"Why do you hate Vista so much?"

Question from this week's email bag:"Why do you hate Vista so much?"

Question from this week's email bag:

Why do you hate Vista so much?

I don't hate Vista, really. Honestly I don't. I hate Garfield movies and I really hate mushy, overcooked broccoli, but can honestly say that I don't hate Vista. I was on the beta team, I was running beta versions on my main production systems, I helped ID numerous bugs, I'd rolled out Vista onto several systems a couple of days after it went RTM and I own more Vista licenses that probably most people here do. I don't hate Vista at all, but that said it is safe to say that there are aspects of the OS that I find underwhelming and disappointing. Allow me to explain what I mean.

There was a five-year interval between the release of Windows XP (released Oct 25, 2001) and the release of Windows Vista (RTMed Nov 8, 2006) but after all that wait what we ended up with was an OS that, by pretty much any metric that you want measure it against, was outperformed by Windows XP. Not until the release of Vista SP1 over a year later (Feb 4, 2008) did Vista get to the point where it could realistically compete with XP.

Fifteen months spent tweaking an OS so it ends up being as good as the version that it's supposed to replace is ridiculous. In fact, I'd go further and say that people who used Vista during the time between RTM and SP1 (people like me) would have been better off downgrading to XP. Windows 7 will need to deliver a robust and compelling user experience straight from the box.

Eye-candy and tweaking -->

But surely all those end-user features made switching to Vista worthwhile even if performance sucked, right? Wrong. While eye-candy such as Aero doesn't hit performance anywhere near as much as some claim it does (I would disable almost all of the cheesy visual effects found in XP, but I've left them enabled on almost all my Vista systems), it doesn't add much to the overall user experience. In fact, the entire user interface is little more than an amped up version of what we had back when Windows 95 was cool.

And while we're talking about the user interface, why do so many of the features need handholding and tweaking in order to work right. My blogging colleague Ed Bott has written extensively on how to "fix" Vista but when I read things such as the following, I know something is seriously wrong with the OS:

Using Vista Home Basic or Home Premium, the Local Group Policy Editor is not available. Instead, you’ll need to edit the registry. Open Regedit.exe (the usual disclaimers apply: if you screw something up, it’s not my fault). Locate this key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\ Policies\System

In the right-hand pane, double-click PromptOnSecureDesktop and change its value to 0 (the default is 1). Click OK to save the change.

Sorry, as much as I like tweaks, pawing through the registry should be a thing of the past.

TweakGuides has also published an excellent "Vista Annoyances Resolved" guide, but as I read through parts of this I despair at the lengths that users have to go through to make a modern OS usable. A few examples:

A source of frustration for most any Vista user is the ever-changing view type for various folders in Windows Explorer.

...

It's a genuine issue, and one which doesn't have any logical explanation - fortunately it can be permanently resolved.

Open the Registry Editor ...

Ugh! More registry fun. Then there's taming search ...

By default Vista indexes your Start Menu programs along with virtually everything under your \Users directory. The problem is that this includes the \AppData directory and subdirectories, which can have literally thousands of files of no use to the average user - configuration files, cache files, setup files, log files, temporary files and so forth. Not only that, but these files are also constantly changing, both in number and content, requiring constant re-indexing by Vista. By unticking the Users directory in the indexer, and then manually only adding specific folders which you know contain files you would want to access via Instant Search, you can reduce the size of your index many times over.

So, this is a blunder that could have been fixed by Microsoft in SP1 or by an update but ends up being something users have to fix for themselves.

Don't get me wrong, I love tinkering with the OS (these kind of tips also make great fodder for blogs posts and books too), just as I love to tinker with cars, but the truth is that I don't want to have to be tinkering all the time. I expect my car to start first time when I turn the key, and if there was some bug with it where there was sold to me with a loose wire or a poorly performing part, I'd expect that to be fixed by the dealer, for free. Any answer that involved "we want you to put the car up on blocks and wriggle the red wire" would be unacceptable and my response to that would be charged and likely include biological instructions outlining where the car should be inserted. I've got to the point where I now feel that if anyone at Microsoft makes a decision that means that the end user needs to go diving into the registry to make a simple tweak, then that person deserves an atomic wedgie.

Marketing -->

You can't argue with the fact that Vista as it is now is a very different animal to what it was when it went RTM. It has one service pack under its belt and a raft of performance and compatibility updates. Drivers are also a lot better too. This explains why it's taken Microsoft so long to mobilize the marketing drones. I'm also in complete agreement with another of my blogging colleagues Mary Jo Foley that there's huge room for improvement.

How about an update on Vista Ultimate Extras? Even though Microsoft still has yet to launch its $300 million Crispin Porter ad campaign designed to reinvigorate Microsoft’s and Windows’ consumer branding, why not start talking now about why Jerry Seinfeld was chosen to play a role? (Or at least start showing some trailers/teasers to get folks interested in the ads that are due to launch in early September.)  Why not talk about how many users really are downgrading from Vista to XP — and offer some incentives to convince them it is safe to go wtih Vista?

Heck, while we’re dreaming, why not ask Vista SP1 users what they’d like to see in Vista SP2 (before the feature list is completely locked down, if it isn’t already)? Or publicly address (and correct) the misleading guidelines regarding which older machines really will run Vista?

I'm not holding my breath. Rather than clear answers we get PR disguised by a thin veneer of blogging and the Folgersesque "Mojave Experiment" (despite all those Folgers coffee ads, I still think that instant decaf is muck). This is an ad (labeling something an experiment doesn't make is any more of an experiment) where a few dozen montages of people we don't know and who have only seen Vista for a few minutes is supposed to convince us that Vista isn't so bad after all. Well, I've never trusted tricky marketing and montages, and it seems I'm not alone in that.

A side effect of the time that it's taken for Vista to become as good as XP is that the OS is now sandwiched between XP and Windows 7. On the one side you have an OS that most people could happily stick with for another couple of years (though maybe not until 2014, the point at which extended support ends) and on the other you have an OS that's going to make an appearance within the next couple of years.

Final thoughts ...

My hope for Windows 7 is that Microsoft takes on board the criticism that it received over Vista and uses that to make Windows 7 a much better operating system experience that Vista has been. That will mean not releasing the OS until:

  • Performance is on par or better than that of Vista
  • Stability is on par or better than that of Vista
  • OEMs have had a chance come up with optimize drivers

If Windows 7 turns out to be another example of "ship now, fix later" then I think that Microsoft is going to find itself in serious trouble and facing much stiffer competition from the likes of Apple and Linux over the next five to ten years.

[UPDATE: Seems that some OEMs feel that Vista is so lacking that they are developing software make the OS look better:

But the experience has become tarnished recently by the release of Microsoft Corp.'s Vista operating system, which some users complain has glitches and can be slow on start-up. Moreover, trial software -- sometimes called bloatware -- that PC manufacturers preload onto computers can further clog the machine.

Now, some PC makers are trying to improve that experience by adding their own proprietary software to their machines. In some cases, they're creating new user interfaces intended to make Vista faster and easier to use. In other cases they're replacing applications from other software companies with their own.

Given the kid of software that I've seen developed by OEMs over the years, I really doubt that any of it improves customer experience that much.]

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