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A year after its release, how does Vista look in hindsight?

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This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.

An anniversary quietly slipped by this week, mostly unnoticed.

Windows Vista is one year old.

A question I get very regularly, particularly from friends and acquaintances who are in the process of figuring out what kind of new machine to get, is "should I get it with Vista?".

Unfortunately, at best all I can really do is shrug my shoulders. As I've stated before, Vista's nice, but not compelling. A year later, factor in the most common complaint of hardware compatibility issues for hardware that's not really that old, and that's still where I land.

"For people wanting to get things done today, XP still seems to me to be the way to go."

It's nice. But ... "eh".

I think that if I were purchasing a new machine today and I had the option, I'd be seriously tempted to stay with Windows XP. If Vista was my only option, then I'd certainly take it. It's not like I consider it a disaster, per se. But all other things being equal, I'd still pick XP for a while longer. Perhaps a long while longer.

Don't get me wrong, Vista's a fine OS. In fact as I've mentioned before, I've been running it on my laptop since shortly after it became publicly available. I certainly don't feel a pressing need to reformat that machine. It's just that it doesn't feel as ready for prime time as XP still does.

Vista is no doubt the future. But it's kind of like a what a friend once said about software he had been working on. It was so-called "leading edge" because it demanded more than current hardware could provide. Someday, when hardware caught up it would be just fine. That was his excuse, anyway, for having written big and slow software.

Vista doesn't suffer the "big and slow" issue compared to XP, but in some ways it's in much the same boat. Hardware compatibility issues will slowly disappear as more and more old hardware gets cycled out and all new hardware is naturally Vista compatible. Vista itself is relatively stable for a first release of a major revision, and it will will continue to stabilize as SP1 (now rumored for sometime early next year) and eventually SP2 come out.

But that's "someday in the future".

For people wanting to get things done today, XP still seems to me to be the way to go, particularly if you're upgrading. It works and it works well. Vista's just not that compelling for the average user.

A year after its release, I find that not just disappointing but actually kind of sad.

I'd love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.info and enter 12005 in the go to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me a comment. While you're there, browse the hundreds of technical questions and answers on the site.

Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.info.

Article C3208 - November 10, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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15 Comments
Tom
November 11, 2007 3:48 AM

Like many others, I was very concerned about purchasing my new laptop with Vista OS. I had heard all the horror stories about software and hardware incompatibilities and other issues. In practice, I have found Vista to be superior to XP and that 99% of my older software works just great.

It is discouraging that Microsoft has chosen to not patch versions of their older programs, thereby forcing users to purchase new versions.

Al Kubeluis
November 11, 2007 6:00 AM

Vista Home Premium should be compared with XP Media Center 2005 Edition since they both have similar media features, as TV, that standard XP lacks. I use Vista HP on my 6 month old laptop and XP Media Center on my 2 year old desktop. Both work well. There's no need to replace my XP with Vista even for security needs as my PCs are behind a secure router and use Windows Live OneCare.

Leo, you should do an article on OneCare. I tried a number of security suites for months on my PCs and found OneCare to be my favorite.

Dave B
November 11, 2007 10:57 AM

I also began using Vista shortly after its public release. The machine is a relatively modern, capable box with good quality components. Prior to running Vista, this machine ran Windows XP. I'd say that the biggest win for me is the search engine - having the ability to tap the Windows key, then type the search term is very handy.

My biggest complaint - very poor implementation of the audio system. For example, when I play back an MP3 file (no DRM) with Windows Media Player, the processing load on the two cores jumps dramatically. Between WMP and Media Foundation Protected Pipeline they can easily chew up a good chunk of CPU cycles. Playing MP3's under XP was smooth and used nearly zero system resources.

Stu B
November 16, 2007 6:33 PM

Once I got past a hardware issue with a new HP computer this year, I've become more and more impressed with Vista. I have found that ignorance and misinformation is behind much of the anti-Vista sentiment. (The usual Micro$oft-bashing, helped along by M$'s smug attitude, has also muddled the situation plenty.) I've helped many people get their old software to function under Vista, with a success rate in the order of approximately 90%.

The big "secret" to our success has been to always install with Administrator rights, and to use the Compatibility and Run As Administrator functions found on the Properties tab. For example, just today I got Adobe PageMaker 7.0 to work on a Vista setup by having it emulate Windows 98 and run it every time as an administrator. And PageMaker is a program that Adobe has said they will definitely NOT be issuing Vista drivers or modifications for [because they've got new, expensive replacement software]. The most troublesome installations seem to be printer/scanner/fax/coffee-maker/babysitter/dog-walker/all-in-one type units. But even they can be made to work in Vista by splitting the functions (i.e. install the unit as a separate printer and scanner).

Vista hasn't been the revolution that Windows 95 was. A lot of its advances seem to be glossy re-formulations of old functions. But, then again, I've only got Premium Home Vista. I understand that the full beauty is behind the scenes, and particularly in the Ultimate version. But I don't need Ultimate yet, and I certainly won't be downgrading back to XP! One year in, I'd give Vista a 6.5 out of 10, and slowly climbing as Vista addresses the few remaining issues.

Mary
November 16, 2007 7:09 PM

Stu B -

Call me old fashioned, but if I'm going to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for an operating system that's been out for a year (after being in Beta testing for several years), I think I'm entitled to at least an 8.0 out of 10. Actually, I don't think 9.0 is asking too much.

Bill Finefield
November 16, 2007 9:20 PM

I was the CIO of a large organization in the Department of the Navy until my retirement in 2003. We were running systems which were supported by all of our vendors on Windows 98SE and the desktops were very stable with both the OS and the applications. There was nothing in XP which would have added to the desktop functionality at that time. We studied the cost of converting to XP and the new hardware required, the learning curve and the increased maintenance and training costs. We decided against a conversion which we estimated would exceed 8 million dollars. We decided to wait until the application vendors told us the applications had to migrate to XP. The last I heard was that the systems were stable and delivering the tools required and the data needed to manage the day to day technology needs of the enterprise. Simply put, if its not broken don't fix it. I think the situation is the same today. XP SP2 is a stable reliable platform. From everything I have read VISTA is far from ready for prime time. While I don't run a large enterprise anymore I will search for a new machine that is delivered with XP and compatible with VISTA. It is my opinion that applications drive the need to upgrade the OS not the other way around. I think this is particularly true in the case of VISTA which I understand renders incompatible a lot of software currently running under XP and in some cases are even legacy systems from Windows 98.

Ravi Agrawal
November 16, 2007 10:07 PM

I totally agree with everybody's views about Vista. But my small 2 words. I'd love to use Vista if I'd have the appropriate high speed hardware & the required resources on my Machine. Else Windows XP SP2 is simply great. They've ironed out almost all the bugs from the OS and almost all Hardware is compatible with XP sp2 today. Moreover Vista does not support 16-Bit Apps in Full screen (You know majority of people at my place are using Foxpro based 16-Bit DOS apps) and majority of my time also goes staring at the screen of such Old Applications. I know Virtualization is a possible solution but that just blurs the beauty of Vista.

It also depends upon the kind of Computer Geek you are and the amount of Control you want over the resources over your PC. A try to Linux will definitely be worth while but the learning curve is a little steep.

For majority of Applications, I'd say that Microsoft is way ahead in terms of its Office Suite 2007, Dotnet, Visual Basic & Windows Server 2003. You see its a Microsoft dominated world and Linux is still in its infancy (though in terms of Application Developmnent). But for server based Applications, they are plenty of options provided your employees are willing to learn. An irony is that most of the people do not how to work properly in Office 2000 even today so the exposure to something highly technical is probably not workable.

Save for big institutions / companies, I think we will probably be seeing Microsoft products on the normal PC users' Desktop for quite a while say 5-6 years or more. Beleive me, many of the Banks today in my City are still running Windows98 as their OS.

Ravi.

Russ Horton
November 17, 2007 5:10 AM

Musings of an old man

As I reads the 'tone' of the message regarding Vista, there are two things I perceive (real or imagined). One, there are people out there who have been in the industry for a long time and some who have been there a shorter period (3-6 years, or so).
It seems the ones who have been in it longer, tend to want to wait; others want to go for the new.
I started in this industry in the mid-60's, so 90% of my technical knowledge is obsolete.
I went from mainframes, to mini's, and kicking and screaming to PC's in the late 80's. I understand to the component or logic what a CPU does. I understand memory and disk cache, DMA, pipeline, etc., etc. I have written and debugged microcode.
But, now days, so what? Young users today not only don't know (generally), but don't care nor need to care.
The only tech manual I ever read cover to cover was the DOS manual in 1989. I got laid off (down-sized) after a gazillion years in the industry and felt the need to go with what the future had to offer.
I got 'good' with DOS (was better with RDOS, but that's another story). Then along comes "Windows." Oh My God! What a resource pig and S.L.O.W. I refused to go to it. I had a couple little Atari's to use if I wanted GUI.
Finally, they quite writing applications for DOS, so I reluctantly went to Windows 3.0, and nearly had a chicken waiting on the screen to paint; then 3.1 - slower still; then 3.11 - Boom - took off like a shot. OK, I can live with this...
Then came 95 - I beta tested it until its final release then took it off and reloaded 3.11.
Then the scenario happened again. You gotta go to 98 for the apps. Arrrrggghhh. Another slow, resource pig.
Then comes 98 SE! YEAH - Runs good, fairly stable after a while... I have arrived. Then I needed more network capability so I went to 2000... Pig AND complex to use, esp with Novell (and that's another story).
Back to 98 SE. Forget the network needs, I'll do with tin cans and string. The comes ME. I tried it for about 15 minutes and promptly returned to 98 SE.
Here comes XP and I think, no freakin way. Then the same issues arrived - more aps that won't run. So, I upgraded to XP (after it was out a few years) and was pleasantly surprised -in fact, I love it. I cleaned up the mushware screens (returned them to classic) and am very happy. It is stable and works fine. I do not play games nor do audio-video editing (MAC stuff) and have not felt the 'need,' so like Leo, am staying until forced to go. By then, I'll be dead and won't care:-)
BTW, in the 70's and 80's we called UNIX the 'High School science project," which, in effect, it was. It needed faster hardware; period, because it was horribly written (like Leo's friend's app). Without the advances in hardware, we would not be looking at Linux as an option. (and I don't have either the time nor the desire to switch to Apple or Linux . . mostly the desire.) Like many users today, I accept Windows because I know it and it has become easy. I still hate MS Word and as far as I am concerned will never match WordPerfect, as it too evolves, albeit slower. However, I use Word in most cases, because most others use it and do not want (or can) convert it. PowerPoint has probably caught up with WP Presentation and MS Excel is awesome and has been for a long time.
- the End -

Edwin Kroon
November 17, 2007 9:02 AM

I very much enjoyed your story Mr.Horton!

Stu B
November 17, 2007 10:55 AM

First, to Mary:
You may require an 8 or a 9 to switch to a new OS, but I had no choice when my computer became very sick this past February. So, New computer = New OS. Keep in mind this was before the revolution that demanded companies provide new computers with Windows XP. (And that option is still relatively limited.) Would I take the time to downgrade to XP? No, Vista is doing just fine by me.


Second, to Russ:
I completely sympathize with your experience. I started teaching science and math in the 1970's. My college computer programming experience was punch-card based, and I despised it at the time! As a graduate student, I had access to a (near) real-time teletype interface, and that seemed like magic! Then the Apple II came along, which I was able to take HOME! And when I ran a program, I got INSTANTANEOUS feedback! Oh rapture, oh joy! I was hooked. Fast forward, as you did, through the Commodore 64 (I still have it), the PET computer, and then the first IBM PC's (remember Charlie Chaplin?). Suddenly I was a programming teacher, in BASIC, then Pascal, and finally C and C++. But object-oriented programming in C++ was my Waterloo as a self-taught teacher. I gave up the programming classes and went back to physics.

But I've noticed a disturbing hardware/software cycle. It is a problem for cash-strapped schools in which computers are high-use items and need to be replaced fairly often. As computer processors and other hardware become faster and more powerful, the OS becomes bigger and more complex (partly due to programmer laziness -- why clean up the program when there is so much room for it to rattle around in?). But the OS only can do so much in our "old" hardware -- to see it in full glory, we are encouraged to buy faster and more powerful hardware. When we do, the programmers know they'll have more memory to use as they develop a "better" OS, which barely runs on the current system, but which would be GREAT if we just bought new hardware. And so on and on we go. I'm not into conspiracy theories, and computers do wear out after a few years (especially in schools and businesses). But I was pretty happy with Windows XP before February of this year. And I was pretty happy with Windows 98 before I bought a new computer 5 years ago. And Windows 95 had been just fine before that, and Windows 3.1 was still a wonder before that.

I'm no Luddite that favors a return to the good old days of earlier Windows versions, or pre-Windows entirely. Neither do I run out and buy the newest machines just because they're there. I just wonder how we (I) have been suckered into buying so much hardware and software over the years? I know any new OS is going to have bugs, but I do hope that Micro$oft has learned its lesson from its Vista disaster the next time it tries to pry a few hundred bucks from our hands. (But I'm not holding my breath.)

Carl R. Goodwin
November 17, 2007 11:03 AM

Russ - maybe you should just use a typewiter??? J/K. I have found only 1 hardware issue with Vista (webcam), and most software runs perfectly with the compatibility wizard (remember that from XP?). I love the interface - what's with the Olive Green in XP anyway??? LOL.

Norm
November 18, 2007 12:15 AM

I acquired a Vista machine in July of this year. I upgraded the Vista Home to Vista Ultimate so I would have all the features I want to be able to use.

Out of the box I had problems with the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). The same applies to the upgrade (which is the full version and was done as a clean install).

My main complaint with Vista is that it is entirely to easy to crash it! Just get a driver that it doesn't like and it will go on strike.

XP Pro was very good and forgiving. Vista really needs a fix in this area. I am sure that MS has, or can hire programmers that can make Vista more friendly without compromising the OS in any way.

I have discovered some things I really like. Some tools are really good and have been very helpful to me in troubleshooting problems. MS should make some of these more obvious, like the system performance area. I think they semi-hid some of Vista's best features instead of making them very obvious and making sure buyers would be aware of them.

If I had things to do over and had a suitable one been available , I would have purchased an XP Pro machine because XP currently is more reliable OS (as it should be since it may be the best OS they have done to date).

I suspect we will see something very familiar happen with Vista in a couple years (or less). I just hope they will reduce the number of flavors of Vista (and the price) when they release "Vista SE." That will be the Vista to get.

Final comment: When it works, Vista is nice. Hopefully SP1 for Vista will cure some of the problems it currently has, though from what I have read, I may be tilting at windmills.

Neville
November 18, 2007 2:12 PM

I was forced into Vista when I upgraded my laptop a few months back. My main problem is still incompatibility. I have a hp2840 printer which is about 12 months old and still cannot print successfully from Vista. Colours tend to come out all red. Every time I start Dreamweaver MX I get a warning asking me to confirm I actually want to run it. Several other programs such as Wise Installer just don't run at all. If I rate XP as a 10, Vista is probably 11 for looks, 11 for functionality, 8 for compatibility and 7 for frustration.

Frank Wagner
January 12, 2008 2:27 PM

How come that hardly anyone has a good thing to say about Vista but if you want to buy a new computer it is almost impossible to avoid it?

Karen Smith
August 22, 2008 3:36 PM

I just tried vista for about 4 months and can't stand it anymore. I just took it to Best Buy to get a downgrade to XP. I learned it but things are hidden too deep and I turned off many pop ups but they still tend to drive me nuts. I may try it again like you say but it will be a long long time.

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