There’s something particularly wonderful about the unknown. When you don’t have day-to-day knowledge of something, it can be conceptually perfect and, without knowledge of its flaws, you can explore its possibilities in a blissful world where anything is possible. Such is the world of technology, though, that it’s difficult to keep things so pure for long.
Many a night, before dropping into my eiderdown, I’ve idly daydreamed about how great it would be to have Product X in my clutches; either to simplify some presently tedious job so that I won’t have to do it anymore, or because it will go “bing” in a particularly enthralling new way. But then it’s always easy when you’re in the shop to forget that you’ve got to get that huge yet compellingly comfortable sofa up the stairs somehow, for example.
Windows Vista got up the stairs easily enough, but that was one of the easier bits. In my initial blind anticipation, I thought it would simply fix all the broken bits of XP and then do some brilliant new stuff too. In the course of executing my professional duties since its early beta days –- I dimly remember first installing Vista Beta 2 onto my work PC way back when Sydney FC was good last year -– I’ve spent countless hours trying to fix, find and generally get to know all its shiny corners. I’ve written around 30,000 words about it in the past month alone, and seen dialog boxes no human being should ever have to experience.
As such, Vista has now well and truly lost that sheen. Still, at least new problems are more stimulating than the old and tired ones and, who knows, you might just learn something. Or you might spend two hours trying to work out why your monitor’s signal has gone when you’ve actually just accidentally unplugged it from the wall in an attempt to reseat a PCI card that may or may not have come loose, or possibly fried the motherboard by dropping a case screw on it. Not, of course, that I’d do anything that stupid. Again.
So after that painful birthing process, coming across the HP TouchSmart IQ770
PC was something of a slap in the face. Switch it on, prod the screen to launch an application or web page, and off it goes. No fiddling with the mouse, no trying to remember where a program is. If you set it up for the applications or web search engines you use, you can basically forget about the Windows Desktop for 99% of the time. Naturally, things will go wrong occasionally, and you’ll have to delve into Windows to fix them. But it simply becomes a back end.
And, as a back end, you really begin to realise quite what a ridiculously complicated mess it is. It’s trying to be everything to everyone all at once, and in as friendly a way as possible. That’s an impossible, not to mention thankless, task. Despite the number of people who will carp on about how X or Y application doesn’t work under Vista, it’s still absurdly backwards compatible, yet it’s also creaking under the weight of new features designed to propel the whole thing forward. It’s a huge pile of interdependent legacy code, much of which won’t ever see the inside of a processor, let alone do anything useful.
There’s been an awful lot of talk about Vista being the last major operating system from Microsoft: everything’s moving online, so we’ll just do everything inside a web page, and the operating system will simply be a browser. Although I doubt very much these rumours will ever come close to reality (especially as Microsoft is already talking about the next version of Windows, codenamed Vienna, appearing in 2009), I’ve no conceptual difficulty with it. After all, what we see on our screen is essentially just a bunch of lights, and it makes no odds to me how they’re rearranged – do I really need a heater under my desk to do it?