Hasta la Vista?

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One of my favorite parts of my job is to talk about and demonstrate our technology to new audiences. In every audience I’ll find those who assumed that Actian had died back in the 90′s after the CA acquisition. For certain audiences, if I think it appropriate, I’ll borrow a quote from Mark Twain to title my presentation “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated”. To counter the perception that the product might be dated I’ll always highlight our latest technology innovations at the beginning and end of the presentation and sandwich advanced features like partitioning, parallel query, configuration management etc in between. In January I decided that using Vista as the platform for demonstrating Actian would make it look fresher, especially given the fact that we’ve adopted a native Vista look and feel for our database administration tools. What a mistake! Since January I feel like I’ve been transported back to a time when blue screens were acceptable, where plug-and-pray was the order of the day, where backward compatibility was optional and waiting for the first service pack to be released was the recommended practice.

The first blue screens I encountered were when I attached my digital camera and printer to my laptop. My camera is a fairly recent Olympus point-and-click that was being heavily promoted by Olympus over the holiday season, my printer is a popular HP Photosmart printer which was being promoted by my local electronics store. Within minutes of visiting user forums it became apparent that adding peripherals to my laptop was going to be problematic, and it struck me just how fortunate those who run open source operating systems are. If I’d encountered these problems with a new Linux release I would have happily lent a hand to fix them. After a couple of blue-screens I decided that it might be fun to step back into the 90s and install the blue-screen screen saver that Microsoft distributes at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/sysinternals/Miscellaneous/BlueScreen.mspx. I found it funny that Vista isn’t listed under supported platforms for the screen saver, but then again if you’re running Vista you probably don’t need this as a screen saver.

The next problem I encountered was when I attached my Blackberry to my laptop. The hard disk spun for a while, the Blackberry displayed its usual “Do not disconnect” message, I backed it up and then disconnected. When it hadn’t buzzed at me for about five minutes I decided to check to see if everything was OK, only to discover that the email icon had disappeared. I called Cingular and got through to a very helpful support technician who informed me that Vista had thrashed the ServiceBooks on my Blackberry and that it was a known problem and that they were having a hard time convincing Microsoft that working with them to fix it should be a priority. The Cingular technician was able to resend me the ServiceBooks and restore my email service, but he suggested that I not attach my BlackBerry to my Vista laptop until I was sure that the problem was resolved but he couldn’t even guess at an ETA. At this point I started to think about installing Linux on my laptop but decided to persevere.

Video drivers have been hugely problematic, particularly when I attach a projector to the laptop. The problems that I’ve encountered have varied from only being able to project to the laptop screen or the projector, but not both, to only being able to paint one window on the screen at any one time. When the audience spots the fact that I’m running Vista, they’ll typically smile pitifully at me and inform me that they’ve decided to wait for the first service pack.

When I first tried running Actian 2006 on Vista it was like I was living the Apple Mac commercial with the security guard standing next to Windows asking for permission for any activity. Running Actian resulted in a constant stream of annoying messages asking for permission. In the end I decided to temporarily disable User Account Control (UAC) and haven’t had a single problem with Actian since then. We’ve had to review and rework a lot of Actian code to work through the UAC issues, but we took some consolation from the fact that even the latest SQL Server release had similar issues with Vista that, as far as I can tell, haven’t been completely resolved to this day.

So, after a month or so of heartache I got everything on my laptop set up to my satisfaction and swore off buying any new peripherals, but of course being a gadget queen, that resolution was never going to last. Now I’ve got to decide if I’m going to say “Hasta La Vista” to Windows or work through the newest batch of Vista problems that my digital voice recorder has uncovered.

More on this as I work through the issues.

About Emma McGrattan

As SVP of Engineering at Actian, Emma leads development for the Actian Vector team, including the Ingres and X100 components, and the Actian Matrix Planner team. A leading authority in DBMS technologies, Emma is celebrating 20 years in Ingres and Actian Engineering.

View all posts by Emma McGrattan →

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