Scripting is not a user interface

… or ‘why Windows Virtual PC is a retrograde step’.

The newest version of Microsoft’s Virtual PC software, dubbed simply “Windows Virtual PC”, has some interesting new features that make it a useful and interesting inclusion in Windows 7 in the form of the much talked-about ‘XP Mode’. This is touted as a way to resolve the problem of what to do about older software that runs on Windows XP but doesn’t run well on Vista or Windows 7. So, the perfect way to work with legacy applications. Except for one minor detail.

There’s no way to let these programs use the most popular piece of legacy hardware in existence today: the floppy drive.

Or at least, so it seems from the the number of forum posts I’ve read today from people asking how to use the floppy drive in Windows Virtual PC, prompted by my own requirement to use it when working with a legacy application. Most of these posts have been answered by people reposting an obscure and non-functional fragment of VBScript that can mount a floppy image, and I’ve discovered it’s also possible to do it via PowerShell or by modifying the XML configuration file for the virtual machine.

So it is actually possible via these methods, which is all well and good, apart from the fact that this is utterly useless to end users. For a feature that Microsoft say “makes it easy to install and run many Windows XP productivity applications”, being forced to write VBScript code is a betrayal of that supposed easiness. I’m all for allowing functionality to be automated via scripting, but under no circumstances must that be the only way to do it.

Scripting is simply not a user interface. It is an automation tool. Don’t even get me started on end-users modifying XML files. ‘XP Mode’ is being marketed as an end-user feature. Windows 7 hasn’t even been released to the public yet, but end users are filling forums with questions about how to use the floppy drive. The functionality is there, it’s just had its only easy-to-use interface removed for absolutely no good reason. Not providing a GUI is lazy, stupid, and unacceptable.

After having now given up on my dalliance with Windows Virtual PC, I’m continuing to use VirtualBox for my virtual machines, as I have done since realising 6 months ago that it was superior to the version of Virtual PC I was using at the time. I can only do this affordably because my school has a volume licence for Windows. For end users whose only extra Windows licence is the one tied to Virtual PC, they are simply screwed.

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About The Angry Technician

The Angry Technician is an experienced IT professional in the UK education sector. Normally found in various states of annoyance on his blog. All views are those of his imaginary pet dog, Howard.

2 responses to “Scripting is not a user interface”

  1. Ray says :

    For every network manager who hates the omission of this feature, I bet there’s another one who will love the ability to turn away the hopeful teachers who arrive with their favourite item of curriculum software from 1992, on a 3.5″ floppy disk and with a label saying “Requires Windows 3.1”.
    I know the debate can go both ways (and I do understand your points above) but every cloud has a silver lining :)

    • AngryTechnician says :

      The problem I see with that position is that it doesn’t mean I can turn them away, because it can be made to work, it just requires far more effort than it should.

      If I were to turn people away on the basis that “there’s no floppy drive”, that would be nothing more than an excuse to get me out of doing work. I am perfectly capable of making up excuses on my own – I don’t need Microsoft to do it for me!