Every so often, the compatibility pigeons come home to roost, and you just have to grin and bear it. Last night was one of those evenings.Â
Exhibit A: My faithful Toshiba Tecra A1 laptop.Â Â I’ve had this PC since the spring of 2004, so, while it’s getting old, it’s not dead yet.Â Some time back I decided to scrub it, and reinstall everything fresh.Â That’s where the trouble started.Â I had assumed, incorrectly, that I could just grab a Windows disk (got a bunch of them around the house), load it up, type in the key on theÂ certificate of authenticity with the OEMÂ PC and… bob’s your uncle, it should just work.Â Boy… wasÂ I wrong.Â Â
The first thing that happened was that the standard XP install wouldn’t accept theÂ key that was on the PC.Â I phoned Microsoft, and then three different numbers at Toshiba, and eventually learned that I had an OEM key, and this would require the Toshiba OEM version of theÂ operating system disks.Â “Oh”, said I, “could you just send me one?”Â “I can sir”, said the polite young lady (PYL) on the otherÂ end of the phone,Â “how would you like to pay for that?”Â
Now, wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute here!Â Pay?Â I’ve already paid for the OS, when IÂ bought the darn PC!Â Well, it transpires that Toshiba will send me a “recovery” disk, and cost for that is $65.Â $65 for a 50 cent piece of plastic, plus whatever Toshiba charges for “handling”.
At this point,Â I am beginning to feel extreeeeeeemely taken advantage of.Â Â The PYL on the other end of the line explains that I should have a recovery disk already, and that this is merely the replacement cost if I have lost it.Â I explain to the PYL that I never received a disk, and I feel extreeeeeeeemely upset to have to pay for something I’ve already paid for.Â TheÂ PYL and I talk for a while, and eventually she promises to call me back after talking to her supervisors.Â Suprise surprise, she never does call back.Â I go ahead and cheat the system by putting in one of my Windows license keys on the standard OS and it installs.Â It’s at that point, though, that the compatibility turds hit the fan.Â The standard Windows XP install doesn’t have drivers on it for the Tecra’s graphics card, sound system, or network system.Â Essentially, my laptop has become a brick unless I pay Toshiba $65.Â Â I telephone in several more times, each time speaking to a different PYL and hoping to get a CD from them, and each time getting the same answer.Â
Toshiba, you suck.Â You didn’t have to make it so hard to reload the OS.Â It would have cost pennies to drop the disk I needed into the box when I bought the laptop, and at most a buck or two to send the disk when I wanted it.Â Microsoft, you suck for not making the drivers I needed available on Windows update.Â
Exhibit B: Windows Vista.Â Eventually, I decided “what the hay, I’ll try Windows Vista” on this laptop.Â I know, it’s a little radical, but I do it anyway.Â I download the image from the MSDN, back up my hardrive, format, and install.Â Wouldn’t you know it?Â Vista has the drivers I need. Yeah, it’s slow, and some of the software I rely on (like the iotum Icetray) doesn’t work, but at least I’m up and running.Â
Fast forward to today.Â I am about to install Vista Beta 2.Â I had to remember that Microsoft broke the file tree by moving Music and Pictures out of documents, which breaks another Microsoft product I rely on (Foldershare) but it was generally a pretty smooth install… except that it had to be done clean, because the Vista installer for Beta 2 crashes when run under the CTP… but I digress.Â While I’m at it, I download Office 2007 beta and install that as well.Â
So far, so good.Â Install Skype 2.5… Sweet! Install Foldershare… restore my files… this rocks!Â Install Gizmo Project… BOOM.Â It’s beta… what can you expect?Â In general, Beta Software sucks, but Microsoft, you didn’t have to break my applications by doing dumb things like moving directory names around.
Exhibit C: Skype.Â Everybody rags on Skype for using a proprietary protocol to move their traffic around.Â That’s a compatibility nightmare.Â So, imagine how compelling something like GnomeLink (basically the NCH SwiftSound Skype to SIP Uplink) is.Â Install on your PC, and presto, Skype calls get routed to your home phone via PhoneGnome.Â I didn’t know how it worked, but I learned last night.Â
I was working on a presentation on the big Athlon I’ve got in my home office.Â This fella gets overloaded.Â It’s my office PC, a music server for a couple of UPnP music boxesÂ I’ve got, and a family PC used by a lot of people.Â About 9 PM Andy AbramsonÂ Skypes me.Â It rings on my telephone, thanks to GnomeLink, and I am now talking to Andy, gratis.Â He called me free on Skype, and I answered it free, on my phone line.Â Â And it’s all free becauseÂ of Skype’s zero cost North American calling promotion.Â ‘cept, there’s a brutal echo. Andy says “let’s switch to Gizmo, I’ve noticed it doesn’t echo as much”.Â Sure says I. I’ve gotÂ virtually every soft client known to man installed on this thing.Â Â That’s whenÂ the gates of compatibilityÂ hell are opened, and I enter purgatory.
You see, the Skype uplink program has grabbed my USB sound drivers.Â That’s how it does its magic.Â Since Skype has a proprietary protocol, it gets around that by pretending to be a sound device, having Skype play sounds on that imaginary device, and then rerouting the packets via SIP to PhoneGnome.Â It’s a very clever hack.Â But it also breaks every other USB headset on the system, even when it’s turned off.Â Essentially, Gizmo is no good to me unless I dig out one of my legacy headsets and plug it into the soundcard.Â Moreover, I can’t just turn this hack off.Â The driver is still held by the NCH program.Â I can’t kill it, I can’t reboot… it’s a Zombie, and it won’t stop chasing me!
Skype, you suck! Forcing hacks like the NCH Uplink programming on us because you refuse to be compatible with standards puts you in the same leagueÂ as the trust barons of the 19th century.Â
Compatibility is the bane of every PC users existance whether it’s a result ofÂ stupid business decisions, or dumb engineering decisions.Â Using a PC doesn’t have to be, nor should it have to be, this difficult.
At this rate, I may just go buy a Mac.