June 19, 2007 -- About 200 computer administrators and IT support professionals sat in a Darden School auditorium in late May for two full days of instruction on Microsoft's new operating system, Windows Vista, which U.Va. will support in the next 12 to 18 months. Complete with endless PowerPoint slides and a companion booklet an inch thick, the event could easily have been an informative snoozer. But thanks to the flair and Microsoft-dicing humor of celebrity-nerd presenter Mark Minasi, the auditorium was routinely filled with laughter and attendees remarking on how quickly the time passed.
Minasi is a best-selling author, popular technology columnist, major media commentator and all-around alpha geek who has been called “the world’s best explainer of Microsoft operating systems and networking.” Well known for his books on mastering Windows and, “The Complete PC Upgrade and Maintenance Guide,” now in its 13th edition, Minasi's humorous, provocative and yet informative style has made him a favorite of audiences around the world, and his two-day seminars like this one typically cost around $1,000 per person.
But this seminar was free to any U.Va. employee, and was open non-U.Va. academic, nonprofit and governmental institutions at a reduced rate of $200 per person. Among the 220 participants, about 50 were from outside the University, including Christopher Weisenburg from George Washington University, who noted that his school sent six employees because the conference was a huge bargain compared to the normal prices for a Minasi event.
The Minasi seminar was offered on May 22 and 23 in celebration of the 10th anniversary of U.Va.’s Local Support Partner program, which trains, supports and networks the various IT support staff across Grounds who are based in their respective departments.
Aron Teel, head of departmental computing support at U.Va., explained that tech support professionals everywhere know they need to get up to speed on Vista very quickly, as more and more users adopt the new operating system, which was released in January.
Conference participants including Joel Bass with Facilities Management and Rob Schuett from Darden said they appreciated Minasi's independence from Microsoft which allowed him to be critical of the flaws in Vista.
And Minasi enthusiastically denounced and made fun of Vista (and Microsoft) routinely throughout the day, usually drawing laughter, nodding heads and knowing looks from the audience. “In 2007, you can now buy Vista, put it on a laptop, and make it look like a 2001 Mac,” he quipped. The first time he saw Vista, recalled Minasi, he thought, “it looks like Windows XP with a Fisher Price interface.” He joked that there are search bars found throughout Vista, “because Microsoft is lost too.”
Minasi used numerous colorful descriptions to explain features of Vista. He called the software’s installation procedure “spouse mode install,” because the process involves “like 300 windows that pop up and ask you to click OK to proceed. Soon you just keep clicking and clicking, OK, OK, until the machine stops asking you to, no longer paying attention to what is being asked.”
He commiserated with his audience that the most common issue they hear is “I forgot my password.” He joked that he knew they would love to respond in a deadpan: “I’m sorry for you. I guess that means you will no longer be authorized to work here.”
Minasi also shared plenty of serious insights, such as noting that Microsoft’s main competitor for Vista is not Linux or Apple OS X, but Windows XP SP2 (the newest version of Vista’s predecessor, Windows XP, released in 2004.) He also observed, “I don’t know anyone who is excited about supporting Vista.”
Schuett noted that this was the first time in his 13 years working in IT at U.Va. that he had gotten comprehensive in-house training before a major software deployment, rather than after (since plans call for implementing Vista in the next 12 to 18 months in conjunction with hardware refresh cycles, though IT staffers will be supporting a significant student population using Vista starting this fall.) Getting the training beforehand was “really beneficial” to him and “very proactive” of U.Va.