More facts and less hysteria on Vista, please!

More facts and less hysteria on Vista, please!

Summary: In the latest round of hysteria to be written about Windows Vista, Don Reisinger regurgitates the usual hysteria about Windows Vista mixed in with a pinch of facts here and there.  Don spouts off the usual nonsense about sales, UAC, and even DRM.


In the latest round of hysteria to be written about Windows Vista, Don Reisinger regurgitates the usual hysteria about Windows Vista mixed in with a pinch of facts here and there.  Don spouts off the usual nonsense about sales, UAC, and even DRM.  Despite the fact that bashing Vista is quite the popular sport these days, I'm going to see if I can set him straight with an honest and factual assessment of Windows Vista.

Are Vista sales really poor? Everyone knows that Windows Vista retail box sales are poor, but does that matter when Microsoft relies overwhelmingly on sales to OEM PC makers?  If you focus only on the retail box sales, you're missing the real picture because Vista has sold more than 60 million licenses and ~78% of those sales are Vista Premium edition.  Don complains about Windows Vista Ultimate edition and I actually agree with him that it's overpriced and under delivers but Microsoft doesn't need to "save itself" if Vista Ultimate fails, more like an "oh well".

Does it matter if a few people revert to XP? Even if a whopping 20% of computer buyers downgrade and revert to Windows XP for whatever reason, that still leaves 80% who stay with Windows Vista.  That means hardware makers and ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) have to deal with Windows Vista now or later whether they like it or not if they want to stay in business.  The fact that 60 million copies were sold in the first 6 months since launch pretty much confirms Vista will become the dominant OS by default.

How about Vista drivers? There are no questions about it, a fair number of Vista drivers during the first 2 months stunk badly.  Vista implements a brand new driver model which offers a little more separation between the driver and the kernel so that a bad driver is less likely to crash the entire system.  The price for this is that there is a brand new learning curve and it took a few months for the hardware companies to get it right.  For the most part, everything is working well but there are still some older devices that don't have drivers and will never get drivers for Windows Vista and much of that is because the hardware vendors want you to buy new hardware.

Is it fair to expect a hardware company to write drivers for a 3+ year old device? Probably not.  Is it fair to expect users to buy new hardware because they can't get Vista drivers for a one year old device? Definitely no!  Reputable hardware companies that want to keep customer loyalty will go back as far as they can to create drivers for older hardware.  Was it Microsoft's fault that the drivers didn't work well at first?  Technically no but that isn't going to matter to consumers and they'll take their anger out on Microsoft and the hardware maker.  Fortunately, the driver situation has stabilized but it's always good to check for drivers before you upgrade a computer to Vista and before you buy a piece of hardware.

How about application compatibility in Windows Vista? There's no question about it, applications will break in Vista and it's probably the #1 reason some people are reverting back to Windows XP.  This is primarily due to the fact that many applications never followed Windows development guidelines set since 2000.  One of the worst offenders is Intuit which refused to properly write QuickBooks right up to the 2006 version.  Intuit never followed Windows development guidelines that have existed since Windows 2000 and XP for Windows logo certification and they - like many other software makers - used Vista as an opportunity to sell a new version of QuickBooks 2007.  If you bought QuickBooks 2006 or earlier, you were out of luck and it wouldn't run on your new computer and you had to buy QuickBooks 2007.

Microsoft asked developers for 7 years to clean up their act but drew the line in the sand with Windows Vista which comes with UAC (User Access Control) on by default.  That finally forced vendors like Intuit to properly code their application and not violate security best practices.  If UAC does nothing else and even if people turn it off, it has had the desired effect of cleaning up the Windows development community.

Vista and Internet Explorer 7 also breaks a lot of applications in the name of drawing a line in the sand for security.  Microsoft will get criticized for not getting rid of things like Active X but they'll also get criticized for breaking dangerous coding techniques and the vast majority of Active X controls have been disabled in Windows Vista by default.  There are still plenty of web applications that don't work inside Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7 and vendors like Kodak will try to drag their feet but they will have to deal with it sooner or later unless they want to alienate the 60 million (since summer) and growing Vista user base.  My colleague David Berlind questions why Microsoft needs to break so many legacy applications and the answer is security.  It's a known fact that until something is hard broken, no one will change anything.  Is this going to be painful?  Certainly.  But it has to be done if we want a more secure computing environment.

<Next page - Vista Upgrades, DRM, and bogus comparisons>

Vista Upgrades, DRM, and bogus comparisons

Should you upgrade an old computer to Vista? I would have to say no 99% of the time.  Windows XP (a year 2001 OS) contrary to popular myth is actually very resource friendly compared to most other commercial desktop operating systems.  Most Desktop Linux distributions require a lot more resources than Windows XP and boot much slower.  Vista requires substantially more hardware resources compared to XP and a little more resources compared to a full featured Linux distribution but any new PC for as little as $200 can run Vista perfectly fine.

Vista does boot slower than Windows XP but every new PC with Vista I've built and tested boot Vista in 30 seconds (not including BIOS post) while XP will boot in 15 seconds (not including BIOS post).  While I'm disappointed that Microsoft didn't keep their promise to reduce boot times over XP, it is still substantially faster than most Linux distributions.  Microsoft will actually continue to sell XP for the emerging markets where hardware isn't up to the level of new computers and they continue to sell it for embedded devices.

On the whole, Vista is a bit on the bloated side for my taste compared to Windows XP and Microsoft should do something to streamline Vista and make it run smoother.  Windows Vista SP1 seems to be on track to do some of this but Microsoft really needs to do more.  This is why I tell people never to upgrade an older PC unless they're sure it's powerful enough and it has all the drivers available.  The poor retail box sales of Vista pretty much prove this assessment is universal but it doesn't change the fact that almost every new retail PC ships with Windows Vista and the vast majority of them will stay Vista.

Does DRM really limit Vista users? Don Reisinger says you can't back up your movies in Windows Vista but that flies in the face of reality.  Vista lets you playback DVDs and every other video format in the world with the right codec packs such as K-Lite and I've had zero problems backing up my DVDs using the exact same software I used in Windows XP.  Does Don expect DVD ripping software to come out of the box in Vista so they can get their DVD playback license revoked?  Windows Vista is the only OS (Operating System) that lets you play back commercial Blu-ray and HD DVD movies.  Blu-ray and HD DVDs use AACS which has a "managed copy" provision to allow you to backup your movies.  Then there those rumors that Vista DRM steals CPU cycles and makes your computer really slow but I debunked that here and here.  Fellow blogger Ed Bott does a wonderful job at dismantling all those DRM rumors here, here, and here.

Is Windows Vista like Windows ME? There are quite a few people making the comparison between Windows Vista and Windows ME (Millennium Edition) but those people clearly do not understand history or the present.  Windows ME was the last gasp of air for the Windows 95 code-base which ran parallel to Windows NT which includes NT 3.x, NT 4.0, Windows 2000 (NT 5.0), Windows XP (NT 5.1), and Windows Vista (NT 6.0).  Windows ME was shipped after Windows 2000 which was the direction Microsoft was going all along and ME was dead before it even hit the retail shelves. Windows Vista is the natural successor in the Windows NT family and it has no alternative Microsoft OS to compete with.

Windows 9x code-base needed to die because it fragmented Windows in to two distinct kernels that needed completely different drivers and Windows 9x monopolized most of the driver development and Windows 2000 suffered.  When Windows XP came out, it was marketed as a natural successor to Windows 98 and ME and even the "WinNT" folder name was changed to "Windows".  Windows 9x wasn't even a real multi-user Operating System and Microsoft had to thread the needle to kill off the Windows 9x code-base with Windows XP.  Windows XP unified driver and application development and it moved the mass market in to the NT kernel.  The price Microsoft paid for easing in the Windows 9x user base is that they couldn't enforce standard user restrictions and it allowed users to become their own worst enemy in security, and Windows Vista is now trying to address that problem.

<Next page - A factual assessment of Vista UAC>

A factual assessment of Vista UAC

Getting beyond the FUD on Vista UAC Windows Vista users know that the dreaded UAC prompt that asks you if you want to give an application access to your system files.  Don Reisinger says this was "copied" from Mac OS X and he says that he uses both Vista and Mac OS X.  This claim makes absolutely no sense to me since Mac OS X handles privilege escalation much differently than Windows Vista.  Mac OS X requires you to type in the administrator's password while Microsoft decided based on usability studies that this wouldn't be acceptable so they only make the user click "continue" or "cancel" if they get a UAC prompt.  So in that sense, UAC is actually easier to elevate privileges than Mac OS X password prompt.

Of course I always find it funny when people who don't use Vista claim that the UAC prompt comes up constantly for no reason just because they saw an Apple TV commercial or read it somewhere on the Internet.  But the truth is that UAC only comes up when your application tries to access low-level system calls or make changes to system files such as an application installation or if you try to change system settings.  If you're using your web browser, running MS Office, Photoshop, Skype, Messenger, or any other commercial application that was written correctly within Windows Logo guidelines, you will never see a UAC prompt.  Heck you can even turn Vista UAC off if it bothers you that much.

The problems with Vista UAC The problem with Vista UAC is that when it does prompt you, you sometimes get a series of non-UAC prompts on top of it and that gets annoying.  Sometimes it's the "Attachment Execution Service" (which came from Windows XP SP2) that kicks in an extra prompt or it's the "are you sure you want to delete this file" prompt.  This contributes to dialog box fatigue and verifies people's perceptions that Vista and "UAC" is annoying and painful.  UAC in essence becomes the dialog box that breaks the camel's back when it's put on top of all the legacy stuff and Microsoft needs to address it.

I've been a long time proponent of giving a free pass on UAC for installation programs that have been digitally signed and verified by a trusted entity.  I even asked Microsoft's (former) Co-President Jim Allchin in person the day before WinHEC 2006 why we couldn't get a way for a standard user to install signed software from known reputable entities without the UAC escalation prompt.  If a user is trying to install something from Adobe such as Flash, do they really need to be prompted if it's ok to modify the system?  Does a user really need to be prompted with a security warning when they're installing a digitally signed and verified Microsoft patch?

With all the other nagging prompts like Attachment Execution Service and UAC popping off warnings every time a user tries to install an application, Microsoft runs the risk of conditioning the user to blindly click "continue".  Why not save the warning prompts for unknown software instead of popping off nine out of ten false alarms?  This would actually improve security because users will actually be alarmed to see the UAC prompt instead of getting numbed by it.  I'm not suggesting that normal applications during routine runtime be permitted to bypass UAC, just application installers.  Microsoft already permits device drivers to install for standard users with zero administrative privileges and modify the kernel if they're digitally signed by a trusted entity.

The last thing that needs to be reevaluated is the UAC Secure Desktop.  Secure Desktop is that mechanism that dims your entire Desktop so that it can take the UAC prompt in to a totally isolated environment.  From a security standpoint its absolutely wonderful; I'm just not so sure it's worth the pain.  I know it's more secure and it makes it harder for potential Malware to manipulate the UAC elevation prompt, but there is a heavy performance penalty that delays the rendering of the UAC prompt.  I've actually shut it off on my computer since I do a lot of administrative tasks and I leave UAC turned on.  I won't go as far to say that I'd recommend turning this feature off, but the delays introduced by this feature needs to go.

If Microsoft can consolidate some of these warning prompts, get rid of some others, and skip the UAC prompts for trusted application installers, they can go a long way to easing the real and perceived pain of Windows Vista.

<Return to top>

Topics: Software, Apple, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • All about the hardware

    I upgraded to Vista the minute it came out in February, after having run every "Check to see if your system is Vista-ready!" app out there, and my system passed with flying colors. A couple months after installing, I was ready to throw my computer out the window. Yes, I experienced a couple driver issues (but only a couple), but no application issues - everything ran great (including Adobe Photoshop 8, so not sure what all the fuss was about), but the system itself was dog sloooow, even with all the interface features turned off.

    I finally found a USB thumb drive that was compatible with ReadyBoost and I have to say it really works - my system actually became usable, even with all the interface goodies turned on, and I was happy for a while. My research showed, however, that my system exceeded all the recommendations (real world recommendations, not MS's) for good performance in RAM, video card, etc. But my processor was old, and upgrading it was going to involve upgrading the mother board, the power supply, etc.

    So I gave in and decided to upgrade. I explored a lot of choices (including Mac), and eventually went with a Dell XPS 410 with a Core2 Duo Quad (as in FOUR!) processors. It's been a month, and I have been in Windows heaven. Vista runs like a dream, and I can't remember the last time I was so happy with my computer.

    So, like all Windows versions before it, Vista requires all the RAM and processing power you can throw at it, which yes, kind of sucks, but if you grit your teeth and just do it, you will not regret it.
    • OK More Facts : Vista Gets In The Way

      OK some more facts on Vista:

      World of Warcraft was updated this week with a new patch. To save time I update my main machine (Windows XP) with the patch and all the addons. I then copy the whole directory lock stock and barrel to my Dell Vostro laptop with Vista Ultimate as the WoW client doesn't need to actually be installed. You can just copy it. My other half had the pleasure of doing that this time.

      First of all he had trouble finding the map network drive command. Then selected the directory and dropped it in C:\Program Files

      1st Prompt .. Are you sure you want to do this? Yes
      2nd Prompt .. Some Programs might stop working. Are you Sure? Yes (even though WoW has never actually been installed)
      3rd Prompt .. You may be asked for your Administrator Password. Ok
      4th Prompt .. UAC Prompt. Windows needs your permission to continue. ok
      Then dialog saying calculating how long with will take. This took nearly 1 minute.
      Then dialog saying Counting number of files. This took about 30 seconds
      5th Prompt .. Are you sure you want to overwrite WOW.exe. Yes
      6th Prompt .. Some Programs might stop working. Are you sure? Yes
      7th Prompt .. You may be asked for your Administrator Password. Ok
      8th Prompt .. UAC Prompt. Windows needs your permission to continue. ok
      Copy file dialog.. Sat there for a while but didn't seem to be actually doing anything.
      9th Prompt .. There as another directory called System. Are you sure you want to overwrite it? Yes
      10th Prompt .. Some Programs might stop working. Are you Sure? Yes
      11th Prompt .. You may be asked for your Administrator Password. Ok
      12th Prompt .. UAC Prompt. Windows needs your permission to continue. ok
      The back to the REALLY slow copy.

      12 prompts to do a simply file copy. This was his first exposure to Vista and his only repeatable comment that I can post here is 'Vista just gets in the way.'

      I've left UAC in place because of the supposed benefits, but earlier on today I turned it off. Do you know what? Before my brand new laptop with T7500 Intel Duo Core and 2gb of memory felt like an old Pentium 90. Now it seems to have been given a new lease of life. Turning off UAC has made Vista seem more lively, reponsive and faster. There are still quite a few niggles that annoy me though, but I might just keep it now instead of downgrading to XP.

      • You can do that, but UAC has done its job

        You can do that, but UAC has done its job by forcing software vendors to write their software correctly to not require admin mode. That alone was worth it and I don't really care how many people turn UAC off. I personally just shut the Secure Desktop feature off and keep UAC on.
        • You misread it slightly

          There was no install... WoW does not require elevated privileges to run. Just a simply file copy from one PC to another. At the most there should have been only one set of prompts (the first set) at which permission was granted.

          Talking about turning UAC off ... I was surprised what a difference it made. It made Vista seem so much more responsive.

          • I didn't misread it

            I didn't misread it. When you try to access the system folders, it will trigger UAC. That is an unusual task for your typical user and I'll bet you don't do this kind of operation more than once a month tops. But like I said in the blog, there are plenty of things Microsoft should do to consolidate those prompts.
          • Not everyone is George Ou

            Accept the fact that people are different from what you think they should be George. Reality is bigger than you.
      • WoW, thats a lot of unnecessary work

        [i]World of Warcraft was updated this week with a new patch. To save time I update my main machine (Windows XP) with the patch and all the addons. I then copy the whole directory lock stock and barrel to my Dell Vostro laptop with Vista Ultimate as the WoW client doesn't need to actually be installed. You can just copy it. My other half had the pleasure of doing that this time.[/i]

        It seems to me that you are getting in the way of how the program was designed to work. WoW will download the patches while you are playing the game, before the patch is actually required to be installed. So that on the date the patch "goes live" it is already downloaded and will install. At that time, the patch install would actually take less time than you copying the folder from one PC to the other [b]and without UAC prompts[/b] (at least on mine, and I have UAC prompts enabled)

        So it seems like since you are trying to go contrary to the way the system was setup, you might almost expect to have problems.
        • WoW .. I find it easier to work that way

          I use the laptop for working away and playing WoW in the evenings when I am away from home. I would agree about the patches but bandwidth is usually limited when in hotels and you can't really afford to have a big WoW patch download through it as you will usually exceed your quota and have to pay more.

          Additionally I use a large number of addons and its a pain to have to download and configure them on both. Its usually much easier to setup on correctly and copy everythng to the lappy. Worked really well with my older one.

          • Interesting

            I can see why that could be a problem. I guess all I can say is since you probably need to do it that way, there is a price to be paid for a more secure OS.

            As far as addons go, *most* of the time I don't have to change them, just re-enable and mark the load out of date addons, and I'm good to go.
          • NO you don't have to pay

            That same action on a linux/unix box would require the admin password. That's it, no click thru's.

            No matter what good you say about Vista it's hardware requirements are a JOKE!!

            How can you hope to ever "go green" when the next Redmond release will make your current rig not good enough.

            Where are all those hw resources going????
        • I concur.

          Just find the patch install file and copy that across. It's no wonder you're seeing UAC prompts, you're doing it in a bizarre and time consuming way. I do the exact same thing (XP machine -> Vista machine) but never see the prompt as I just take the patch file across (incidentally, it's good practise to keep a DVD with all these on in case you need to reinstall for some reason - install WoW, then BC, then the patch files - if you wait for each individual download, you're going to be heavily delayed in getting back into the game).
      • What you fail to mention...

        Is that most of those prompts exist in XP too. The only ones i see that aren't are the UAC promps (what, all of 3 of them?)
        • ..Wrong.. Administrator Prompts are Additional

          You're wrong there mate. The additional prompts in Vista are the UAC ones AND the Administrator ones. I could forgive it IF Vista had only bunged in a couple of extra ones, i.e. the first administrator and UAC prompt. But it kept asking me the same prompts over again, even though I had authorised it.

          • Yes, and...

            I had a dual-boot with XP and Vista Ultimate installed and found the whole setup problematic - but not because of Vista, this was a case of me doubling up on applications across 2 different OSs.

            As functionality goes, some things were perplexing - not least of all the repetitive administrator prompts warning about this and prompting me for that. Having said that, the overall install was OK. Some of the functionality as far as the Start Menu goes are slightly less than intuitive, but the overall operability of the system seemed rather good. The driver problems i encountered were concentrated on audio driver compatibility - which was rectified thru the autoupdate feature.

            Also, i installed some 20 apps after a clean install of Vista and of the 20 apps (which btw are all running on my XP install), only 2 apps returned any conflicts - and consequently were removed: Cache Cleaner v3.0 and Nero Premium 7.0. The Admin' warning returned by Microsoft Update informed me promptly that Vista does not support Nero 7.

            If i were to score the overall performance of my particular experience of Vista ( with 1 being worst and 10 best), i would say that Vista gets about a 7.5.

            Now folks are going to complain about the drivers currently available for a whole range of apps', but that is a 'gimme' for the anti-crowd. It was always going to be the case that the drivers would always be an issue for a new OS - heck, that's going to be the case for any new OS. It will no doubt be some time before the driver situation stabilises.

            I think people should relax and look forward to Vista becoming a very good OS. The SP1 to be released in due course should help address many user concerns.
      • How?

        #1 and #2 I can see.

        #3 should be part of #4? Are they really separate? Asking for the password should be part of UAC, not separate.

        Calculating how long it will take is a known problem and will be helped with SP1.

        #5 is normal

        #6 to the end I don't really understand - you should only need to give permission for stuff once - and UAC should only appear once. Very odd.

        I've [b]NEVER EVER[/b] had that many prompts for anything. This is, IMHO, a really extreme case and almost never happens - it's certainly never happened while I've used Vista. Quite frankly, it's not as bad as you make it sound because you're using an extreme case as an example and not a regular case. Realistically, almost nobody is going to receive this many prompts.
      • Level 73 Elite

        On my Intel iMac, WoW updates are like butta'. Just saying.

        The extra security features in Vista is MS's response to years of lax security
        criticism, but I think they've overblown it a bit. And of course, user security is
        only as good as someone knowing when to correctly say yes or no to the right or
        wrong things. No amount of UAC or other can replace user knowledge and

        I also notice really slow file copying in Vista (and others have too). And the
        calculation estimates for file copy time remaining is usually bonkers, as well. Wish
        I could turn the latter off.
      • Thats the functional behavior, now take a look at when it stops
  • I imagine they would be a lot worse

    If the EU ruling about naked PC's came into force at the Vista launch.

    Given the opportunity of buying Vista preinstalled on the latest OEM PC's in the high street stores or the choice of having to pick between XP OEM install disc and Vista OEM install disc I wonder which one the consumers would go with.

    You also have to consider the % of Vista sales in relation to the installed user base and not just the raw sales figure alone.

    If Vista sold 60 Million out of 600 Million PC's then that is a 10% uptake in 6 months.

    If XP only sold 10 Million in the same 6 month period after launch then it could be mistaken that Vista has outsold XP. However if you factored in a user base of say 100 Million PC's then the uptake is just the same as XP.

    My figures are arbitrary. However I would consider Vista to only be a sales success if it equals of surpasses the same % uptake as XP over the same period.
    • Your figures aren't arbitrary, they're nonsense

      "If Vista sold 60 Million out of 600 Million PC's then that is a 10% uptake in 6 months."

      I can assure you the PC industry does not sell a billion PCs in a year; that's the total number of PCs in the world. Those 60 million represent the lion's share of PCs sold.
      • It made me wonder

        what the expected amount of PC's sold would be worldwide.

        According to Computer Industry Almanacs press release ( this would be 250M. Roughly this is an average of 20M per month. if after half a year Vista sales have been 60 Million this would mean that actually only half of the sold PC's where outfitted with Vista and that surprises me a lot...