Since Windows 3.1, every startup sound has conveyed an air of grandeur and self satisfaction that does not befit an operating system. Every sound has screamed at me 'hey, this is Windows, and boy howdy is it ever impressive'. I don't like that. Back when I was using win3.1, that 'tada' noise quickly got on my nerves. After I'd heard it for the tenth time in one day I got to thinking, "if you're so damn great that you have a fanfare on boot, how come I have to restart you so much?"
That's a long time ago. Windows 95 brought us 'the Microsoft sound' instead, which was probably supposed to convey a 'vision', or 'evoke an emotional connection' or somesuch other nonsense. The fact is that it was an annoying sound that went on far too long, and once again made the OS seem overly self important. It says 'I am the best thing that will happen to you today'. Variations on this theme continue with each OS release.
A startup sound serves a purpose. It indicates to the user that the boot process was successful, and that the OS is now ready for use. Some more flowery types might suggest that it also welcomes the user to the environment. Whatever floats your boat. I use my computer a lot, and having it welcome me every time I turn it on is akin to the staff at my local convenience store greeting me by screaming "WELCOME TO OUR AWESOME CONVENIENCE STORE!" every time I walk in.
I respect the fact that Microsoft is putting a lot of thought into its startup noises, and the general OS 'experience'. I'm of the belief that if I come away from using an OS feeling that I've had an 'experience' it is a bad thing. An OS should not be an experience, nor should it evoke any real emotion. The application software is allowed to do that, but the OS should be unobtrusive.
I realise Microsoft want people to like Windows Vista and recommend it to other people (marketing types would say Microsoft wants users to feel an emotional bond with Vista). Vista can best do that by not being noticed. Designers should remember that good design goes unnoticed, and bad design (i.e. confusing AutoPlay options in Windows XP) is never forgotten. The moment you irritate a user is the moment that you lose their respect. Users of software judge that software by how much trouble they've had with it, not by how many features it has, or by how nice it sounds.
I don't much like Macs, but they've certainly got the startup noise right. Turn it on, it goes 'bong'. That says it all. 'Bong. Be with you shortly.' No fanfare, no faux emotions of joy and elation, just service with a smile. 'Bong' is a solid, reassuring noise. I actually had to make an effort to remember what sound a Mac makes when it starts up. That's the way things should be. Unobtrusive. The best film scores are the ones that go unnoticed by most people.
In the video, the vision for Vista involves confidence. I'm wondering whether this means that Windows Vista will be confident, or whether Windows Vista will make its users confident. I certainly hope it's the latter.
So here are my simple rules. I doubt Microsoft cares, I doubt anyone will follow them, but they go like so:
1. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
2. Startup/Shutdown noises no longer than two seconds.
3. Event/informational noises no longer than one second.
4. Reassure me as a user, convey a real message with a real purpose. Don't mess me about, don't try to connect with me at some deep emotive level, don't dress your messages in flowery spaced out twinkly noises and warm pads, give it to me straight. What are you saying?
Sorry for the length. I just feel that in five years Windows will be released with an Official Soundtrack album written by a collaboration of U2, Pink Floyd and The Who, and we'll have a continuous background soundscape option to complement desktop wallpaper, and I'm thinking that Microsoft should concentrate more on making this a great OS, and less on the window dressing (if you'll pardon that awful pun).