My 7-step Windows Vista reliability action plan

Here's how I plan to transform the troublesome Windows Vista into a stable platform suited to hard work.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to be building a brand new quad-core PC (two, actually) that will both run Windows Vista.  I'm also going to be taking my current main Vista PC off the grid, wiping it and re-applying Vista.  These three systems are going to be 100% work horse systems.  Not systems to experiment with Vista on, not systems to crap up with beta software and junk, not systems that I want to have to be hand-holding on a regular basis. 

So how do I plan to transform the troublesome Windows Vista into a stable platform suited to hard work?  Well. I'm going to take what I've learned of Vista over the many months that I've been using it (and watching others use is) and put this information to work for me.

So, what's my action plan?  Well, before I tell you what it is, let me tell you what it isn't. 

  • It's not giving up on Vista and moving back to XP.
  • It's not giving up on Vista and moving to Linux (simply not an option for the work these systems will be doing).
  • It's not giving up on DIY systems and buying a ready-made system (if I'm going to go down that avenue I might as well buy a Mac - one of the things that I love about the PC platform is the ability to build a system to suit my specification, not the specification that suits an OEM).

OK, with that out of the way, here's my Vista reliability action plan:

  1. I'm resigning myself to spending money to fix problems Most Vista problems come down to dodgy hardware or software.  The quickest and easiest way to solve these problems is to junk any problematic hardware or software and take the opportunity to upgrade.  Since I'm not moving to a 100% Vista PC Doc HQ, there's always going to be a happy home for incompatible stuff.  Since these systems I'm building are work horse systems it makes sense to spend the money now to get them working right.
  2. Start with a blank hard drive Forget upgrading and transferring setting from a previous version of Windows.  The only reliable way to set up Windows Vista is to start from a blank hard drive.  This is nothing new; it's been the same as far as I'm concerned for all previous versions of Windows.  Upgrading a flaky OS just leaves you with a new flaky OS.  Just delete the partition and start from scratch.
  3. Scope out drivers in advance One of the main source of grief for Windows Vista users is drivers.  Installing one dodgy driver onto your Vista system can transform it from having Fort Knox-like strength and integrity into having the stability of a house of cards.  I'm relying on four things to make sure that the drivers I use will be stable: - Time is on my side:  Vista's been out for a while now and most of the good hardware and software vendors out there have their act sorted out enough to have come out with at least half-decent Vista-compatible code by now. - Past experience:  After months of using Vista I've got a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't. - Check for Vista compatibility:  If it doesn't say Vista compatible on the box, it's not going into my systems.  Period.  There's a lot of cheap junk out there and cheap junk usually means cheap drivers, and cheap drivers lead to a town call "Headache," not somewhere I want to be. - Experiment:  I'm going to set up a testbed system to check out the affect that hardware and their associated drivers might have on the system. 
  4. Keep it simple Tweaks and crazy customizations can be a lot of fun and can allow you to squeeze a few percentage points of additional power of activate a dormant feature, but they're also a very bad idea if what you what ultimately is stability.  These new systems will run with the minimum of tweaks and customizations - to put it simple, any change will have to be justified on the grounds of usability.
  5. Sensible security I'm not going nuts on security either.  I'm going to keep this simple by installing an all-in-one package such as Kaspersky Internet Security 7.0.  Eventually my plan is to shift all firewall, antivirus and antimalware duties to a separate appliance, but for the time being I'm happy with the protection that Kaspersky offers.
  6. Image the system regularly One of the best magic spells that you can have against having to reinstall is having an image of your system handy.  In the event of a problem you can go back to an image that you know is good and reload it over the top of your hobbling system and get it back working again.  The key to making an image system work is separating out OS and applications from data so that you can create system images that are separate from data.  I already do this so it's not a problem.  
  7. Make greater use of virtual machines Virtual machines are a very good thing.  A good way to avoid trashing your main OS installation is to have a number of virtual machines running a variety of operating systems.  You can take the free Virtual PC 2007 route or spend some dough and buy the far more versatile VMware Workstation.  I intend to make use of both.