Unfortunately, my month with Vista has been rather an eventful one. I wish it hadn’t been, since I’d really like to have a month where I can write words to the effect: “You know, it worked well – no major problems or issues, all quiet on the Western front.” But despite it now being a year after Vista’s release, and despite applying more patches and fixes than the Graf Spee, I still can’t claim it’s settled down at all; indeed, the harder I look the worse the picture seems. I accept that this ongoing rant of pain is beginning to sound repetitive, but that’s only because everyone else is going through the same thing.
This time, it’s the print spooler that’s been keeping me awake at night. For reasons too boring to recount, there’s been a lengthy procession of printers marching across my desktop recently, some of which fall into that oh so modern category known as the all-in-one device, wherein a cheap scanner unit is glued on top of an even cheaper printer to create “something wonderful”. What makes these devices more hateful under Vista is that none of the vendors appear to be able to spell “Vista”, let alone to write a coherent and properly integrated driver stack for it.
If I’m using a shining new OS, I expect the functionality provided by third-party vendors to slip neatly between the sheets and snuggle up to said new OS with an almost lascivious familiarity – I don’t expect it to continue hobbling along using horrid kludges devised for XP, from when the world rotated around the vendor’s free third-party management tool that only reluctantly acknowledges the existence of a common File Save dialog. But it appears I’m being overly demanding, perfectionist and just plain wrong in wanting this: apparently, all the vendors still believe that slapping “Vista compatible” onto a barely working XP driver and application stack is all they need to do.
I arrived at the point of repeatedly banging my head on the kitchen table this week over the Oki 2200 laser printer. This is a bijou little black-and-white laserette no bigger than a lunch box. It squeaks and hums and clunks in a quite endearing way, like some small animal, perhaps a gerbil (it even pongs like one, too, occasionally farting a rather unpleasant odour into the surrounding air). It comes with a Vista driver that you have to download from the Interweb, and on unpacking the ZIP file I found the usual stack of Windows drivers, DLLs and configuration files. There was no setup program per se – that would have been be too easy – but surely it wouldn’t be difficult to add a new laser printer to Vista? Just plug it in, which is what plug-and-play is all about. Shove the plug into the socket, let the hard disk whirr for a while and within a few moments the printer will be ready to do real work. That’s the theory.
The reality, of course, is somewhat different. For Vista, Microsoft has taken a fairly reliable and trusted solution and wrapped it up inside a wizard – but a wizard so dementedly brain-dead that a whole world of pain awaits you should he become confused, drop his wand or start to gibber about which choice to take. The problem is simple: in attempting to fully automate the process of installing a USB printer, Microsoft has made some assumptions that turn out to be “rather brave”, to put it politely. For example, what happens if the installation process crashes? Naturally, such a thought cannot occur to a truly devoted and positive-thinking Microsoft programmer, so they didn’t feel any urgent need to code in an escape route or any means of fixing things. As with the Titanic’s lifeboats, if it won’t ever happen there’s no need.