Thursday, November 15, 2012

United Blames Flight Delays on Computer Issues after Upgrading to Windows 8 and Apple Maps

SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- Shares in United Continental Holdings fell during morning trading Thursday after the air carrier reported delays in many of its flights, which it attributed to a computer problem. Denver International Airport, a hub for United, showed nearly 30 flights stalled. Similar issues were cited with United flights at Houston Intercontinental Airport and Newark Liberty Airport -- also hubs for the airline. Just three months earlier, network outages crippled United's website and affected airport automation systems, causing delays and cancellations. Prior to that, in March, Continental's reservation system triggered glitches that led to delays, malfunctioning ticket kiosks, and downed phone lines; United purchased Continental for $3.17 billion in 2010, and had experienced difficulties with the integration between systems. Representatives for the company reluctantly admitted that Thursday's disruption stemmed from upgrading two critical applications used for in-flight navigational and operational support to Windows 8 and Apple Maps.

Windows 8, released at the end of October, represents a radical departure from past versions -- the most comprehensive and noticeable revision to the platform since the introduction of Windows 95 over 17 years ago. Designers describe the massive overhaul as an attempt to stay relevant in a world dominated by tablet and smartphone software. But for many dyed-in-the-wool users, the new operating system presents an inhospitable and alien landscape. In fact, industry analysts had warned Microsoft over the summer that such unprecedented change could threaten to confuse and estrange Windows evangelists. For pilots who are just getting accustomed to software-driven controls in a formerly analog environment, the upgrade to Windows 8 has been startling -- and debilitating.

"The company really didn't prepare us for Windows 8," said Jerry Muledeer, a captain at United. "They mentioned that a systems upgrade had been performed. That's common. A security patch here. A new service pack there. But I don't believe even the brass had an inkling of what Windows 8 was about. Like some damn fool hid a computation device under a mess of unicorn vomit and linoleum rainbows."

Instead of booting up to the familiar desktop, Capt. Muledeer logged on to an enigma. He described his first encounter with the Windows 8 "Metro UI" as "staring across the pied aftermath of an urban terrorist attack in the middle of converging Easter and Gay Pride parades. I expected to see my folder and program icons, but I found myself staring at some chaotic, hip-hop nightmare, full of things called 'ribbons' and 'charms' and 'tiles.' Just a mishmash of colorful squares that seemed to activate nothing I needed. It was like Microsoft hired the old lady who designed the Winchester Mystery House to build a software application...for users with dementia or a profound association with Timothy Leary."

Until Thursday, Muledeer and his crew clicked two buttons to activate the operating and engineering systems for the plane. The process took less than a minute to complete. With Windows 8, however, Muledeer claimed he spent over 40 exasperating minutes just trying to find the Start button.

"The flight engineer had to call his 12-year-old grandson, who walked us through the process after he researched an instructional YouTube video."

Muledeer had to position the cursor into the top right corner of the screen, press the Alt key three times followed by the sequence - + [ Ctrl @@ Shift, then swipe down diagonally to the left, press the Windows hotkey plus the spacebar, move the cursor up and down, right click the mouse, and then open a questionnaire that suddenly appeared on screen. After filling out the form, which consisted of random questions spanning algebra to interpretive dance, the Start button materialized.

"But even then, whenever I clicked on Start, Windows 8 kept displaying prompts like 'Are you sure you want to press Start?' or 'Please read the entire End User License Agreement and accept the terms before continuing.' And, you know, once you accept the terms, the damn thing starts installing a Bing toolbar in Internet Explorer with some kind of ad software."

The navigational application, formerly provided by Google, was also replaced during United's upgrade.

"Once I spun up Apple Maps, I knew we weren't leaving the ground," Muledeer lamented. "I'm no cartographer, but I'm pretty certain the Atlantic Ocean separates New York from London -- not a Costco parking lot -- and that Rhode Island is not part of the Hawaiian archipelago."

(c) 2012. See disclaimers.

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