Vista scare stories distort the real picture

Vista scare stories distort the real picture

Summary: Playing the old “I Googled this and got x gazillion pages back” game can be hazardous to the rest of your argument. That's what I discovered when I tried to find out more about an alleged performance flaw in IE7.

TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft

Playing the old “I Googled this and got x gazillion pages back” game can be hazardous to the rest of your argument. Today’s case in point comes courtesy of my blogging colleague, friend, and neighbor Marc Orchant, who wrote this chilling headline earlier today:

Vista IE7 issue remains unsolved for many users

The post itself, however, is based on a single anecdote, passed along secondhand. So where's the evidence that this is a widespread and unsolved problem affecting many users? Marc says only, “Problems like this are all too common and are being widely reported and discussed in the tubes.  Do a search and you’ll see what I mean.”

That’s not exactly the strongest argument, and in the post’s accompanying Talkback thread a commenter asks the obvious question:

Why does this article's title say "for many users"? This is one guy's particular experience, and nowhere does he suggest that he has found other people encountering this same problem.

To which Marc replies:

Read my post again. Do a search in whatever engine you prefer for "Vista IE7 hang". It's not me generalizing from one person's experience. There were, at the time I posted this comment, about 362,000 results for that query. Even reducing that number This is not one person's issue as I said in my post. This is a pervasive problem affecting many people.

Oh dear. Whenever I try this argument it rarely ends well. Let’s see how it goes today for Marc. I tried Vista IE7 hangs (without quotes) and got 284,000 results. With Vista IE7 hang I got 368,000. (Does this mean the problem has gotten worse in the last six hours?)

Those are pretty damning Google results, right? Uh, maybe not. If that’s the new metric for product quality, there’s a long list of things you’re going to have to stop using before you get around to Windows Vista. Try a few of these searches for yourself:

Vista Firefox hang / Vista firefox hangs – 828,000 – 842,000 results

Safari hang / Safari hangs – 1,640,000 – 1,730,000 results

Ubuntu hang / Ubuntu hangs – 1,020,000 – 1,040,000 results

Tivo hang / Tivo hangs – 1,150,000 results

In fact, maybe the definitive search is this one:

computers hang – 3,520,000 results

At least in my experience, the smarter a device thinks it is, the more likely it is to hang, with or without the help of a browser. I’ve seen nothing to suggest that there’s a widespread problem with IE7. In fact, if you want a firsthand report to balance out the story Marc passes along, here’s my story.

On December 13, 2006, I upgraded my wife’s Dell Inspiron 6400 notebook (Intel Core 2 Duo, 1GB of RAM, 120GB hard drive) from XP Home to Vista Business. It’s been in continuous service ever since. Here’s what the Reliability Monitor looks like for this machine:

Windows Vista Reliability Index for Dell Notebook

That perfect 10 is an accurate reflection of this portable PC's performance. It’s been rock steady for nearly eight full months, running Outlook 2007 (synced with a Windows Mobile SmartPhone), Word 2007, IE7, and a handful of other programs regularly. I’m the IT guy in this two-person office, and I simply don’t have to worry about this machine. Every other week, Judy asks me to explain some confusing dialog box, but I haven’t had to do anything other than routine maintenance on this system since New Year’s Day. It just works.

Now, I’m not suggesting that these two stories balance each other out or that either one has any significant evidentiary value on the question of Windows Vista’s reliability and performance over a larger sample size. But the two stories do accurately represent two typical buckets of Windows early adopters. Those who tried to retrofit Vista onto older hardware might have mixed results, especially when the target hardware is exotic, like the Toshiba Tablet PC in the example Marc points to. By contrast, if you use well-supported hardware and take the most basic precautions, you can have a nearly perfect experience.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft

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  • My favorite is ....

    ... "Marc Orchant hangs" without the quotes yields 13,600 hits. Even if you divide that by 10 it is clear evidence that there is a problem with Marc. :)
    • It gets worse...

      "Ed Bott hang/hangs"?

      122,000 hitsd.

      I am so busted.
      Ed Bott
      • you'd better reboot Ed

        As the end is nigh..

        PS Ursulus Hangs gets 815 hits.. I'm famous!
    • Bill Gates Hangs

      1,720,000 hits
      I think we have clearly showed that google, bless its cotton socks, can't be used like this.. it reminds me of all those 'statistics' we've had thrown at us for ever to prove or disprove this or that.. showing only the top of the graph, or distoring the information in other ways.. the original article was trying to make a point, and as is often the case, in lieu of real information, false statistics, were used.

      It's a funny old world..

  • change the search to ... "Ubuntu 7.04 hang(s)"

    Compare apples to apples ;)
    • Oh Jeez...he' just making a point

      don't go getting all damn defensive. He left on off and I don't blame him. one bit.
  • Good post. It's fine to bash but there needs to be specifics

    Good post. It's fine to bash but there needs to be specifics and not just a single anecdote and a nebulous Google search. I mean I?ll criticize Vista on certain specifics and so have you, but we at least point out the specific problem and possibly a solution. One bad driver doesn?t should not be used to characterize the entire OS. I mean I can?t even get a lot of flavors of Linux to boot off SATA Optical Drives but that doesn?t mean you discount Linux in general.
    • Good Point as always from both of you.

    • You should know you can't boot all linux distro's

      Some linux distro's are only compatible with a Lilo boot option and others are not compatible with it as they are using Grub. This is something you should know if you have tried loading, booting and using various versions of linux. This is not an issue with linux but with the distro's developer as Lilo is not as good as Grub but this is my opinion only. If Vista works well for those users who use it, I strongly suggest you don't install too much hardware or additional software as the more you load the better your chances of having a problem free Vista regardless of which flavor you've hooked yourself on.
    • This works in reverse as well

      As you can see some posts are all too willing to tell us it works fine for them but they lack in details as to what they have, what they use, how it's configured and what drivers, versions and anything else they could provide but don't.
  • IE7 Problems

    I don't think the problem is VISTA in the IE7 case (Vista has enough vista-only problems anyway).

    IE7 and the whole plug-in / helper-app model needs major rework. I had IE7 crash immediately for over 3 weeks if I hit a web page that had a flash animation or caused a new window to spawn via a link (I guess a javascript issue maybe).

    Reinstalling flash didn't help (and Adobe's stupid webside doesn't allow a user to load an older version of flash) and MS updates didn't do the trick. Then finally something updated itself and the problem went away after almost a month.

    Give me a break. There is no way IE should be allowed to crash due to a plug-in.
    • Did *un*-installing Flash help?

      You mentioned reinstalling Flash. But did you try uninstalling it completely?

      I encountered some somewhat-frequent hangs on one of my Vista boxes. I had a hunch it was Flash... and after disabling it (in Managa Addons), I haven't had one hang since.

      And, I don't know how you propose IE not crashing due to poorly-written plugins. Even Firefox doesn't make that claim. It's binary code running in IE's address space, meaning it can pretty much do anything.

      Unless you propose running each plugin in a separate process (EXE)... which would balloon memory usage and slow down browsing to a crawl.
      • Uninstall + Disable

        I ended up pretty much where you did and disabled a bumch of plug-ins and so the browser would be stable enough to use.

        If I had to guess, I would bet money on Flash being the culprit for most of it.

        As for your comment of each helper running in it's own process, why not? I practically need 2 gigs of ram on a Vista machine anyway, and if the helper only spawned a process when needed then really you might only have one or two extra processes running. I would bet on average, it would be flash most of the time.

        The browser is more and more becoming a platform for running other apps and has the charactersitics of a mini-OS. I think it is time to give it some enhanced robustness.
  • Still a lot of problems with Vista

    Witnessed by one of Microsoft's staunchest
    supporters, No_Fax:

    "Many more Vista and MS woes.
    Hey, I like Windows in general and think
    highly of XP (SP2) but I have to agree that
    Vista has some very large and time consuming
    Ole Man
    • Did you even read Ed's article.

      It is about a single individual's problems being reported second hand not being indicitive of a major problem. In reply to it you reference a single individual's problems. You win the Darwin award!
      • How can that be?

        To win the Darwin award the poster must remove himself from the gene pool.
        • He is well on the way.(nt)

      • You're right...

        but when you start getting a lot of "individuals" having the same problems it's no longer an "individual" problem. The consumer market in this country has become very jaded. For every complaint you hear, there are hundreds you don't. Two years ago the airline industry set records in late flights, cancelled flights and lost baggage. Amazingly the number of complaints filed by airline passengers went down that year. So sure, if you hear a single complaint from a single person then by all means take it with a grain of salt. But when you hear even the smallest pattern of complaints in the US marketplace it's often due to a widespread problem that many people just live with.
        • Problem is you have to consider the source.

          The truth is all browsers hang. Whether it be from an unresponsive web site or a poorly written plugin or any number of reasons. Safari hangs, Opera hangs, Firefox hangs and versions of IE other then IE7 hang. Google any of them and you will find complaints. It is also a fact that people are more likely to complain about something on a blog then they are to talk about what works. If you put any company name followed by the word sucks you will find hundreds if not thousands of complaints. In the end it proves nothing.
          • I agree totally...

            but the message that seems to be being made here is "don't listen to the complaints". Absolutely consider the source of the information, but if you find that source to be credible don't ignore it. Using a statistic like the number of hits resulting from a Internet search is useless...I think we can all agree on that. But how about actually clicking on a few of those links and checking out the content rather than just dismissing them completely?