Free MS apps for XP

Road to Know Where lists over 150 free applications that MS gives away for use on XP.  While it may be 6 years between releases, there are things to keep the intrepid OS fan placated.  While I don’t want to sing the praises of MS, this list at least gives grist to the debate.

I’ve been running Vista RC2 and I am currently downloading MS’s new (free) accounting software.  They hope to make money on the add-ons and services.  This brings up what MS should do to push Vista.  Namely, give the basic away for free.  That would shake up the market.


Royale Noir Theme for XP

A review and download of a recently discovered MS theme for XP.  This is a black (Vista-ish) theme signed by MS.

XP was released with the clownish Luna theme.  Then MCE 2005 came out with a new theme called Royale–this was mostly an update to Luna, less bright, less clownish.  Royale was eventually distributed to anyone running XP.

What we did not know was that MS had also developed–but never distributed–a dark version of Royale called Royale Noir.  This is a real MS theme, no hacking of the UxTheme.dll required.  While there are a few rough edges on the theme it is a welcome refresh for this tired old OS.  Follow the link above to check it out yourself.

Why is the GUI turning into a clownish experience?

I do my best to not care much about the underlying OS. I run my computer in order to run applications in order to achieve goals. I prefer to forget about the OS and concentrate at completing tasks.

However, the major GUI’s seem to be heading toward making their respective OS’s look very clowinish…some would say outright garrish.

Window’s XP’s system notification balloons constantly intrude into my work. Not that I am opposed to system notifications…MS needs to implement an easy means to set up filters on these. XP’s giant rounded start button looks like it belongs inside a child’s game, not left as a constant eyesore on my desktop. Basically the XP default GUI with its rounded bright blue in-your-face appeal, seems as if it were designed for a clown to use during a skit about how goofy computing has become. And Vista…don’t even get me started…the best thing I can say about it is that Gates and Co. still have time for a complete overhaul of the UI. Let me illustrate my point with a single example; in the Beta 2 when you click on the clown looking button with windows logo on it, then hover over the right column, the picture at the top of the column changes. When you are hovering near it, it is somewhat useful. But when you are further away from it, near the bottom, it just becomes distractful flickering at the visual periphery. Clownish! Because we can! Not because it might be useful.
On the Linux front, Gnome seems much more clownish than KDE, with Fedora Core 5 seeming to be the most clownish of the major distros. At least with Linux you get more tweaking options, you can turn the most clownish distro into a sedate desktop with just a little work.

OS X’s (Tiger) default install with the giant dock and things bouncing for your attention is pretty clownish too. With the recent announcement of Core Animation this is only going to get worse, just as XGL (or whatever eventually catches on) is going to make things worse on the Linux desktop. I am not here claiming these technologies are bad, I am simply stating that they will be mis-used. Apple’s own use of animation in the OS is outlandish enough, let’s not bring this power to every two-bit shareware developer.

I think clownish sells. It looks good in the adverts. It looks good at the demos. As computers become “good enough” it becomes increasingly difficult to sell an OS upgrade, so they duct tape eye candy nonsense on top to make it seem new and innovative. Enough already.

In my computing experience, Windows 2000 was the first OS to become good enough on the desktop. In my mind OS X 10.3x is good enough, also. Has anything been released or announced for these products which make them more usable? Only search, and that is rather trivial.
But this is not to argue against refinement of the GUI experience, I only argue that this refinement (or even complete overhaul) of the experience should be based on usability. Usability and….well, pretty much nothing else.

Where is the innovation on the desktop? Ubuntu gets credit for using a brown theme in defiance of the blue grey/silver/undefined light-color which predominates the desktop. MS gets credit for the next Office update. Anybody else?

All I ask is for a useful platform to run my programs without making it seem as if they reside within a child’s game. Is that too much to ask?

A letter…

Following is a letter that I intend to send to Microsoft tomorrow:

July 29, 2006

“Genuine Microsoft Software” Team

Microsoft Corporation

One Microsoft Way

Redmond, WA 98052-6399

To whom it may concern,

Microsoft’s recent imposition of Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) has prevented me from obtaining my rightful updates to Windows XP. I have a 5 year old Sony Vaio that came with Windows XP Home. I recently “restored” the OS on this computer to prepare it for a less demanding task. When I tried to obtain updates I was given the message that my copy of Windows could not be authenticated and I should contact my “regional support tech”. Who is the regional support tech on a 5 year old computer?

I called MS Support and spoke to a series of kind people in Bangalore who could not help me. They sent me to a diagnostics page where an active x control refused to load. I spent 4 hours online with an unpatched 5 year old copy of Windows, obviously my computer was hacked and my brand new install was garbage. While they would not directly say so, the kind support staff hinted that this problem would go away with a new copy of XP.

The important consideration is that at no time did Microsoft software or support staff inform me that my copy of Windows was not genuine, it simply could not run. This bears repeating, my computer did not fail your test, your test refused to run on my ancient—but legal—XP installation. This is a Sony Vaio purchased from Fry’s Electronics, it simply is not possible that this is not a legal copy of Windows.

Windows is far and away my favorite operating system, however, if this is what the future portends; my 10 years as a loyal Microsoft customer are over. This arrogant and capricious implementation of hurtles to the lawful use of my computer force me to seek my software elsewhere.

Very sincerely,

John Trapp