Getting Real Work Done

One of the more frequent comments that I have gotten from readers in reaction to my January look at the first beta of Microsoft's forthcoming Windows 7 desktop operating system was that Windows Vista and--guilty by association--Windows 7 got in the way of people doing real work. Only a few

One of the more frequent comments that I have gotten from readers in reaction to my January look at the first beta of Microsoft's forthcoming Windows 7 desktop operating system was that Windows Vista and--guilty by association--Windows 7 got in the way of people doing real work.

Only a few have bothered to elaborate on what they mean by this, but I suspect that those with this complaint fall into two camps: those uncomfortable with the new UI and menu structure introduced in Vista, and those who have run afoul of the User Account Control security functions.

UIs are not natural things. They are artificial constructs borne out of committee and group think, and are therefore never what any one specific person wants. They're a consensus. Whatever is left is something most people essentially memorize and get used to. Personally, I stuck with the Windows 2000 interface for the last nine years, but Windows 7's new taskbar and start menu really appeal to me.

On the other hand, I tend to view UAC in the same way I view public urination laws. Yeah, following the rules of either may slow me down from my daily appointments, but for the sake of health (staying free from malware), sanitation (keeping the registry and file system uncluttered), and social mores (not spreading a worm or botnet to others), the laws--and the feature--are worth having on the books.

I've been using Vista on my work machine for a full year now, utilizing UAC the whole time. Not only is UAC active, but I require an over-the-shoulder password in order to make a change (as in, I am not an admin and therefore need a secondary admin account for approvals). In that time, I've learned exactly which applications behave as I think they should under UAC, which applications have idiosyncrasies or problems (with security products being among the worst offenders due to their constant need for updates), and when I can expect to need those admin credentials.

My count of UAC prompts over the last seven days? Six, and all occurred as I intentionally upgraded software. I wonder if six in a week qualifies as getting in the way of real work?

A lot of people hate UAC because the feature breaks legacy applications. But this is not the fault of Windows really, but of the third-party software. It's bad code, written by lazy, hurried, or unconcerned developers adhering to development standards 10 years in the rear view mirror. I can't tell you how many product vendors I have talked to who have given me the same spiel about their software, saying in essence, "We'll get the features right, then fix the security later." And I am galled whenever I read about developers with the temerity to complain about the new security features in Windows getting in the way of the fast development of their code.

Always operating your computer with full administrative permissions has always been a broken model. No other mainstream operating systems encourage operating as root, and with Vista, Windows finally is trying to join everyone else. But users continue to balk, because they have grown accustomed to working by the rules of their broken model. Stated plainly, sticking with Windows XP because later Windows break applications only serves to reward and enforce those sloppy development practices. In truth, it is not just Vista (or Windows 7) breaking those applications. Windows XP, like Windows 2000 before it, could certainly be operated by limited rights users, and a whole cottage industry has sprung up in the Windows eco-system just to solve permission problems for limited rights users on those systems.

To make an apples-to-apples comparison, whether Vista/Windows 7 is to blame for your loss of productivity, or whether it is actually due to bad software, I ask those steadfastly sticking to Windows XP to remove your administrative credentials from your user account. Get familiar with the "Run As" command, with multiple logins, and dealing with application permissions. Then make your assessment.

Alas, I admit I have been complicit in furthering these bad practices with shortcomings in my own testing and analysis for eWEEK. Therefore, I make this pledge -- from here on, in my reviews, I will ensure all software I test designed to run on Windows desktops operates as advertised with only limited user rights. And I will call out those that fail this litmus test.

Maybe together we can put a stop to the garbage foisted upon us.