Vista isn't Me2, it's Win95 + 12 years

Vista isn't Me2, it's Win95 + 12 years

Summary: The similarities between Vista and Windows 95 are striking: Unachievable levels of hype; a long and public beta; initial compatibility, performance, and stability problems. If history repeats itself, Microsoft will release its next Vista update in 2009 or 2010 and it will be greeted as finally delivering on the promise of what Vista should have been all along.

TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft

In certain circles, it’s become fashionable of late to refer to Windows Vista as Windows Me2. It’s the second-worst insult you can hurl at a Microsoft program (the worst is to compare it to Microsoft Bob, neatly summarized as “7th place in PC World Magazine's list of the 25 worst products of all time and [named] worst product of the decade by” in 2005.).

Windows Vista is no Bob, as Steve Ballmer has said publicly, on the record. But if you believe the comparison, Vista is heading down a path roughly the same as Windows Millennium Edition (aka Windows Me).

Windows 95 + 12Now, I’ve been present at the creation of every Windows version since Windows 3.0 in 1990, and there’s no question that everything about Windows Me was wrong. It was ill conceived, plagued with bugs and performance problems, ridiculed in the press as a colossal failure, and quickly abandoned.

So does Windows Vista deserve the Me2 label? After a careful look back at my Windows history books, I see Vista heading down a different path. In fact, I’m struck by how similar Vista’s path so far has been to the one that Windows 95 traveled. Let’s review: Windows 95 was launched with tremendous expectations on a tsunami of hype. It was notoriously unstable and finicky, and for the first year or two there weren’t all that many 32–bit programs. A total of four OEM service releases (in 1996 and 1997) added some interesting new features (like FAT32) but didn’t deal with the significant underlying problems of the OS.

It wasn’t until three years after Windows 95’s launch, with Windows 98 (and Windows 98 Second Edition a year after that) that the stability, performance, and interface problems were finally dealt with.

The similarities with Windows Vista are striking:

Unachievable levels of hype. The hype for Windows 95 was unprecedented, finally leading to Windows boss Brad Silverberg’s award-winning entry in the Tamping Down Expectations sweepstakes:

“"It's just software," says Silverberg. "It doesn't cure cancer. It doesn't grow hair. It's not a floor wax. It's Windows."

Windows Vista’s planners tried not to fall into the hype trap, but they failed. When the grand, sweeping plans for what was then code-named “Longhorn” were scaled back in 2004 (the great Longhorn reset), the narrative of Vista failure was set in stone.

A very long and public beta. Windows 95 was in wide-scale beta releases for nearly two years. Similarly, the first public beta release of Windows Vista was released in July 2005, roughly 18 months before its eventual final release. Having buggy, incomplete code in your users’ hands for that long guarantees disappointment in the final release.

Initial compatibility, performance, and stability problems. If you ever tried to install a sound card or set up a network in Windows 95, you knew the definition of great pain. Early Vista adopters are reporting similar performance and compatibility problems, most of them traceable to problems with buggy or incomplete drivers.

A beginning, not an end. Windows 95 marked the beginning of a new development platform, one that didn’t truly hit its stride until several years after its release. With its shift to 64–bit computing, a new driver model, and a new kernel, Windows Vista is similarly at the beginning of a cycle. By contrast, Windows Me was a stopgap release, the end of the hybrid 16/32–bit era. Its successor, Windows XP, would be released a year later. Microsoft wasn’t committed to developing it and was only too happy to drop it in favor of the technically superior XP platform.

If Windows Vista follows the path of Windows 95, it’s here to stay, and here’s what you can expect:

Service Pack 1 won’t work miracles. Microsoft is right to dampen expectations for SP1. Although it should fix some of the high-profile problems being reported now, I predict you’ll read another wave of disappointing reviews when SP1 arrives next year.

Businesses will continue to stay away from Vista in droves. They have a perfectly acceptable alternative in Windows XP, and there’s little upside in upgrading.

Expect a major update Vista update after three years. Between now and 2010, Microsoft has a chance to do for Vista what Windows 98 did for Windows 95. The challenges? Polish the bundled releases into something that looks more like an integrated suite. Improve reliability by making it more difficult for buggy drivers and apps to get on the system, perhaps by going all-64 bit and enforcing the requirement for signed drivers. Fix User Account Control.

If history repeats itself, Microsoft will release its next Vista update in 2009 or 2010, after a low-profile, secretive beta cycle, and it will be greeted as finally delivering on the promise of what Vista should have been all along.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft

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  • I think they need to address performance

    Not on new machines with a gig or two of ram, but work to optimize what it can do on older machines. It isn't flying onto people computers, problems or not because people don't want to throw their current computers away (you and I adding memory is no brainer, not to the vast majority). Yes it can run on 512, without aero, etc, but why does it actually need that?

    Could Vista's massive preload simply by bypassed and work to load apps ONLY when needed like older version to allow for a reasonable experience on 256 ram (very typical)?

    Couldn't they dedicate a team to optimize the crap out of Aero, which is obviously a very overbloated subsystem? Make Aero work with 128 video ram or heck even integrated shared memory video cards, the case for upgrade becomes much easier.

    As a side not, I hope that within a year or two, the DRM industry dies the well deserved death it should, and MS decides to remove the CPU hungry DRM subsystem from Vista, further enhancing performance. I think DRM on music may well be dead by then, and here's hoping the hackers of the world keep making the AACS look foolish and that dies too, freeing MS to work on something that benefits the customer.

    • What "CPU hungry DRM subsystem"?

      I have looked extensively at Vista running on dozens of systems. I see no evidence that the DRM features have any effect on performance, and in fact they go unusued unless and until YOU choose to run DRM-protected content.

      If you have more specifics about what you're referring to, I would welcome them.
      Ed Bott
      • Ask, and ye shall receive
        Knorthern Knight
        • Did you read the part in that article...

          ...where the author admits he has not personally seen or used Windows Vista? Direct quote from the section supposedly responding to Microsoft's response:

          "Can others confirm this? I don't run Vista yet, but if this is true..."


          Would you care to come up with some real evidence?
          Ed Bott
        • Peter Gutmann's article

          has been widely debunked. Referencing this piece of FUD is never a good idea if you want to remain credible.
          • Care to provide a few links for the debunks?

          • By whom? Where? Show me.....

            I'd very much like to see it/them.
          • not worth the effort.

            search it yourself, there's a TON of hits.
          • Please help us out here...

            So your claim that it is debunked has no backing?

            And please don't use a reference to an discussion forum like this, which prob turn up early.
          • 10 seconds of searching:


            it gives references to the "debunking"/
      • MP3s and mfpmp.exe

        if you play an MP3 (non DRM) through Media Player, the DRM monitoring process running and sucking up CPU. What else is being monitored? I have seen people reporting 50% CPU utilization and constant skipping.

        Obviously, CPU is being used to monitor if it should be monitoring, and the monitoring process itself eats CPU at a healthy clip.

        • And when watching HD content

          this is a fairly common complaint, from the first link above.

          [B]It's a dual core Turion with 1.6 Ghz. While wmplayer just uses 3-10% of the CPU usage because hardware acceleration is turned on the mfpmp.exe uses up to 50% of the cpu this one of the cores and WMV HD is just a slidehow.[/B]

          In this case, the DRM protection process makes the ability to watch the DRMed content useless. A dual core Turion notebook should have the horsepower to do all this. Another example of a case where optimization it needed.

          • So don't watch DRM'ed content

            Seriously, if you believe that (and I don't), then don't download or watch DRM'd content on a PC. You can't watch it on a Mac. You can't watch it on a Linux box. So under your scenario (which I don't agree with), a Windows Vista PC ius the only one that offers the option to watch DRM-protected WMV-HD content. if you say no, you experience no performance issues. None.

            I don't have any WMV-HD DRM-protected files here to test with, precisely because I am not interested in subsidizing this technology. But I can tell you that unprotected WMV-HD content plays just fine with acceptable levels of CPU usage.
            Ed Bott
          • We are off topic but...

            Isn't one of the biggest selling points of Vista the fact that you "could" play all the new fangled HD content? :D

            George had the same kinds of playback issues with video in his earlier reviews, looking to me like a subsystem that needs to be improved, optimized, repaired, etc.

            As I said, I still think my point is valid, start optimizing the processes that use the most CPU.


            P.S. I too refuse to support that market.
          • Sure, but

            if you want to watch DRMed HD content, your OS has to support that DRM tech.

            You don't need Vista to watch HD content. You do need vista to watch HD-DVD and BD.
          • Not really

            "Isn't one of the biggest selling points of Vista the fact that you 'could' play all the new fangled HD content?"

            Not really, most people just use a box connected to their TV, not their computer.

            Personally, I don't use Vista's DRM stuff either. I get people who ask me about it all the time, though.
          • THANK YOU!

            [i]don't download or watch DRM'd content on a PC. You can't watch it on a Mac. You can't watch it on a Linux box. So under your scenario (which I don't agree with), a Windows Vista PC ius the only one that offers the option to watch DRM-protected WMV-HD content.[/i]

            I don't understand why something so simple seems to be so difficult to understand? I don't know how many people say "I can watch unprotected HD content on OSX and it won't downgrade the signal to 480p", completely ignoring the fact that this is also 100% true on Vista. A nice reply is "Unlike OSX and Linux, at least Vista doesn't downgrade HDCP protected content to 0p!"

            [i]But I can tell you that unprotected WMV-HD content plays just fine with acceptable levels of CPU usage.[/i]

            This has been empirically proven time and time again. There is only one person who has ever said that it doesn't work (Gutmann) and, as you pointed out, he's never even used Vista. I find it interesting how the Mac crowd goes nuts whenever Maynor is mentioned but are quite happy to quote Gutmann over and over again.
          • I think that's a bit harsh

            My father purchased a new PC for my mother. It has Vista Home Premium on it. They connected their HD camcorder to it via firewire. They cannot play their own HD content on the box (note, it's not DRMed) at all because the video driver and/or capture device (not sure which, I've not had hands-on) is not signed/certified/whatever. The system just plain refuses. Same camcorder, my father's macbook, captures and plays the HD content just fine.

            It's not just the DRM, but decisions made in the design to prevent circumventing DRM via software or hardware hacks that put the extra burden on high quality play-back, and probably on any play-back, whether DRM is active or not.

            Disclaimer: I don't run Vista. I don't plan on running this iteration of Vista. I don't even own hardware that Vista would run on very well. I do get the tech support calls from my parents, though.
          • What a Computer is FOR

            Microsoft has taken it upon itself to decide what people can and can't do with their computers. I refuse to go along with that. It's MY computer, and I want it to do what *I* want it to do, not what some paranoid control freak will *LET* me do! I've believed that for many years.

            For many reasons but particularly so I can have the freedom to use my computer as I see fit, I am slowly migrating to Linux. I will not use a version of Windows later than 2000 (maybe XP here and there), and definitely not Vista. My goal? That by the time I need a kind of software that requires Microsoft Windows Vista or later to run, I will be completely moved to Linux and be able to use that kind of software in FREEDOM.
          • How is that a solution?

            "Doctor, it hurts when I touch my elbow."

            "So? Don't touch your elbow. Where's the problem?"

            If this is a real issue (and I don't have any data either way), then it can't be shrugged off with a simple, "Well, don't play DRM'ed content, then." Anything the OS was billed as being able to handle, it [i]should[/i] be able to handle. I personally agree with you about not using DRM'ed content on principle, but that doesn't change the fact that if Vista is supposed to be able to do it, you should be able to do it, if you want to.

            There are a lot of things a person [i]could[/i] do with their computers, if they chose to. Part of a good OS is the flexibility to be able to take on different tasks.