I’m Sorry, but Windows Vista still seems too slow

I was downloading a file in Windows Vista today – I would say it was a “medium-sized” file that took no time at all on my super-fast cable modem connection to download.

However, once it was done, this popped up:

Calculating Time Remaining

This new dialog took longer to calculate the time remaining to copy the file from whatever insane temp folder Internet Explorer had used to its actual user-selected destination than it did to download the original file (which was not that small).

I just don’t understand why this takes so long! It literally took less time to download the file from the Internet than it did to put it in its final destination. Shouldn’t the reverse be true?

Yet another reason why I am not upgrading to Vista. With any luck, by the time I’m forced to upgrade, Microsoft will have come out with Vista’s successor – which I hope will be, y’know, better than its predecessor (unlike Vista itself).

Long-term Away Messages

Recently, I’ve started using Instant Messaging software again after a long hiatus. I stopped using it (for a variety of reasons) shortly after I left college (back in 2001). Now that I’m back “on IM,” there’s some things I’ve noticed – some of which I used to do myself, but that now just annoy me.

The main one is this: leaving your IM client on all the time – as in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – but for most of the time, your status is “away.”

I was guilty of doing this back in my college days – leaving IM running all night (usually with some away/status message that I thought was very clever), and then again all day during my classes (again, with some not-really clever status message). Now, granted, being a CS (that’s computer science for the rest of you) major, I did spend a fair amount of time in front of my computer – but even still, something like 75+% of my time was spent “away.”

I never thought of it at the time, but really, in a world where sending an email is free, why in the world would you leave your IM client logged in all the time like that? If you’re not around, why get people’s hopes up by having your client logged in and broadcasting your status to the world? Isn’t it enough to say that if you’re not signed in, that you’re not at your computer? I mean, really, what’s the point of putting up a message saying “I’m not here,” when just … not being there … would send the same sort of message? You might as well put a sign on your empty seat at your desk that says “I’m not sitting here right now.”

Again, I have to say – I was guilty of doing exactly this for many years during college. But now, I just don’t see the point. If you’re going to be away from your computer for a little while (such as for lunch, or just the classic “BRB” – be right back), fine, put up a message. But if you are going to be away from your computer for a long time – for example, you’re going to work and you won’t be back for several hours, or you are going to bed for the night – then just sign off!

Or, at least, that’s my opinion. And with that in mind, I’m signing off. Goodbye!

Applying Old Laws to New Technology

You’ve probably heard of the RIAA and the MPAA (the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, respectively) before. They’ve been in the news a lot lately – suing old people who don’t have a computer for sharing mp3 files on the Internet and so forth.

A recent Slashdot story tells the tale of just how twisted this story has become.

The basic problem here is one of scale.

Before the Internet and P2P, the average person simply did not have the means to undertake large-scale copyright violation. Sure, you could copy a tape, or even a VHS casette, but you still had to:

  1. Pay for the tapes
  2. Pay to distribute them (postage, gas for driving to your friends house, etc.)
  3. Take the time to make each copy individually

So by and large, individual copyright violations remained decidedly small scale. The effects of such violations were not statistically significant1 to the copyright holders (as far as their profit was concerned), so they were not pursued.

Fast-forward to the current day. Now we have the Internet, P2P software, and music is now digital. This is a huge difference – the cost of making copies is now basically $0 (it’s all just bits & bytes), and the cost of distributing it is basically $0 as well (or, rather, the cost started low and is approaching zero, as bandwidth gets cheaper and cheaper).

Now the average person has the means to distribute copyrighted material to a huge audience. Suddenly, this sort of copyright violation is most definitely statistically significant to the copyright holder. (Or, at least they would have you think so – I still maintain that while significant, it is still very, very small.)

And therein lies the problem. Copyright law (as currently written, and, more importantly, as traditionally enforced) does not scale well. It worked fine when there were only a (relatively) few major copyright violators. It doesn’t work well when everyone & their brother can share an entire music store’s worth of copyrighted materials (music, movies, etc.) to the entire world from their bedroom while they sleep!

So what to do?

One way to deal with this is the draconian, heavy-handed legal way. Strictly speaking, any copyright violation is illegal – no matter how large or small. You could crack down on all of it – sue everyone into oblivion. Pass laws to make the possession of devices used to violate copyright illegal. (This has already been done, by the way. Look up the DMCA.) No excuses!

Of course, it’s easy to see that if you did this, we’d end up back in the stone ages, since all sorts of modern technology can be used to violate copyright – this is nothing new. And the courts have already ruled on this, to a certain extent – back when VHS was new, there were lawsuits about it being used to copy movies at home. The courts ruled that this was covered under “fair use,” and that just because a device might be used to violate copyright does not mean that the device itself should be illegal (especially if the devices’ primary purpose is not copyright violation – devices that are specifically engineered to violate copyright fall into a more uncertain gray area, legally speaking).

Unfortunately, this is the method that the RIAA and MPAA have decided to use in enforcing their “rights.” They want to maintain the “status-quo.” They don’t care what new technology comes out – they want the ability of people to copy their stuff (i.e. music and movies) to remain just as difficult as it was before computers & the Internet. As a direct result of this line of thinking, we have things like DRM and rootkits that hijack our computers (without permission) on our music CDs.

The other way to handle this – the way that should be used (in my opinion), is to make an economic incentive for people not to indulge in wide-scale copyright infringement. After all, that’s what kept it under control in the first place!

To a small extent, this is already underway – though not spearheaded by the RIAA or MPAA, by any means. I’m talking, of course, about things like iTunes. Basically, if you make the music cheap enough, and trust to the general “goodness” in people, they will opt to buy music, rather than steal it. Especially if the purchased music includes “perks,” such as higher quality file formats, or maybe on-line access to additional content (movies, websites, interviews, stuff like that – like what you’d find on a DVD’s “extras” section).

At the same time, you have to remove the barriers to “fair use.” Don’t encode these purchased files so that they can only be played on one computer. People expect to be able to play “their” music on whatever device they choose – and they don’t like it when they can’t. And if they can’t, they’ll go get their music somewhere else – that is to say, from copyright violators on the Internet.

The trick, of course, is balance – something that corporate America is notoriously bad at. But if that balance can be struck, I truly do believe that copyright violations (in the form of normal-person file sharing, anyway) will go way down. It’s not “the status-quo,” and it’s certainly not “the way things used to be,” but hey, markets evolve, and companies (and laws) must evolve with them or perish.

1 In commonly heard arguments, you’ll hear people throw around qualifiers such as “large,” “measurable,” or “increasingly significant” in relation to how much of an effect file sharing (as a form of copyright violation) is having on their industries. This is just a trick of rhetoric – these qualifiers have no measurable or defined quantity. Just one person sharing a Britney Spears track with one other person is technically “measurable,” after all. I’ve used the more accurate statistically significant because statistics is math and can be quantified. I could even come up with the formula necessary to determine it, if I wasn’t lazy.

On The Other Hand – or, Don’t Steal the Focus: Part 2

Touching again on the whole topic of “don’t steal the focus,” I thought I’d point out that the Microsoft Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines has an entire section just on Error Messages, and wouldn’t you know… they advise you not to steal the focus from the user.

Although they may sometimes be guilty of violating their own guidelines, I have to give Microsoft credit for producing this document. Not only do they tell you what the guidelines are, but they provide examples of “wrong” behavior – which are almost always from Microsoft products!

It takes guts to admit you’re wrong, and that’s basically what they’ve done here. They poke at Windows XP quite a bit, and (surprisingly) even some bits of Windows Vista itself… which is weird, in a way. Windows Vista violating the Windows Vista guidelines. Huh.

If you have a lot of time to kill, reading through those design guidelines is well worth it. Though I can’t help but notice that these guidelines seem to take a lot of cues from… Apple. Especially the whole “verb/action button” policy. Instead of using “Yes/No/Cancel,” instead they now recommend using something like “Delete/Don’t Delete/Cancel.” Notice how the one with verbs on the buttons is easier to understand? You don’t even need to see the dialog box – you know immediately what it’s going to do. The Mac has been doing that for years, but Windows has just caught on – and I am very glad it did. It just makes sense, after all.

Anyway, I’m digressing here. Go read the guidelines (or at least the ones for error messages) and in the future you may find yourself noticing violations… and then you’ll get annoyed at programs that steal the focus, just like I do. 🙂

Learn from Vista’s Mistakes

A number of interesting posts detailing some behind-the-scenes type stuff about Vista:

Mini-Microsoft: Copying Xerox, Vista Mistakes, and VP Perspectives

Windows Vista Feedback – Chris Pirillo

65 More Windows Vista Mistakes – Chris Pirillo

As a software developer myself, I both cringe at these sorts of things (Microsoft should know better) and take heart from them (hey, they can afford to make these mistakes so I can learn from them).

UPDATE: Sorry for the original links I posted; I was in a hurry. I’ve cleaned them up now. Also, I should probably mention that I’d noticed for some time now that Vista has a weird feeling of being somehow… not quite polished… or not quite finished… at least in comparison to previous Windows versions. Personally, I still think they rushed it out the door – and that was probably not a wise decision (although probably an unavoidable one, given the circumstances).