Nothing Was Delivered

Nothing was delivered
But I can’t say I sympathize
With what your fate is going to be,
Yes for telling all those lies.
Now you must provide some answers
For what you sell has not been received,
And the sooner you come up with them,
The sooner you can leave.*

I live in a sleepy little village on the Atlantic Coast of Southern Spain called Puerto de Santa Maria. Actually, it’s not that ‘sleepy’, as it’s a Spanish resort town that includes dozens of restaurants, bars, and discos that stay open incredibly late (or early—depending on your point of view). Most restaurants don’t start serving until around 10 or 11 PM and many of the discos or night clubs don’t open until midnight or later. In fact, I guess you could describe Puerto more accurately at a party town. Maybe it seems ‘sleepy’ to me right now because I’m exhausted.

I’m exhausted for a couple of reasons. I feel mentally beat because I just returned from Frankfurt, Germany, where I participated in an Advanced Windows NT workshop. And I’m physically spent because my plane trip back to Jerez de la Frontera (the closest airport to Puerto) was a bit of a nightmare.

Windows NT – First Impressions

My week-long, hands-on training session, coupled with my own experience with the NT OS at work, probably means I know a lot more about Windows NT than most Mac users. I’ve learned to appreciate some of the salient features that Windows NT has to offer, such as support for multiprocessing, pre-emptive multitasking, multi-threading, and the like. I also like some aspects of the interface and can see why buyers who don’t know the difference might select an NT based system over a Macintosh. Like my experience with Barcelona Airport and Iberian Airlines though, much of the attraction is only superficial.

No One Was Delivered

The Lufthansa European Airbus was delayed and landed in Barcelona at about 6:10 PM, still in plenty of time for me to catch my 7:20 flight back to Jerez de la Frontera. The Barcelona Airport is one long, luxurious rectangle of duty free shops, cafes, and fast food restaurants with moving ‘walkways’ helping overcome distances. I knew I had to obtain a boarding pass for my inter-Spanish connection and so I searched in vain for a sign to the downstairs ticket counters. I also noted that there was no one manning the Information Booths that appeared every fifty meters or so. Finally, after dragging my portable computer and carry-ons for what seemed like miles, I found a single exit point that appeared to go down to the ticket desks.

The impression that I was making progress was quickly dispelled as I noted that all the counters were servicing international airlines. One of the ticket agents was kind enough to point out that I was in the wrong terminal and that the domestic terminal was only a ten minute walk away. I glanced at my watch – still over forty minutes – plenty of time when you consider that my luggage had already been checked through.

At this point, I went into overdrive, grabbed my stuff, and QuickTimed over to the domestic terminal. I was gratified to see that the line at Iberian Airline’s Business Class counter was pretty short. By the time I reached the agent, I had about 20 minutes before departure. I wasn’t worried though, as business class customers usually walk on at the last minute anyway. I gave the gentleman my ticket and as he entered the information into the computer, I mentioned that I’d like a Window seat if possible. He looked up at me, handed me the boarding pass and my tickets, and said, “See the red jackets.”

Just a little confused, I said “See what red jackets?” and he pointed me in the direction of the Iberian Airways Public Relations desk. I looked at my boarding pass and noticed that there was no seat number. I said “Look, I don’t care about a window seat that much. Just assign me anything.” He repeated, “See the red jackets.”

Now I was becoming concerned. I went over an talked to one of the ‘red jackets’ and he informed me that I had no seat on this plane. “Wait,” I said firmly, “I have a business class reservation.” “Yes,” he explained, “but the plane has been overbooked.”

Double Disappointment

I was disturbed by the careless, almost casual disregard for my rights displayed by the Iberian Airlines’ representative. I paid extra for a business class ticket and I expected to be treated with some respect. In Spain, however, Iberian Airlines are THE state airline and there’s basically little or no competition. Therefore, it wasn’t really a business necessity for the airline to treat me like an important customer.

Iberia finally booked me on a seat to Seville – about a hundred miles and several hours out of my way and, as I sat in the airport departure lounge fuming and awaiting my departure, I couldn’t help drawing the parallels between my experiences with Iberia and Microsoft.

Microsoft promise you a ‘business class’ experience with Windows NT and like the Barcelona airport, it’s attractive and appears to have all the bells and whistles of a first class operation. It’s easy to get hopelessly lost, however, and if there are signs that point you in the right direction, they’re sure foreign to me. And like Iberia, because of a perceived lack of competition on the part of the public, there’s no necessity for Microsoft to worry about a customer’s experience.

As I noted, there are things to like about Windows NT, but the underlying system support structure is such a logical morass, that it’s a very simple matter for a user to hopelessly screw things up. I’d recommend that you approach Windows NT the same way we used to approach SCSI chains. Once you get it working, don’t mess with it. Don’t try to install anything new (and particularly not anything old!) and refrain from ‘exploring your world!’

By almost any definition, Windows NT 4.0 is beta software. That is, it has been released on the public already full of bugs. Microsoft admitted this in a bulletin where the company was hustling Windows NT 5.0. In the company’s own words: “Windows NT 5.0 is an evolutionary, not revolutionary, release of the Windows NT operating system. While there are important new features in this release, version 5.0 will build on a proven system architecture and incorporate tens of thousands of bug fixes from version 4.0.” The page reference is

Can you imagine the uproar in the PC press if Apple released a version of System 8 with ‘tens of thousands of bugs?’ All hell would break loose! The ONLY reason why Microsoft feels free to flagrantly step on consumers’ rights is because it perceives there’s no competitive reason to worry.

In some ways though, the picture is even darker. Though the stuff might sometimes work the way it’s supposed to, the way it’s supposed to makes little sense. Take, for example, the task of customizing the interface. There are policies, profiles, registries, registry editors (RegEdit and RegEdit32), a policy editor (PolEdit) and control panels, and…. It’s such an anal retentive quagmire that I’m simply amazed that Gates had the audacity to release it.

It’s as if he instructed his programmers to distance NT from the Mac OS by giving the user complete control over everything. Unfortunately, their implementation is so complex that the average user will actually have little control over anything. (The nightmare scenario, of course, is putting one of these NT-based systems in a public place like a school or a library. Though you can ‘hose it down’ by judicious use of PolEdit, you could have a full time job maintaining it – particularly if you plan to run legacy software.)

Redmond Red Swizzle
Bob Levitus, the Mac writer extraordinaire, recently suggested that he couldn’t convince his sister, a Mac user for years, to buy another Mac. He also noted that one could only drink the ‘Cupertino Kool-Aid’ so long before it was time to bail. I suggest that Bob switch to Redmond Red Swizzle at the earliest possible moment. I suspect there will be plenty of scope for ‘help’ columns in the Windows NT press for the foreseeable future. I can certainly envision whole volumes of Stupid NT Tricks Books. And how about an NT for Dummies book while you’re at it… or is that too cynical? As for me, I’ll have no trouble convincing my sister to upgrade her Mac—at least until Microsoft actually delivers an operating system that is competitive with the Macintosh in terms of power, ease of use, and stability.

* Writings and Drawings by Bob Dylan, Nothing Was Delivered, p.235, Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1972


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