Everything on this Vista PC is an Afterthought

OK, so I bit the bullet: after being so critical of Vista, I ended up buying a PC blessed cursed with this Operating System. Not that I changed my mind: I simply wanted an ergonomic desktop, for the times I’m stuck at the desk anyway. Costco had a fairly good promotional offer on a loaded super-duper-multimedia HP with this beauty of a display.

Well, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but this 22″ baby has beautiful colors, is fast and the most versatile I’ve seen – it can even pivot to portrait position – except I don’t know why I would want to do that, considering the software does not work, not even after the update.

But first things first: unpacking. This thing has a wireless keyboard and mouse, which is nice – but why on earth do I need to plug in a USB transmitter for them to work? This isn’t an after-market add-on, this configuration only comes with wireless. Talk about wireless, this being a desktop, my primary desktop connection will be via the LAN cable, but why does HP bundle another plug-in, a wireless antenna with this unit? (which, incidentally was missing from my package). Why not just build it in. OK, let’s move on: this whole multimedia center thingie (TV, DVR, remote) does not excite me a lot, but since it there, I will eventually figure out how to work it. But wait: for the remote to work, I have to … yes, you guessed it right, I have to plug-in yet another component, a wireless receiver.

I am not trying to expand the system: out-of-the-box, just to use the basic capabilities I have to plug-in three “extensions” that could very well have been built in. Are these features all afterthoughts? (And I haven’t even mentioned the jungle of cables into the monitor, including a USB connector to enable the two other USB ports on the side of the display).

The next two days were spent with installation, which primarily consisted of removing some of the junk software loaded by HP (I still could not get rid of the Yahoo Search-bar at the bottom!) and setting up my own stuff. I killed the 60-day Norton trial, not that McAfee is better, but it’s free with my Comcast subscription. Too bad it wouldn’t install. This turned out to be a case study on the worth of Customer Support:

  • Costco Concierge on the phone: after 4-5 minutes she is still stuck trying to spell my name – who has time for this? No way she can help me.
  • HP Online Support: quickly says the disclaimer that it’s not a HP product, so I should really go to the other vendor, but he will try to help anyway. Well, 8-10 minutes later he concludes I should go to Windows Safe mode for this install. Oh, boy. If I have to start safe-moding on a vanilla, out-of-the box machine, what else am I in for during the lifetime of this thing? I tell him I won’t do this exercise, will likely return the machine next day
  • McAfee Online Support: he is quite clueless, too, but has an interesting prospective: perhaps, despite the aborted installation (which I repeated 4 times, Control Panel-uninstall-reboot-install included) McAfee might actually be working properly on my machine. Although he didn’t seem to get the concept of corrupted (or missing files) and had no way to verify his idea, he still planted the bug in me, so later, on my own I found a McAfee diagnostic tool that verified that I have the correct setup on my system. So, perhaps I am protected. I guess that’s the definition of hopeware.

I will spare you the details of my two-day struggle with Vista, the fight with the idiotic permission-scheme, (can’t delete my own stuff), the incompatibilities, the fact that there’s less and less information to be found, other than from users – hey, even the User Manuals link points to nowhere… enough said already. After two days, I can use the system (the screen is beautiful) but I’m far from done.

I’m starting to see how this supposedly good deal will turn out to be more expensive then a matching Mac. The funny sad thing is, I myself talked about this, describing the $1,500 iPhone: it’s the cost of my own time.smile_sad . This whole Vista-Microsoft-HP-Dell-you-name-it enchilada is anything but user friendly, a pain to work with. In fact, “work” is the operational word here: I don’t want to work setting up this thing, I just want to use it. Perhaps Steve Jobs and co. are turning a disadvantage into an advantage: they are not the darlings of the corporate market.. so they have to focus on individual users, who don’t have an IT department to support them. That means they are just turning out usable, friendly boxes.

Oh, talk about boxes, Joel Spolsky has a hilarious post today: Even the Office 2007 box has a learning curve, discussing Office 2007’s fancy box (which is the same design Vista comes in):

…I simply could not figure out how to open the bizarre new packaging.
…It represents a complete failure of industrial design; an utter F in the school of Donald Norman’s Design of Everyday Things.
…It seems like even rudimentary usability testing would have revealed the problem. A box that many people can’t figure out how to open without a Google search is an unusually pathetic failure of design.

Chris Pirillo responds: Windows Vista Isn’t for Developers?

Hm, now I really don’t know what to think. All this while I’ve been making the point that Vista is not for earthly users; now Chris makes the point it’s not for developers, either. So, who exactly is Vista meant to be for?

Update: How timely… read Raju, a Mac Convert’s testimony: Windows (Dell) to Mac: Thats a smooth ride. Damn. I have 90 days (Costco’s return policy) to make up my mind. But even if I take the smooth ride, no-one is paying for my wasted time….

Update #2: I’m speechless… but Vista has just given me another proof that’s it’s not meant for *users*. Here’s am error window:

Windows decided to mess with Firefox, without telling me, the owner of the computer what it did. OK, let’s click on the link, perhaps it tells us what happened:

What changes does it make?

It depends on the problem, but any changes made are related to how Windows runs the program.

blahblahblah … but it gets better:

How do I turn it off or turn it back on?

Adjustments to the Program Compatibility Wizard can be made by using Group Policy. For more information on how to use Group Policy, go to the Microsoft website for IT professionals.

So let’s get this straight: Vista makes changes to my system, to the most important program I use, Firefox, without asking me, without telling me what those changes were, how to undo them. And if I want to prevent such aggression in the future, I should go to the “IT Professionals” site.

Well, I won’t. A computer sold at Costco, BestBuy, Fry’s ..etc is a Consumer Device. I am a Consumer. This Operating System is NOT for consumers. Microsoft (via HP) sold me garbage.

I can’t wait for the Vista related Class Action cases.

Update: I think I’ll try this tweaky-thingy recommended at WebWorkerDaily.

Update (8/23): Dell must share my views of Vista, or in fact Windows in general, having shipped this laptop without any OS at all 😉

Update (8/23): Even a 6-year-old knows better… he is right, my next PC will be an Apple. And since I’m already doing most of my work on the Web, the transition won’t be a big deal.

OK, this is too much of a coincidence (or not?): when I described Microsoft Money as a showcase for what’s wrong with Microsoft’s Software + Service concept, Omar Shahine, a Microsoft employee responded – he experienced very similar problems. And what am I reading today on Omar’s blog? It’s been a bad month for Vista.


  1. wow – I dont feel so stupid for not being able to open the Office packaging for 7.2 minutes

    we should submit it for an Oyster award Consumer reports hands out each year

    My Toshiba’s been running hot (have found the source of global warming!) and the Toshiba help desk guy’s systems options were compeletly off from mine, his was in Control Panel, mine was in BIOS menu, Toshiba power management …good that winter is approaching…

  2. Power Management? Supposedly improved on Vista. Reality: it works… randomly 🙁

  3. Zoli, what an experience! I share in your pain. I went from PC to Mac (which I love). I added Windows back into the fold when Sony released the TX subnotebook line b/c I was tired of lugging around a big beautiful notebook with me from conferences to events to meetings.

    Unfortunately we bought two machines running Vista. We experimented by installing XP on one and learning to live with Vista on the other. The XP machine runs like a champ…fast, responsive, friendly to most programs. The Vista machine has cost me in time MUCH more than it cost to buy the notebook. I upgraded RAM, uninstalled (manually) many useless processes, applications, and that’s just to have it function decently. I do have to say that the SP1 beta update that’s floating around made a big difference. But, when the new 12 inch macbook comes out, you can bet that this TX is going on craigslist.

  4. To be fair, it does sound like HP should bear some of the blame assigned to Vista. I upgraded my laptop to Vista Home Premium and for the most part I like it and it runs very well although I admit to some minor (but strange) program incompatibilities. I can’t explain Firefox not working for you. I installed and used Firefox during the Vista beta and RC1 days, and when I upgraded my laptop Firefox runs as well as it did under XP. I didn’t even have to reassign it as the default browser after the update.

    The design of your system sounds laughable. Apple is really good at making these small-footprint systems. It seems that HP is not, but you have to remember that Apple has complete control over all aspects of they systems. HP may build the hardware, but they have to buy OEM versions of Windows and they should make sure that all drivers are installed and working properly. Likewise, Microsoft is primarily a software company and has little control over hardware although they do often dictate specifications to hardware manufacturers.

    All that said, if HP or whatever third party won’t properly support this product, you may be better of taking it back if you can’t get it running.

    If you want help removing all of the “crapware” from this system or the next PC you buy, check out the PC Decrapifyer: .It was originally designed for Dells, but I’ve heard now works on most if not all brand name PCs.

  5. Zoli – you’re completely right. We set up a Vista machine for testing software in that environment and it’s just a painful experience. Even with a good hardware configuration, I had a BSOD 10 minutes after first trying the OS out. At home, I use an iMac with Bootcamp and XP installed (for the times when I really need to use Windows). Go Mac and you won’t look back!

    Worth noting too that when I bought my iMac, I priced an equivalent setup from Dell, based on hardware and software included. With Dell, I could have saved €50 – and I wo8uld have ended up with a much uglier piece of kit.

  6. MS needs to read “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” one more time

    Still once web x.0 gets going we won’t need operating systems any more!

  7. Should have bought an IMac.

    Less hassle and intrusive software.

  8. Agree. That’ll be my next PC.


  10. coliwabl says

    You guys should consider building a system on your own.
    Less expensive and much better. I gave up buying systems from retailers about five computers ago and have never been sorry I did.

    Sure, its great to go to the store and see that new system sitting on display, with all of it looking and smelling new. But, if you read the details about the components, have you ever wondered why they omit the details about each of them. For example, the description says “4 gigs of ram” but they omit the brand of the memory, latency, and sometimes the speed of the ram.

    Buidling your own system is fairly easy and a great learning opportunity. And, you won’t feel like you have to pay for the useless, overpriced support services offerred by the vendors such as Dell, Mac, HP, etc.

    As far as Vista goes, I’ve been using a Vista 64 bit system for more than a year. And, although I have to admit the installation itself was a challenge, the os itself, has not failed even one time. It has been and continues to be much more stable than my XP ever was.

  11. Apple loves you for your money. Microsoft loves you for your time.

  12. @Partners in Grime:

    One gives you value for money, the other goes and does its own thing without a by-your-leave before it FUBAHORS itself.

    And the Windows Kool-Aiders call Apple a “Soviet-style” company?

    Pot, meet Kettle. Or to put it another way… that’s not a beam, that’s a whole flippin’ subdivision in someone’s eye!


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