Now Firefox users can use Windows Media Player within Firefox in a plugin designed by the WMP team. According to Hank Janssen, who posted the plugin on Microsoft’s open-source website, Port 25, it is “designed to support” all varieties of Windows XP and Vista. However, he also mentions that it’s backwards-compatible with WMP versions as far back as 6.4, which seems to imply that it might also work on Windows systems as old as Windows 95. That’s just speculation, though.
Windows Vista isn’t as bad as Windows Me, but compared to 2000, XP, and Server 2003, it’s a disaster.
In the last few years I’ve grown to prefer OS X, but don’t let that fool you—I’ve used every Windows since 3.0. I actually liked XP quite a bit; however, Vista is not XP. There are just too many problems with Vista to ignore, and as it stands now, you should not install it under any circumstances.
Most of the problems center around User Access Control (UAC), Microsoft’s new ACL-based security strategy. ACL is a broad concept used in web applications and programs like Apache to determine user access rights. The idea is that rights cascade from most general role to most specific role, such that user ‘jsmith’ may be in the same ‘users’ usergroup as ‘rjones’ but have more or less control than ‘rjones’ does.
The problem is that Vista’s ACL implementation is the worst I’ve ever seen.
The Mac ad with John Hodgman pretty much nails it. Every time you want to do something in Vista, no matter how seemingly trivial, it stops everything to nag you, “Do you want to do this?” Sometimes, you have to go through two different prompts just to approve it. That would be fine if the prompts were infrequent—say, when you are installing a program, changing the system configuration, or when you run a new program (but only the first time). Instead, it prompts you constantly, incessantly, not remembering your previous selections. It’s as if Guy Pearce from Memento was handling your security.
You might say, “People complained when Windows was insecure; now Microsoft adds system-level security and you’re still complaining.” But the problem is users, not the fact that they weren’t prompted nonstop every time they tried to use their computer. And as with every other frequent prompt, users will begin to ignore the UAC nags. Users don’t read prompts. Actually, users don’t read much of anything unless it’s directly related to what they’re trying to do. But the way to combat that is not to prompt them constantly, teaching them to ignore yet another warning. It’s to make the warnings as infrequent as possible, so that the user realizes that something out of the ordinary is happening.
If you really hate it, you can turn it off, right? Oh, naive user. Turning off UAC altogether removes all prompts—including the ones that Windows requires to perform certain tasks. Do you know how annoying it is to attempt to rename or delete a Start Menu item, only to have Windows shrug off your command with a terse, “You need permission to perform this action”? Or to type “net stop apache2″ in the console in order to restart Apache, and have Windows dully tell you, “System error 5 has occurred. Access is denied”?
Simply put, the UAC implementation in Vista is braindead. And unless their QA department has completely dropped the ball, I think Microsoft knows it. I think they decided that shipping was more important and that they would fix the most glaring bugs with the first service pack (a reasonable conclusion, I suppose, after six years of development). The problem is, we fools that adopted early have to fight with our computers in order to do anything.
But UAC isn’t the only headache in Vista. Among the others:
- Frequent explorer.exe crashes
- Desktop and explorer windows not refreshing—ever!—unless manually forced to do so
- Like XP, a complete inability to customize the Aero skin with my own colors
- Settings, often with older programs made for XP, not being remembered (likely related to poor backwards compatibility with UAC)
- My Recycle Bin disappeared from my desktop altogether, even after a reboot—turns out it set itself not to display all on its own
A UAC kludge to save your sanity
There is something of a fix, though. If you’ve installed Vista Business or Ultimate, you can keep UAC turned on but tell Windows to shut up, er, auto-approve all prompts. The application you want is secpol.msc and detailed instructions on using it can be found at Tweakvista.eu.
A word of warning, though: if you have a hard time managing your own security, don’t turn off UAC. I’m not responsible for any changes you make to your computer.