30 May 2008

Virtually on parity

From: Microsoft Propaganda Honcho
To: Microsoft Propaganda Minion
Subject: “Five Misunderstood Features in Windows Vista”

Propaganda Minion,

You remember that a fortnight ago, on my orders, we pulled our propaganda document, “Five Misunderstood Features in Windows Vista”,1 from the internet only hours after tech bloggers around the world had laughed themselves hoarse over it, and I ordered you to rewrite some of the more misunderstood sections. I have now evaluated your changes in the new version.

Let’s take a look at page 5. You deleted the following part:

A complaint often lodged at Windows Vista is that it seems to run a bit slower than Windows XP. We‘ll get to that in a minute, but Windows Vista is doing a lot more than any previous operating system.

Good job deleting “a bit slower”! We can’t say that: it’s true. And the bit about Vista “doing a lot more” than previous OSes just invited the haters to giggle that it’s doing it on massively more powerful computers. We can’t give them such easy targets.

One of the most significant improvements in Windows Vista is the ability to rapidly search all the files on the desktop, whether they reside in folders, as an email attachment, or somewhere else on the PC. Windows Search does require that the processor system continually index file locations so they can be quickly retrieved at will,

Right, don’t even mention “processor” — that’ll just have people obsessing over the performance hit again. Call it the “system”: that’s more general and reassuring. You then added:

though the approach taken by Windows Vista should not interfere with system performance while in use.

I love that! It “should not” interfere with system performance. It does, of course, but it should not. On that everyone can agree — even the Mactards, right?

Then you deleted this whinge:

Indexing for near instantaneous search results for desktop files, even embedded in email messages, is a resource-intensive task — requiring the PC to continually scan the hard drive for changes.

Correct, this did sound too much like special pleading. We know really low-powered Macs could do this half a decade ago, but let’s not remind everyone, okay?2

Boldly, you deleted even more excuse-making:

On Windows Vista, the search engine is set up as a service rather than an application. This approach reduces the burden on system resources, as an application would consume a large proportion of resources when it needs to work harder — such as following the PC setup, or when a large number of files are copied. As a service, Windows Search takes a bit more time to accommodate these one-off events, but there is far less impact on available computing resources.

A fine gambit! No more mentioning of “the burden on system resources”, it made us look weak. And “a bit more time” made us look slow. And “these one-off events” — what the hell was that? If the events are “one-off events”, then why are they in the plural ? Who wrote this garbage in the first place anyway?

Don’t answer that.

Anyway, excellent job with the deletion there. What did you replace it with?

This approach allows the system to index user’s data even when the user isn’t logged on the machine, making the index ready for the time when user logs on. With Windows Vista, the indexing function doesn’t crawl the disk constantly. Instead, after indexing the content for the first time, it waits for changes in the file system and then only indexes the updated files. Beyond that, indexing goes idle when a user or the system opens a document or performs a task, so the actual impact on performance is minimal.

Nice. The impact is minimal. Love how you are emphasizing what the approach “allows” rather than the “burden” it creates. Great work so far. I think you should be excited!

Wait, let’s flip to page 9.

On machines configured with the appropriate specifications for their the operating system they are running, the speed of most operations and tasks between Windows Vista and Windows XP is virtually on parity equal.

Agreed, “virtually on parity” was too obviously a weasel way of saying “slower, but not much slower, honest”. We can’t say that: it’s true. So: “virtually equal” — much better! Still lets us off the hook, since we’re not claiming it’s actually equal. But we’re not allowing the concept of “slower” to enter the room, either. Virtually equal — sure, it’s not equal in the “real world”, but it’s equal in the virtual fantasy world we need to sell our customers! And that’s all that counts.

Which This is pretty remarkable when you consider one key thing Windows Vista is doing that Windows XP isn‘t: for example, indexing for near instantaneous search results for desktop files, even those embedded in email messages; preventing malware with Windows Defender; and dynamically delivering rich content to the desktop with Windows Sidebar. The result is users can find information significantly faster (measured in minutes), increasing productivity far in excess of the loss in speed of operations (measured in milliseconds).

Great work shunting in those last-minute inspirational references to Windows Defender and Sidebar! Just look at all these great things Vista is doing that XP wasn’t!

But there’s a little problem, Propaganda Minion. Now we are announcing “one key thing” that Vista does, and then describing three things. How do you think that makes us look?

Stupid, is what it makes us look.

You know what? You’re fired.

For more straight-talk advice and adoption guidance, please visit www.microsoft.com/springboard

Okay, that bit’s still perfect. I love it. Nothing but straight talk passes my desk. Plus, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt could probably use some of our “adoption guidance”. But you’re still fired, you moron.

  1. Original version [pdf]; new version.
  2. There is some discussion in comments below as to whether Propaganda Honcho is thinking of Mac OS X 10.4, released “only” three years ago, or perhaps of Sherlock in Mac OS 8.5. Well, Propaganda Honcho’s attitude to facts is a little elastic.
  • http://fury.com Kevin Fox

    My thought reading the Page 9 excerpt was: “Nice job! By saying ‘machines configured with the appropriate specifications for the operating system they are running’ you literally mean that a fast computer running Vista is virtually equal to a slow computer running XP, but it sounds like you’re saying Vista is as fast as XP!”

    Now we just have to define ‘appropriate specifications’ to mean ‘powerful enough to run Vista faster than old computers run XP.’

  • http://brandonlive.com Brandon Paddock

    Those changes were made because the original article was written without the involvement of the engineering teams and so it contained a great deal of inaccuracy.

    Search does NOT have a noticeable impact on Windows Vista’s performance characteristics.

    Search does NOT “continuously” scan your hard disk, and consumes NO CPU time or other resources except when processing notifications of item changes.

    I’m rather confused about why you seem to prefer the technically inaccurate version, versus the accurate version of the document. It seems this is because the truth does not match up with your pre-conceived notions about Windows. That seems awfully childish, though.

    Your remark about the Mac OS is quite interesting as well. You say that “We know really low-powered Macs could do this half a decade ago, but let’s not remind everyone, okay?”

    What did you mean by that? Integrated indexed search was introduced with Tiger – *after* this capability had already existed in Windows. Tiger did not ship half a decade ago.

    Tiger’s indexed search did NOT run well on older Macs. It works fine on newer models, with a similar level of impact on performance to Windows Search. It has a great deal of limitations, though. For instance, it only supports indexing files, making it impossible to integrate non-file data sources into the Spotlight search experience.

  • http://ericwelch@mac.com Eric

    Brandon, you got Spotlight wrong – except for the part about being introduced in Tiger. That was true.

    Spotlight actually now indexes network resources. What happened to WinFS, which was cancelled because it couldn’t be finished in time for Vista? I know, parts went elsewhere. But even today Vista’s indexing is not as good as OS X’s. OS X has system events that tell it to update the index when you make changes to the file system. I don’t believe Windows has a similar system events system that would allow such efficient indexing, does it?

    As for the non-file data sources comment. What does that even mean? Even then, you’re wrong. Spotlight has a plug-in architecture so anyone can write plug-ins to index anything we can put on our hard drives.

    Typical Windows astroturfing. Use weasel words that mean nothing and then throw out a completely inaccurate description of the competition.

  • http://gravitymedium.com/ John Proffitt

    Brandon, take it easy. This is a humor piece. Sure, it’s taking potshots at Microsoft, some of which may not be completely fair, but it’s all in fun. It’s also making jokes about PR/marketing types — which is funnier to me than the Vista cracks anyway.

    Dumping on Vista is now a sport, whether Microsoft likes it or not, and whether it’s fair and accurate or not. Hell, Vista Dumping may actually be in the summer Olympics this year. So please, don’t take it personally.

  • H

    Astroturfing? Yup, Brandon works on Windows Search. The internets told me so. :-)

    I think Brandon meant “databases”, not “non-file data sources”. (After all, everything’s a file on the filesystem.)

    You can’t tell Spotlight that this one file represents some item “foo” and another item “bar” and have those two items show up in your search result. This is why Mail on Mac OS X needs to keep one .emlx file per email message on disk for Spotlight to find.

    I own a PowerMac G4/400. I installed Tiger 10.4.0 the day it came out. IIRC, the performance was pretty bad compared to what I was used to. It performed fine on a (then current) G5 though.

    The “who was first to indexed search” bit is a pissing game but I’ll bite. People care about products. Apple released a product first. Microsoft released a Beta. That’s the difference.

  • Marcos El Malo

    Brandon:

    Perhaps Microsoft Propaganda Honcho was refering to Sherlock, which would actually be closer to a full decade (it came out with OS 8.5).

    Can I get a “no shit”?

  • George Smiley

    “The result is users can find information significantly faster…”

    “A complaint often lodged at Windows Vista…”

    How much does Microsoft pay these technical writers who cannot write? How much more does Microsoft pay technical writers who can write?

  • Sebhelyesfarku

    To: Dumbass Mactard
    Subject: Pull your head out of Jobs’ ass

  • Harvard Irving

    I love the first line of the document:

    “No one would expect a new OS adoption to be easy…”

    Huh? I’ve used many different Operating Systems over the last 25 years, and the only one I’ve ever had any difficulty “adopting” was Windows.

    So, hell yes, I sure as hell do expect migrating to a new OS to be easy. Why wouldn’t it be easy? It’s 2008, modern Operating Systems are pretty damn reliable and easy to use. Except for Windows, of course. I expect that there might be some small differences that “take some getting used to” – but that’s not an actual difficulty or problem – it’s easy.

  • http://stevenpoole.net/ Steven

    Search does NOT have a noticeable impact on Windows Vista’s performance characteristics.

    Nice! No “noticeable impact” is almost as good as “virtually equal”. There is an impact, but, er, it’s not “noticeable” (always depending, that is, on the kinds of things you normally notice)…

    I must admit I was also intrigued by this bit, which remains in the document:

    The result is users can find information significantly faster (measured in minutes), increasing productivity far in excess of the loss in speed of operations (measured in milliseconds).

    Did Windows customers really use to have to wait minutes for a file or email search to complete? I’m only asking.

  • http://mrwarshaw.com Brian Warshaw

    From the website of Brandon Paddock:

    “Hi. I’m Brandon. I’m a geek, and I work on Search technology for Windows at Microsoft. This is my blog.”

    It’s possible that what you’ve posted here about Vista is true, but I doubt people are inclined to listen to what you have to say when your blog indicates that this is nothing more than you defending something that you worked on.

  • http://www.jgardnerphoto.com/blog Jeff Gardner

    Brilliant. I love it all.

    I own a mac, but as a peon worker in a company full of windows machines, I can see the beauty of XP. It may be annoying when compared with OS X but when compared to Vista, XP is an efficient, easy to use system that responds the way you expect. Vista acts like it has a mind of it’s own (granted it’s the mind of a 3 year old, but hey…).

    Our company bought 10 licenses of VIsta and so far 2 have been used. I for one, used it for about 2 months, then switched back to XP. Noticed a massive boost in productivity as well! And our resident computer ninja has promised to quit if the boss forces Vista on him.

    And to give some perspective to the people that say it’s only Mac users that hate VIsta, he doesn’t use or like Macs. But one thing is for sure, he hates Vista.

  • Ixian

    Steven, depending on how many files the PC has to go through it can take a very long time on XP. Especially if the windows search tool hasn’t already looked for and found the file before (it can be set to cache results if you want). I misplaced a text file once (ironically while trying to organize them) on one of my home machines, really a media center but I do some writing and what not on it. Being a media center it’s got over 1TB of storage between it’s two drives currently in use (about 1.15TB out of 1.25TB to be accurate) all of which are images, text files, a few movies and shows, and the popular LAN games I play (since the media PC is less than 1/3rd the weight of my main gaming comp and much easier to transport around for LAN parties not happening at my place). Anyways, hundreds of thousands of files and a powerful but not cutting edge processor combined to take a few hours to find the document I’d misplaced. I didn’t actually time it but I did manage to make dinner, eat it, watch a few TV shows, and up my play time in what was then the latest Castlevania release (for the record, it was Curse of Darkness and I made it through the whole church while waiting) before checking back and finding it still wasn’t done searching. Eventually the document was found, but by then my muse had left me, at least I wasn’t frustrated to the point of forgetting to remedy my error.

    Still, I would’ve been very happy if it was only minutes for that search.

  • Eytan

    Brandon, indexed search was added in Mac OS 8.5 as part of Sherlock. The VTwin index engine Apple had been working on for a few years before then. This was background indexing. Tiger introduced the Spotlight idea of updating the index whenever you did a save, after an initial index, and of using extra metadata for indexes – is that being done in Vista (indexing at every save the file being saved)?

  • Brian

    I am no Microsoft fanboy (in fact, I am typing this note on my iMac), but I am troubled by the way commenters in this thread are spanking Brandon Paddock. He posted under his own name and linked directly to his identity. In my book, it’s only astroturfing if you attempt to conceal who you are.

    It would have been ideal if he had started his post with a disclaimer (a “claimer”, maybe?) saying that he is a Microsoft employee who works on search. Hell, we should be encouraging Microsoft employees to publicly claim ownership for their work and defend it. I myself would love to have a frank exchange of views with whatever Microsoft employee thinks it’s OK that my wife’s new Vista laptop took 20 minutes for its first boot.

  • addicted

    I am back to using Vista on my sister’s computer, and I am constantly reminded why I installed XP over the pre-installed Vista on my PC. It is SLOW!

    It took me 15 minutes to rename 5 files. They were scanned images, and I had the preview turned on (so the icons were previews) and every click brought on a 10-15 second delay. It was really frustrating…

  • http://stevenpoole.net/ Steven

    I agree, Brandon has every right to comment here, and he was hardly trying to disguise himself — he linked to his blog — so it’s nonsense to accuse him of “astroturfing”.

    Ixian — that is a really amazing story!

  • acl

    I am long time Mac user (since 1985) but I am interested in hearing what Brandon has to say. Since I don’t personally use Vista (I do use XP at work) it is interesting to hear from an “expert” on Vista search.

    It sounds like Vista is using change notifications similar to Tiger. Anyone else confirm?