Add to Win8: Ability to tell when wheels come off, not just when tires are fully inflated.

Even Win7's extensive self-help tools report everything is fine when it's not

According to all the press coverage about Windows 8 – nearly all of which are based on information directly from Microsoft and from analysts or users briefed by Microsoft, none of whom have had the chance to evaluate any of it outside the rose-colored-glasses Zone of Planet Windows – Microsoft's next operating system will be the biggest improvement yet in personal computing.

The stuff I wrote about it has the same problems. I have a copy of Win8, but haven't installed or played with it – which would have given me more than a theoretical idea of how it's supposed to work, though that may or may not make my prediction that Windows will split within five to 10 years into what are essentially two separate products – one to run the computer and one to hold all the software, data, connection points, security and all the other stuff that's relevant to the digital portion of an end user's existence.

That's not even that bold a prediction. Microsoft's been moving in that direction for a long time, as has Citrix, which is one of the few traditional partners still joined at the hip with Microsoft. VMware's whole desktop and mobile virtualization strategy is based on making Windows irrelevant (now Microsoft's is the opposite) – leaving it to run the hardware, essentially, while VMware's virtual client software becomes the "Windows PC" of the totally-virtualized-IT era.

I might have been less optimistic about Microsoft's chances (or more) if I'd been able to play with the beta for Windows 8.

Microsoft makes Windows errors look less threatening

I didn't get the chance because when something major is broken about the way one Windows component or other Microsoft software module talks to another, and it was breaking apps on my computer without admitting what was happening.

At its base, the problem was that Windows' ability to understand that two pieces of itself aren't communicating is, itself, broken.

It even redesigned the BSOD to look less threatening. The way death should.

In this case it manifested as constant crashes of my Outlook 2007 client for reasons that the Event Viewer and various other logs described as having shut down unexpectedly, but carried an error number and ID that, when I looked it up on TechNet, MSDN.com and half the other Windows self-help sites on the 'net, turned out to mean that the application had unexpectedly shut down.

I spent two weeks, off and on, scrubbing, cleaning, de-corrupting, re-enabling, uninstalling, reinstalling , re-updating and swearing lengthily at every database, module, capability, bit of code and, finally, deep history of Outlook as I manually deleted from the registry every mention of Outlook, Office, Windows, Bill Gates or any of the words I was using at the time, in a final, pointlessly labor-intensive effort

The problem I learned this morning from a matter-of-fact "try this" posting from an MS staffer was that an update for one of the various evolutionary layers of the .NET Framework had either failed or corrupted some other part of the framework, so none of them were working correctly.

It's pedantic to mention—but is important to Windows itself, so I will do so anyway – that .NET has become so much a part of every application process on Windows machines that having it not work correctly – let alone corrupting it with an update designed to fix an earlier flaw, then not noticing you'd done it – is the kind of error a plumber makes by removing all the water piping from inside a house, reassembling it outside, where the light is better, and leaves, charging for a job well done because all the pieces fit together more neatly than they ever did before, which would be obvious if the home owners would just look out the window.

Put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket

Microsoft is replacing .NET, Flash and other technologies with Metro – which relies on modern perceptions and preferences – JavaScript, HTML5 – rather than Visual Basic and other, hoarier app dev tools.

The problem is not in the development tools though. It's in the troubleshooting and self-awareness of Windows itself.

At one point, a few weeks ago, after I installed and experimented with a client-side network load balancer and a VPN product in the same week, Windows 7 decided it could not detect a network interface card of any kind in the computer, despite using it for a perfectly functional broadband Internet connection, showing the adapter just as usual within Device Manager, and saying in the Properties window that the Internet connection was fine and the "device is working properly."

How it worked properly while being invisible is a puzzle, as is Windows' inability to notice that large chunks of the .NET code base I updated and patched religiously had stopped functioning.

That gap in modular thinking – verifying that each of two pieces of something work fine when tested independently, but don't accomplish anything then they're put together as they're designed to do – is a big problem in the whole "Troubleshooting" function that was supposed to be such a huge self-service addition to Windows 7.

I have occasionally found Troubleshooting able to find and fix a problem, but only rarely.

More often I've been able to identify it myself and re-install the drivers or services so good files can replace corrupt ones, or, occasionally, been able to use the automated "Fix-IT Scripts" Microsoft hangs on support pages to try to get users to fix problems themselves.

Microsoft didn't fix in Windows 7, or Windows 6 or 5 or 4 or 3, or any other version (though it's possible to argue that everything before and including Windows 2.1 (as well as Win98, WinME and large parts of Vista) were so broken having one big schism down the middle render them non-functional so much as just divide the various critical problems into different hemisphere.

The un-self-examining Operating System is not worth running

As a problem, the lack of self-critical insight within Windows may be so old and traditional that it is protected like the very deep, very dangerous, alarmingly stable three-sided, rubble-stoned square pits scattered around the wooded hiking areas of the town outside of Boston where I live.

Most are root cellars build by early colonists to store food, which is understandable. But they were designed with the longevity of an Egyptian tomb in mind, not that of the tissue-paper houses that were built on top of them and which burned down every 10 minutes or so, forcing the inhabitants to go dig another root cellar somewhere else.

They're hard to see and impossible to avoid, so cautious hikers probe with a stick or hike with a dog or with a friend they generously insist should take the lead and set the pace.

When the friend disappears suddenly into the sound of a deep squish and a lot of swearing, you've found a root cellar.

Since the parts of town that aren't root cellar are swamp, the floors are muddy and often overpopulated with irate former hiking buddies sunk so deep in the muck it's impossible to pull them out. Consideration requires leaving a supply of water and sprinkling the ground around the now-cultivated companion, and that you return in the Spring to see what kind of flower or fruit they eventually sprout.

That, in case you ever wondered, is the source of the famous New England plant species such as the Foul-Mouthed Bigmouth Aspen, the Mouthful-of Mud Scarlet Elder a and beautifully red but bitter Swearing Apple.

Lady Slippers are an older variety that came about the same way, apparently from female hikers who tended to plummet head-first rather than the other way around; they're beautiful flowers, despite the tragic story of their origin.

(It's best to give all these varieties plenty of room if you encounter them in the wild. They're listed as Threatening Species, rather than Threatened, but it's best not to take any chances, anyway.)

If Microsoft is treating the critical, covert systemic faults of its operating system and the various modules that have been duct-taped to it over the years as a historical record that should be preserved in its natural environment rather than in some museum of Fixed Operating-System Bugs, that's fine.

Microsoft certainly deserves to be cut some slack.

Especially considering the contributions it has made to software bugs, innovative operational flaws, enhancements to the appearance and ease of use of a user interface that actually make the software harder to use (I forgot to mention the other day that Microsoft is putting the Ribbon command-line in Windows 8 in order to conceal all the commands you've already leaned and force you to take more care with your work my increasing the time you spend on it by 20 percent.

On the other hand, if it's going to leave those giant post-holes in the operating system, maybe is should warn us.

It's not a problem that Microsoft move gradually toward Metro and other code-execution frameworks, to give users time to adapt and so as not to shock or inconvenience the legions of ActiveX, .NET and GiantHoleinGround developers it was working feverishly to recruit right up to the moment it announced it would be using a different app dev approach entirely,

I'd just prefer that, if it's going to continue promising to at least help identify your problem using Outlook Diagnostics , ActiveX tools, scanners, troubleshooters, registry fixers profile restructurers and other tools.

Not to mention hundreds of support forum responses from Microsoft staffers saying only "Hi, check this KB article; it should fix your issue," with a link to one of thousands of unreadable KnowledgeBase articles that admit the existence of a problem but do nothing to help fix it.

It's usually silly, not to mention statistically invalid, to write about a problem in some vendor's software simply because it didn't work correctly for you during one attempt at installation.

Blogs or articles in which the writer talks only about his or her PC problems rarely offer much really useful advice, and are almost always self-indulgent in allowing the writer to complain about his or her own personal frustrations.

I try not to do that because the more clear the source is of your frustrations, and the skills deep enough to get you into trouble but not back out again, the more clear it becomes to other people how much of an idiot you really are.

It's a given that everyone in the computer industry is an idiot. Why else would people with higher-than-average IQs put up with not only using, but designing and building computers that morph themselves into sources of malicious energy they direct toward pissing of their owners in a serious way at least three times per week?

In this case it's not the end user's idiocy that caused the problem, or the really funny photos he or she loaded from MaliciousCode.com/WantSomethingWorseThanViruses? Minutes before searing to Tech Support that nothing changed before the laptop started bugling old burlesque songs and looping hardcore Smurf Porn on the flat-screen in the customer-reception area with no way to shut it off.

(I'm not saying that happened or didn't happen, just that it didn't happen in this case.)

In this case it's a gap – a whole series of gaps, in fact – in Microsoft's ability to identify conflicts that cause its Services to crash, configuration issues that sap performance by sending the same electron to the back of the 10 Queries or Less line ever time a request comes from an object-oriented module or function that may have missed one of the constant flood up updates, corrections, patches and replacements for code that was perfectly fine when it was written (because computers crashed slowly enough for you to save your own work), but are a disaster now.

Microsoft doesn't even have to fix all those things Not automatically. Not at all, in some cases.

But don't pretend you can tell me if there's something wrong with my Microsoft Windows and Applications Productivity Enhancing Integrated Software Development Environment if what you're really doing is just making sure files of the correct name are in the correct directories and none are currently on fire.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

What’s wrong? The new clean desk test
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies