Windows 11 still doesn't understand our complex lives – and it hurts

Linux user dips toe in Microsoft OS


Column I have been a Linux user for decades. Last week, I bought a Windows computer.

It's not that I haven't used Windows – I do, as little as possible, in a VM – but recent problems with Teams persuaded me that repotting it in its own native soil would reduce the pain. And besides, I wanted to give Windows 11 a fair chance.

Ho, as they say, ho.

The problems Teams had with Linux peripherals – blind webcam, odd audio behaviour – went away, I dared to dream. And then a Teams participant sent me a file via whatever Teams calls its sub-Slack group chat system. (I tried to find out if it had a name by clicking on Help, About… which told me it was the Help system. Ah, Microsoft.)

The file download choked, citing "No Authorisation." Teams primly told me to request authorisation, which I did. Oops. There is a problem. Please pass this long stream of wibble to your system admin. That's me, by the way.

I wasn't much help. Yet in that message was the real problem – the downloady bit was using a completely different Microsoft ID to the one I was logged in with.

I still don't know how it knew about that other ID, which I only ever use for web access to a different client's Office 365. There was no reason my local Windows, where I was running the Teams app under my personal ID, should know about it.

I asked around: Teams, it seems, is really bad at this. It affects families whose children have to use school IDs for remote lessons on shared computers, people like me who work for multiple clients who may have security policies enforcing an ID they issue, and people like all of us who have a work life online and a personal life online. Try adding Active Directory for real fun, a one thousand-yard-stare veteran advised me.

In fairness, simultaneous use of multiple IDs is rarely handled well by modern UI'd desktops and remote services. All systems assume you have one ID, and if you have the temerity to want more, then you must log out and log back in again, an idea unchanged since mainframes stalked the earth.

Technically, all modern operating systems are multi-ID, they just have no easy path to make good use of this. But Windows... ah, Windows adds extra layers of mystery and bewilderment.

I can think of five ways to manage simultaneous multiple IDs with sanity, of which I use two and bailed on a third. In order of increasing subtlety, they are – separate hardware platforms dedicated to each ID, separate virtual machines ditto, separate containers, separate workspaces, and separate browser tabs.

Hardware platforms are easy but you end up emailing stuff to yourself. A lot. In 2021. It's crazy. VMs take up less real space and can talk to each other a little more easily, but they're fat and you're still maintaining entire OSes for email access. Containerised browser instances may work. I spent half a day with Docker before realising that, by god, Outlook had tricked me again into wasting my life (your mileage may vary). And I know of no system that allows different simultaneous workspaces with their own IDs, nor browser that allows the same with tabs. In some ways, especially in direct user experience benefits, virtualization has not lived up to its promise.

Some of this lack is architectural; I don't know the details of how Windows maps processes, accounts (local and Microsoft), shared and isolated resources, and associated security issues, but I do know it wasn't designed for the use case of someone wanting to use two Microsoft IDs at the same time. It would be easier, one suspects, for Google to implement multi-ID support in Chrome, instead of the global log-out/log-in switch it enforces. Easier, but still not easy.

But Google has a lesser responsibility here than Microsoft. Google is not the default architecture for enterprise and government IT. In education, Google has no infrastructure – and where it does make an impact via Chromebooks, they are dedicated to the student as a student, not home/life chimeras. I have lived a long time with multiple Google IDs and it's been mostly OK. It took Teams about half an hour to stick the boot in.

Windows 11, even more than Windows 10, leans heavily on the "work/life" duality. With Windows 11, Microsoft had a chance to make good on that premise. It would have been a boon all around. It would have eased the pain of anyone with multiple IDs – which is almost anyone in education or work. It would have been a major advantage over everyone else. It would have reduced the workload on IT support staff – especially in the education sector, which needs all the help it can get. It might even have helped elevate the reputation of Teams, although there are limits to even the best idea.

We won't get any of that. We will get a Teams button on the taskbar. As Teams itself commanded me when it had finished updating its app – "Enjoy."

Yeah. You too, Teams. You too. ®

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