Surely, the twisted World of Windows can't get much stranger than this. Microsoft has revived Bob to camouflage the non-appearance of one its most-hyped OS features.
Two years ago, Redmond flew journalists in from around the world to showcase Windows 2000. And the show-stopper, even for cynics, turned out to be the improvements to the Windows file system NTFS.
At long last Microsoft had completed one of its own technical odysseys by adding attribute-based searching to Windows. This arcane sounding feature is not only cute, but mighty useful, too, so bear with us.
When combined with the structured storage work Microsoft completed in the mid-90s, this allows the average Joe to escape the routine of naming a file, saving it in a folder, and then trying to remember where it was again. Having this metadata allows you to pretty much forget where you left a file, knowing that you'll be able to retrieve it, or view it, as part of a collection of your own choosing. Even if the relevant bit lies buried in some other file.
So, for example, if you were thinking of asking for a pay-rise, a search would retrieve all those nagging letters to the boss, or from the bank, together with your personal budget spreadsheets, each of which you'd give tagged with the word 'Money'. The concept is kinda old, and has been commercially deployed to varying extents over the years in OS/2 and in Be's BFS journaled file system, which by indexing the attributes in real time gives you almost instantaneous access to this meta data - as anyone who's used its built-in mail engine can attest.
But to its great credit, Microsoft had over the years woven together a most ambitious attempt to rid users of antique file system conventions (check those tags in the Custom tab in the Properties box of any Word or Excel file). It completed another of Chairman Bill's most enduring passions - that the PC should be one big Windows database - and it was about to be unleashed on the world in Windows 2000.
Only ... it never quite happened. Windows 2000 omitted one vital feature - the ability to search for the meta data. You could add as many custom tags as you liked, but without the search feature, you couldn't organise your work with them. So your tags today remain a fairly useless embroidery.
Roll on two years, and we're curious to see how this omission has been rectified. It hasn't. Alas, not only does Windows XP's new Search box contain the same dismal options as before, but the bug has been replaced by a cartoon apology yanked from one of Microsoft's most notorious clunkers.
Burying a Bone
Yes, meet Rover, who in a previous incarnation was the default host of Microsoft Bob, the revolutionary cartoon UI Redmond developed, then let quietly die under a pile of tomatoes. (For an entertaining demo of this relic in action, check out this splendid video clip at TechTV.)
Now Rover is no mean feat of animation. It can scratch itself, perform tricks on command, and for all we know, lick its butt and drink from the toilet bowl when you're not looking, too. But it most certainly isn't the gateway onto a new world shown to us by marketing flaks so recently, that's for sure. Weirdly enough, Microsoft only needed to extend the Search box with a couple of new fields to tap into attribute-baed, meta data searching, as all the hard work has already been done with the Office file formats and the revamped NTFS file system. So Windows users will continue to lose out on one of its great resources for the foreseeable future.
How this came about, we can only guess at. But we suspect the scenario goes something like this. A fresh-faced new project manager is assigned to the Search box of Windows XP, and is puzzled to find he has vast resources at his disposal. The bit of the job spec entitled "Fix Meta-Data Searches" has scrolled off of the screen. "Can't see what needs to be done here," he thinks to himself, "it works just great as it is!"
And so instead, he assigns his vast team of programmers to produce the most Incredible Cartoon Dog the world has ever seen.
If there's a better explanation for this monumental faux-paw, then let us know. Woof. ®.