Family Tech Support Weekend


Spent the weekend remotely helping my parents get their new computer up and running. Vista is in general, I'd say, a better OS than Windows XP. But I think I've discovered the one true test of a GUIs usability:

How well can you walk someone through a set of tasks over the phone?

I think it's a pretty straight forward test, and one that really shines a light on usability issues. Here's things in Windows Vista that gave me major fits this weekend:

* Hidden menus. Why Microsoft decided to hide menus in Windows Live Messenger and Internet Explorer, among other places, I have no idea. But trying to get someone to find little tiny boxes with downward facing triangles in the top corner of a window next to the minimize button is impossible.

* Labeling and icons. The "Start" button is no longer labeled in any way - that's not good. And why are the Control Panel and Programs in the start menu so small and have no icons? Waiting on the other end of the line for someone to "see" what's hidden in plain sight is frustrating, to say the least. And trying to describe where the "restart" is? I can't even find words for all the icons, twists and turns and arrows you have to mess with to find that option, let alone expecting anyone on the other end of the phone to find it.

* Dialog boxes. Modal dialogs come up, and are generally ignored because they're so small, but the make everything else not work until you do something with them. Unmodal dialogs are almost worse, because they are still small, but disappear behind other windows quickly. And I don't know about the computer newbies you know, but my parents will happily ignore a blinking button in the window list at the bottom of the screen for hours without so much as a glance.

* Windows or "pages", pick one: Sometimes while you're in the control panel, the contents of the window your working with is replaced when you click on something - like a page from a web browser (complete with back buttons), other times you get a new window that pops up somewhere.

* Task Tray items: Beyond the fact that memory resident programs are the bane of my existence, the usability of these things should be standardized. Some respond to one click, some respond to two, others only to right clicks which get a menu, sometimes a left click will get one menu, and the right another, etc. It's nuts. And you should be able to right click any task tray icon and de-install it forever, never to return, right there on your desktop.

* Help text: There's a million things that could go wrong when installing hardware or software - trying to guess never works and misleads everyone involved. I'd rather have vague warnings that linked to a detailed list of issues rather than having the wrong issue spelled out in detail right there.

Vista would almost be "not bad" if Microsoft just could figure out how to reign in the various groups and demand they apply some sort of usability and consistency to the OS. Remember that post a while ago about how the shutdown menu got so screwed up? They need to fix that shit. And PUT THE GODAMN MENUS BACK ON THE WINDOWS WHERE THEY BELONG. There's really not much to a bare-bones PC... how can it be so complicated?

Happily though, my parents now have a nice machine and I got everything set up okay. I found the latest Vista drivers for all their hardware (thank jesus and all the other mythological creatures like unicorns, faeries and leprechauns watching over us) which helped a ton and Uno even works now which will be great for grandparent/grandson competitions in the future. With Remote Desktop now working again (it stopped on their old computer for unknown reasons) I'm able to get on their computer and muck around now without much hassle - though the latest version of Live Messenger *took out* the 'offer remote assistance' option, which is astounding to me (so they now have to navigate to a non-existent menu in their chat window to request it manually, joy...).

Seriously, Ubuntu is really *almost there* in terms of being a viable alternative to Windows. It's so much more sane and maintainable in so many ways - I'm so happy to be back on it now after hours of dealing with Vista, I can't tell you. Definitely their next computer will be Linux - You just wait and see!


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