to-text synthesis on your audio and allow you to EDIT OUT WORDS DIRECTLY FROM YOUR AUDIO FILE. All those “uhs” and “ums” and oopsies can be clicked out in a nanosecond… with code… from Microsoft… that I witnessed in person… which will transcribe and edit and KICK YOUR PRODUCTION INTO OVERDRIVE… and may never see the light of day. AAAAAAAAAAGH?!

Let me bring this back full circle:

“Competitive advantage” is no longer a strategy, gang. Someone’s gonna deploy it faster (and possibly better) than you. And if you’re worried about the DOJ hounding you about being unfair, have your legions of lawyers figure out how to make it fair – the same lawyers that [with gratitude] sent Jake and I a C&D for serving your community when you did not (seeding a torrent of Vista’s beta).

You’re giving the desktop version of Virtual PC away for free, for whatever reason. You’ll lose brand equity by backing another product that runs amazingly better on your OWN PLATFORM – but in the process, provide your people a proper path for backwards hardware compatibility (no matter how awkward, you SHOULD agree that it’s better to let the user continue to work in Vista rather than completely roll back to an earlier version of Windows or different OS altogether).

And if Microsoft doesn’t respond to this, I’m begging for someone at VMWare to sit up and pay attention to a tremendous opportunity.

If you, by finding and reading this post, are having a problem with Windows Vista in relation to software and/or hardware compatibility, do not pass Go: get ahold of the Workstation version of VMWare 6.0 and set up an XP virtual machine. This is an amazing, amazing, amazing workaround for some of the headaches you’re probably hitting. Grab it while the beta for 6.0 is free, at least – hoping VMWare and Microsoft can work something out for the world.

Might Vista sales pick up if news gets out that they’ve improved it to work better with all your existing hardware and software? Oh, I know it has the potential of creating confusion – but not if the implementation is near invisible.

I’m not recommending VMWare 6.0 Workstation for every single problem in Windows Vista; it would be impractical to rely on the virtual machine for every digital hiccup encountered. The idea of my parents setting up a virtual machine in the first place makes me cringe. Still – it’s a solution I’m just not hearing enough about. I don’t expect this post to show up on Digg, StumbleUpon, del.icio.us, Reddit, or Slashdot – but it will show up in Google, which is how 99% of the world will find it.

And speaking of help, why isn’t Microsoft (or any OEM for that matter) producing a vendor-neutral show like this? Seriously, why? Doesn’t Microsoft see the world as its potential customer in some fashion, no matter how, when, or where? Channel 9 and 10 don’t count – my parents aren’t going to watch either one.

Okay, I’m not going to pretend to understand the politics – but I do understand how the politics impact me as someone who wants to see technology succeed in every facet of our lives. This was, quite possibly, the longest post I’ve ever written; I’m only trying to help.