Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
When purchasing a new machine if offered a choice, Windows Vista may or may not be a clear choice over Windows XP. We'll look at the issues involved.
I'm about to get a new machine. I keep hearing bad things about Windows Vista - should I get my new machine with Windows XP installed instead?
I get this question a lot, and it's a difficult one to answer. Vista's not nearly as bad as the rumor mill or Apple's TV commercials might have you believe, and yet there are, for lack of a better term, issues.
So let me start out by saying that I have exactly one machine that runs Windows Vista Ultimate: my Dell Latitude 620 laptop. It came pre-installed. The rest of my machines run Windows XP Pro, except for one server running Ubuntu Linux, and one running FreeNAS.
I've had almost no problems with my Vista machine. In fact, I'd go so far to say that I've had no more problems with my Vista machine than I've had with any of my other machines.
That being said, I'm a data point of exactly one, and I do know that there are people out there having problems with Vista.
Let's look at some of the issues I keep hearing about. I'm not going to claim that these are the issues that are the cause of everyone's concerns, or that dealing with these will magically fix everything, but many of these are, in fact, either issues that can be avoided, or issues that might well tip the scales one way or another.
It'll keep asking me to type in admin password all the time! No, it doesn't. Not nearly as often as complainers would have you believe.
For one thing, it's a very valid security technique that's used by other operating systems including Apple's OSX and various flavors of Linux. The fact is, the operating system only asks when you're about to do something that could compromise security. The password request verification serves two purposes: to alert you that this is happening, so that you can reject it if it happens when you don't expect it, and to verify that you are the owner of the computer and not someone who's just walked up to it, or someone who doesn't have your permission.
For another thing, it's easy to turn off. And turning it off takes you back to the same level of security you had in Windows XP. I lived with it for a while, to understand how and what it did, and then I turned it off.
My software won't work under Vista! Actually, it probably will. Vista, like XP, includes compatibility modes for software that for some reason has a dependency on Windows XP or an incompatibility with some of the new features in Windows Vista. After running Vista for perhaps two years now, I only last week finally encountered a case where I had to make a commutability tweak to get a program's feature to work as desired in Vista.
Most software, including previous versions of Microsoft software, run just fine. Heck, my decade old Visual Basic / Microsoft Access point of sale software ran quite well under Vista.
My hardware won't work under Vista! This is only an issue if you're upgrading an older machine. That's where this concern actually appears to have a little merit, though things are getting better. Specifically, older and perhaps obscure printers seem to be an occasional issue. I do hear of situations where printers will not work under Vista because drivers are not available. If you have a relatively newer printer (say within the last couple of years), this should not affect you. On the other hand if you have an older printer, or a special-purpose printer, be sure to check out the manufacturer's web sites for updated drivers, or just generally "search the web" for reports of whether or not your specific model can be made to work in Vista.
In general, most other hardware seems to be fine, though the same caveat applies: the older or more obscure the hardware, the more it behooves you to do some research on your specific hardware first.
Everything's different in Vista! No, it's not. Not everything. At least not for the most part. The Aero interface (which can be turned off) gives everything a different look, of sorts, but in general Windows Vista works and runs just like Windows XP.
OK, yes, there are some exceptions. One of the annoyances of Windows Vista is that they did seem to change some UI for the sake of changing UI. In some cases one might argue it's for the better, in other cases the changes make absolutely no sense. The good news, such as it is, is that once your machine is set up and working, the changes don't really affect you that often, as what I've seen is mostly around configuration and set up.
Networking sucks under Vista! Yes, it does. But it sucks just as badly and in pretty much the same ways that it sucks in Windows XP. It's really not a differentiator between the two versions.
Networking is, in general, difficult in most all versions of Windows. Vista added a few things that might help a little, but in my experience so far, it's just as good or bad as XP is or isn't.
Upgrades don't work! They do, mostly, but this is a case where I strongly recommend against upgrading an existing Windows XP installation to Windows Vista anyway. Either get Windows Vista pre-installed, or perform a clean install. The results tend to be more stable in the long run.
Vista Requires more RAM/HD/CPU! Probably, but once again this is only a concern if you're upgrading an older machine. Most machines currently offered with Vista are more than capable of running it.
To put some figures to it, I'd place the minimum requirements for Vista at a 1 Ghz processor, 1 Gigabyte of RAM, and a DVD-ROM drive. Pretty much any semi-decent video card should work (DirectX 9 compatibility is the stated requirement). I'd also make sure you had 20-30 GB of free space on your hard drive, or with a clean install a disk of at least 60 GB.
As always, your experience may vary depending on what you plan to do with the machine, and in general more (RAM, CPU speed, disk space, etc.) never hurts and can often have dramatic positive impact.
Vista is 64 bits! Not quite; Vista has a 64 bit version that is available. It might even work on your machine, since many current processors are 64bit-capable. In my opinion, average users should avoid it. The 32 bit version of Vista is more compatible with more hardware and software than the 64 bit version, and the 64 bit version just doesn't buy you that much yet. (My secret suspicion is that much of Vista's "bad rap" is due, in part, to people having problems with the 64 bit version.)
So, all that being said, what's my bottom line advice?
Vista's not nearly as bad as everyone makes it out to be. In most cases, I see no reason not to get it preinstalled on new machines.
But if you're scared, if you still have concerns and just want to play it safe, Windows XP is still fine choice as well.
Note: like some of my older articles on Vista, this article is likely to be a magnet for comments from disgruntled Vista users. Read what they have to say, filter out the vitriol if you can, and factor it in to your decision. But also realize that happy Vista users have little reason to post; they have nothing to complain about. For many, including myself, Vista just works.