Sunday, August 05, 2012

nostalgia for Windows 95

OK, I'm working on the nefarious Windows Vista, browsing the ever-mysterious "Downloads" folder looking at some source code in a zip file that I downloaded. I want to open a javascript file to look at it, but Windows won't give me an option to just read a javascript file; the only thing it will let me do is execute it. If this were in a regular file instead of a zip file, then there would be another context menu item letting me pick what program to use to open it. Why they don't have that item when you are in a zip folder is beyond me.

Well, OK, I can get around that. So I open a text file in the folder above, intending to navigate down to the file I actually want, but when I try to open another file in Wordpad, it starts me somewhere else on the system, not in the folder of the file that I just opened. What the ... heck?

I don't know how to get to the Download folder from the desktop. Before Windows Vista, I always knew where everything was, but Vista has made such a miserable hash of the folder structure that it is a challenge to navigate independently to the folders that they start you in.

Sigh. OK, well, I can open Wordpad independently and then ... still have to figure out how to navigate to that zip file from the desktop.

I'm not looking for help here; I'm just bitching and moaning about Vista again. If I really needed to find the Downloads folder, I'm sure I would be able to. I've found it before, but I don't remember how I did it. It was easier just to extract the zip file.


I loved Windows 95. It was a terrific advance in useability from every window OS I had seen up to then (which were, as I recall: Windows 3.11, Apple, SunOS/Solaris, Next, and of course, Emacs). Almost every change to the user interface since Windows95 has been a step in the wrong opinion. Oh, sure, something had to be done to get the morons writing applications (like Windows Office) to stop putting user files in the applications folders next to the binaries. The windows registry --an enormous database kept in text format with no recoverability features-- was a disaster waiting to happen. And there were a few other things. But you could open just about any program written for Windows 95 and immediately figure out how to use it.

Those days of halcyon bliss are long gone. Now, many programs hide the menus and just give you these major task buttons, so if you don't fall into the 80% of use cases that they programmed for then you have to go on-line and look for help on how to do anything. I just got copy of Microsoft Outlook 2010 and couldn't even figure out how to get to the setting page to set up an email account. What a bogus monstrosity.

What, what, I ask you, compels companies with perfectly nice, convenient user interfaces --used successfully by millions of people-- to want to completely change the interface? Is it some misguided sense of "different is better" or a subversive attempt at lock-in? Is it because some inverse genius at Microsoft has decided to give the scatter-brained dimwits in Marketing control over user interfaces rather than Engineering? (Of course people who work in Marketing are people too, and you should not express prejudice or bigotry towards them just because they are overpaid prima-donna numskulls responsible for, like, 95% of the crap that computer users, Internet surfers, and television viewers have to put up with, and they all ought to be rounded up and shot).

Sometimes I am tempted to try to estimate how many billions of man hours of wasted time Microsoft has caused for its customers by forcing them to retrain on the user interfaces every few years. I'll bet if Microsoft's customers had that information, they would be as pissed-off as I am.

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