Miserable user experience continues with Windows 7

I’ve just spent some time with a non-technical person who has just signed up for a £30 per month Vodafone internet dongle, which came with a “free” Samsung netbook running Windows 7 Starter Edition.

The user is returning it under the terms of the 14-day trial offer.

Why? Well, the requirement was for a small computer that would be connected to the Internet everywhere, within reason. The user also purchased Microsoft Office along with (for some reason I could not discern) Norton Internet Security.

The good news: the internet connection was fine when connected, something like 2.5Mb download speed on a brief test.

The bad news:

1. The little netbook was badly infested with trialware. Browsing the web was difficult because the already-small screen area was further filled by two additional toolbars, one from Google and the other from MacAfee, leaving barely half the screen for actual web pages. Google kept on prompting for permission to grab user data about location and who knows what else.

2. MacAfee was pre-installed and the task of removing it and replacing it with Norton was tricky, bearing in mind that Norton was delivered on a CD and there was no CD drive. MacAfee was constantly warning that the user was at risk.

3. Two Samsung dialogs popped up on each boot asking the user to do a backup to external storage.

4. The Vodafone connect software was bewildering. In part this was thanks to a complex UI. There also seemed to be bugs. The “usage limit” was preset at 50MB separately for 3G and GPRS; the deal allowed 3GB overall. Changing the usage limit seemed to work, but it reverted at next boot. Then it showed usage limit warnings, as 50MB had already been transferred. Once while I was there the Vodafone utility crashed completely.

5. The Vodafone dongle wobbled in the USB slot. Whenever it was attached it would come up with a dialog asking to run setup, because it included a storage area containing the utility software, even though the utility was already installed.

6. The Vodafone connection is managed through an icon in the notification area that you right-click to connect or disconnect. Windows 7 had hidden this thanks to the new default behaviour of the notification area, which is a usability disaster.

7. The Vodafone connection was set to prompt for a connection. It did sometimes display a prompt, but apparently on some kind of timeout, since it quickly closed without actually connecting. The prompt then did not reappear during that session.

The user concluded that it was too complicated to use, hence the return.

Now, for most readers of this blog I am sure none of the above would matter. We would uninstall MacAfee and Google toolbar, not buy Norton but simply install Microsoft Security Essentials, maybe use Google Chrome for a leaner browsing experience, remove any other software that was not essential (and there was other trialware that I did not have time to investigate), unset the silly option to hide notification icons, find a way of taming or replacing Vodafone’s connection utility, and all would be fine.

I am not sure of the value of the Vodafone contract; the deal is not too bad if you need to connect while out and about, though there is a heavy penalty charge of £15.00 per GB if you exceed 3GB in a month, and it is quite unsuitable if, as in this case, it is your only Internet connection and you plan to use it for things like BBC iPlayer.

That’s an aside. What I find depressing is that despite Microsoft’s efforts to improve Windows usability in 7, the real-world result can still be so poor.

In this case, most of the blame is with Vodafone for poor software, and Samsung for taking all those trialware fees. I guess it is not that bad a deal, since there is almost always someone around who is willing or enjoys solving these puzzles and getting everything working.

Still, here is a customer who wanted and was willing to pay for a no-frills, always-connected internet device, and was let down.

Here also is the market that Apple aims to satisfy with iPad, and Google with devices running Chrome OS.

I wish them every success, since it seems that the Microsoft + OEM Windows culture cannot easily meet this need.

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15 comments to Miserable user experience continues with Windows 7

  • I’ve seen the same issues with all manner of machines – invariably a format and re-install is the best solution.

    For what it’s worth, Ubuntu works flawlessly with Vodafone 3G cards with NO extra software – and given that Google Chrome works better on Linux than on Windows, it’s a very persuasive solution…

  • John

    The crazy thing is that a Netbook at 300 quid should kick the iPad into touch from a price point of view. The reality is that the iPad will be a massive success because they control the user experience.

    I have a couple of aged relatives who want a computer but I am reluctant to recommend a Windows machine because of the constant reboots for updates for Adobe PDF viewer, Flash, Windows, Firefox etc etc. The iPad will fill that gap.

    Apple have come in for a lot of criticism for their controlling of apps. I disagree, the quality is much more consistent than other mobile platforms and I feel much more secure in recommending it to people. When they did relax restrictions over objectionable content what happened? Dozens of apps that show dodgy pictures of women in bikinis.

    I am fed up of the tyranny of choice. I want less choice, I want 3 brands of marmalade at the supermarket.. not 33. I want 2 browsers.. not 12. I want PDF viewing and flash viewing built in the OS. I want virus checking and spyware built in the OS. I’ve installed Windows Security Essentials and it makes perfect sense – a simple UI that doesn’t pester me all the time. Macafee and Norton have passed their sell by date and no amount of scare tactics will get me back.

  • Martin

    Hi,

    though I hate the Apple approach completely as it is a real limitation to innovation and freedom and one of the reasons I don’t use Apple products unless they really are the best choice…which is extremely rare. However, with power comes responsability and the problems is that really the OEM’s need to get their act together and stop providing craplets. This is not fundamentally a problem of windows but of the way in which manufacturers think they are providing “value”. It is also unwelcome side effect of the Anti trust action in the US which limits what Microsoft can do with the base os.

  • I don’t see why you should blame Windows 7…
    All the “issues” you have are due to the trialware and the bad Vodafone/Samsung software…

    Windows 7 is a brilliant OS

  • tim

    I don’t see why you should blame Windows 7…
    All the “issues” you have are due to the trialware and the bad Vodafone/Samsung software…

    Simone

    I don’t blame Windows 7 – well, apart from the problem with the notification area – and I make that clear in the post.

    Nevertheless this is a problem Microsoft told me it was addressing with its OEM partners but apparently unsuccessfully – though there has been some improvement amoung some OEMs.

    Tim

  • There is a much better OS for netbooks: Jolicloud, based on a Linux kernel.

  • ex2bot

    Not to mention the terrible, terrible malware infestations that still seem to be common on Win machines. Granted, knowledgeable users can secure their machines, but there are many out there who don’t have a clue as to how to do so.

    Bot

  • Andrew

    I have to agree with Simone these are not Windows 7 problems. Seems like a cheap headline grabbing title. Surely a title based around Microsoft and OEM vendors would have been more appropriate. I read this blog because you avoid the cheap attention grabbing articles hope this is just a one off.

  • tim

    @Andrew

    The title reflects my strength of feeling on the subject. I hate to see Microsoft’s usability efforts sabotaged by these clumsy third-party utilities and add-ons. It is deeply harmful to the platform. It is the biggest problem with Windows. I hoped with Windows 7 that this would improve – see my interview with Bill Buxton where this is discussed:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/09/19/buxton_keynote/

    “Everybody in that food chain gets it now. Everybody’s motivated to fix it. Thinking about the holistic experience is much easier now than it was two years ago.”

    But they don’t get it.

    Now, you can say this is a Vodafone problem, or a Samsung problem. In a certain sense that’s true; but it is deeply ingrained in what Buxton calls the food chain – which is Microsoft plus partners. The consequence is that you get this with a Windows netbook, but I doubt you will get it with an Apple iPad or a Chrome OS netbook.

    The user, remember, will likely not know or care what is the source of their bad experience; just they they are suffering one.

    Tim

  • I completely agree with the other Andrew. This is a poor choice in headline. You could have added on “partners” to the end of the headline and it would have been a much better choice of words. But I guess then you wouldn’t have gotten as much traffic to this post would you?

  • Manny Rodriques

    Tim,

    While at the end of your post you state that most of the problems were not Microsoft problems, the title and most post has the tone of this being an issue with Windows 7.

    In fact the only issue that is related to the operating system is the system icons and I personally think that is a borderline usability issue. First off it is fairly easy to change the behavior of the icons. But, even without changing the default behavior icons with alerts are visible. I believe the intent here is to show the user the icons when its important to see them, instead of having a clutter of icons that get ignored.

    As far saying that you wrote the article and title as you did because you felt strongly about the subject just isn’t flying with me. Your title and content could have easily been around ‘Microsoft and OEMs just don’t get it’, but that most likely would have resulted in fewer comments.

  • tim

    @Manny

    Thanks for the comment.

    I’ve addressed some of these same issues in a separate post with, I hope, a less contentious title:

    http://www.itwriting.com/blog/2239-windows-phone-7-series-and-microsofts-partner-problem.html

    It is interesting to see how much importance the Microsoft execs attach to the partner relationship and how (reading between the lines) it has let the company down.

    I can assure you my strength of feeling is genuine! I hate to see users struggle with something that should just work.

    It is not easy to change the behaviour of the notification area, I would say, unless you are already relatively skilled with computers.

    Tim

  • RNKLN

    To me, this is a Windows 7 problem. Why? Because it is related to Microsoft’s business model, whereby hardware vendors put an OEM licence of Windows 7 on the machines and put some crap on top of that.

    Such a thing won’t happen with Mac OS X.

  • Ruth Krammer

    I just went through of several days of finding out that there is no such thing as cheap. OEM offered a good price for downloading the new Elements 8 Adobe program for my Windows 7. When push came to shove, I had some major problems with the download. I saw that demanded to close down my spam and other unwanted programs. I woke up and checked out OEM (cheap software) and found that Adobe doesn’t honor these offers. I am back to Adobe Elements 9 ( they upgraded since I started with them) and have another 30 day period to decide. The problem was right there, that I was getting a very poor and untruthful program. Please chenck OEM out and perhaps they should be forced to answer to the many accusations I have since found on the net. They are trying to make good, but I would never trust them again.

  • tim

    @Ruth

    It sounds like the “OEM” vendor you encountered is one of many sites offering pirate software, it is not really “OEM”, just pirated. Keep well away.

    Tim