Now that Windows Vista has officially been launched and is available, I want to give my thoughts on it as a product. And as you can see from the title of this post, it’s not going to be very positive. If you’ve been reading my previous posts on Windows Vista, you already know most of the problems I have with it.
One of the reasons why it is such a big disappointment is because of what we were promised during PDC 2003. Windows Vista as it is today is just a fraction of what it was supposed to be. Essentially it is just a big service pack to Windows XP as far as I’m concerned. When you’ve installed it, apart from the new Aero interface and changes to the Start menu, Control Panel and Windows Explorer, most users won’t notice any difference between using Vista and using Windows XP. There’s no feature, on the surface, that would make any user want to have Windows Vista. And a lot of reviews that I’m seeing online seem to agree with this:
With the full release of Vista of our collective doorstep it seems that many techies are wondering if they should jump on the Vista bandwagon. HardOCP brings us its Windows Vista Ramblings and concludes that the only reason to upgrade is if your ego demands it, and in fact common sense suggests holding for now until some of the kinks have been ironed out.
Meanwhile bit-tech has put up its Windows Vista review and it sings something of a different song. The review covers an explanation of all the varieties of Vista available and a thorough look at various components, but the end result remains the same, there is no need to upgrade for now.
Elite Bastards has gotten somewhat more specific with its review of Windows Vista Ultimate Edition and comes up with very similar conclusion, namely that Vista includes some nice new features, gamers will have to upgrade at some point if they want to play DirectX 10 games and that there is no pressing need to upgrade any time soon. This review also touches on the problem of driver and application compatibility, something early adopters of Vista are going to have to be very wary of.
I saw this coming way in advance:
So far there’s nothing really special about Vista in my opinion. It looks like Windows XP with some new features built-in, like searching capabilities and a new user interface. Most of the work seems to have been done in technology working behind the scenes. Mostly things that will make error reporting much better and will improve the stability and security of the OS.
So apart from technology on the back-end that has been improved and updated a little, the only changes on the surface seem to be the UI and the search features. It takes some time to get used to the new layout of the UI and the new icons. I’m now waiting for Beta 2 to see what is going to be really exciting about Vista. Right now it seems that it will certainly be an improvement compared to Windows XP, but it won’t be something revolutionary.
To be honest, Windows XP with Service Pack 2 is good enough to last 2 more years as it is now. Maybe longer. It’s good enough to be able to compete with Mac OS and Linux on the desktop for 2 more years with minor updates. There was no need to rush Windows Vista out so soon, apart from pressure from businesses who signed up for Software Assurance. The fact that Microsoft did release Windows Vista the way they did will have more negative consequences for them than positive ones. Even on those same businesses who were crying out for Vista to be released soon, because they are the same ones who will now refuse to implement it because of the quality and incompatibility issues. Like I wrote before, I wish Microsoft had taken the time to truly make Vista the OS that they promised us:
I am however disappointed in the fact that they keep pulling great features out of Longhorn. WinFS is one of them, and other smaller things like the sidebar have also disappeared. And it seems certain features that do stay will be much simpler compared to what was originally planned. If it was my decision, I would have taken as much time as is needed to get everything out the way it was planned starting in 2003. Microsoft should just push the release date for Longhorn to 2007 or early 2008 if this is what is needed. I believe Windows XP has enough potential to carry on until that time with another service pack. Windows XP SP3 could have IE 7, .NET Framework 2.0, the latest version of Media Player and other software updates. Microsoft could even add some new themes to refresh the UI.
Instead, they cut down on many features and basically did a rush-job to be able to RTM Vista in November 2006. Vista is now available to the public for merely a day, and there are already 5 updates available which are bug fixes. Even the DRM functionality in Vista already seems to be cracked, which shows how half-assed the implementation probably is, no doubt because of the rush-job they did. And I’ve had a couple of different issues while using Vista as well. Sometimes my laptop just hangs after waking up from hibernation and I have to turn it off and on again. I also get random crashes of rundll.exe sometimes and “COM Surrogate” quite often. After some crashes of rundll.exe I can’t restart or shutdown the PC using the options in the Start menu. They just don’t respond. So I have to turn off the PC by pressing the power button and hold it long enough for the PC to turn off without Windows shutting down properly. Internet Explorer also tends to crash sometimes.
One area where it’s clearly visible how they rushed to get Vista finished by cutting out as much functionality is the Setup routine. If you’re not lucky, you might be presented with a message during Setup that it could find no supported hard drives to install Windows Vista on. It turns out that this happens when no partition on your hard disks is set as active. But here’s the thing: You can actually partition your hard disks during the setup procedure and format them, but somehow, Microsoft forgot to provide a small button somewhere where users can actually set an active partition after they have partitioned their hard disks during setup! How stupid can you get? So you provide the functionality to partition and format disks, but not to activate a partition, even though this same setup routine requires it to continue! Simply fucking amazing. I can’t tell you how much this frustrated me. I had to quit setup, then find out why I was getting this “no drives supported to install” message (THEY COULDN’T EVEN JUST PROVIDE A CLEAR MESSAGE SAYING THERE ARE NO ACTIVE PARTITIONS!!!), download a bootdisk CD to load another partition utility to activate a partition, then load setup again and continue installing. Needless to say, it took quite some time to figure it out.
Then there’s the issues when using multiple monitors. Sometimes this just produces weird results. One time I was trying to configure different resolutions on both screens, when both of them just went black, and there was no way to do something about it. I had to turn off the PC again without shutting down properly to be able to get back to a working display.
And then there’s also the fact that Vista just feels much slower and bloated in a way. The Aero UI certainly makes things feel smoother, but things like Windows Explorer generating thumbnails for folders containing videos and images are just too slow and resource intensive. This was MUCH faster on Windows XP on the same machine. Windows Media Player also works slower and feels much heavier when using it, to the point where I sometimes just resort to using VLC because it works faster, uses less resources and gives smoother video playback. This is probably a result of the DRM “features” that have been introduced with Vista. It also has an impact on the quality of sound and video playback even on high end systems.
Let’s also not forget all the application incompatibility problems that are being introduced with Windows Vista due to the implementation of new security features like User Account Control (UAC) which in my opinion could have been left out of the OS. A lot of applications refuse to install or don’t work properly after installation unless you give them full administrator rights. Users are going to have to deal with an insane amount of dialog boxes being presented because of the new security features, to the point where it can actually impact productivity. Sometimes it can take as much as 5 times longer to simply delete a file, compared to Windows XP, because of all the dialog boxes with questions that you have to answer. This will simply train users to click on the “Allow” buttons so they can continue to work, and won’t actually stop viruses and spyware getting installed. It also impacts the user experience because the UAC dialogs just take over the whole screen everytime in a hard and rude way. It takes away a lot from the gracefulness of the Aero experience. Vista also switches to the Basic theme everytime an application is used which is not compatible with the Aero theme, and this happens quite often for me and is really annoying. In the case of the QuickTime ActiveX control, when this is loaded in a webpage in one of the tabs in Internet Explorer, Vista switches to the Basic UI, but doesn’t switch back to Aero when you close the tab containing the ActiveX control. You have to close the entire Internet Explorer window with all the tabs you had open, in order for Vista to switch back to Aero. And that is quite annoying as well.
So it’s no surprise that Microsoft now seems to be in a hurry to fix issues with Windows Vista:
Reckon you won’t upgrade to Vista until the first service pack is released? That’s looking likely to be the second half of this year, according to Microsoft’s latest email blast.
The company has put out a call for “customers and partners (to) actively test and provide feedback on Windows Vista SP1 to help us prepare for its release in the second half of CY07 (calendar year 2007).”
However, the Redmond clarion call declares that “regressions from Windows Vista and Windows XP, security, deployment blockers and other high impact issues as are the primary focus for the Service Pack.”
So, yes, the still not-yet-released Vista has “high impact issues”.
At least they admit to the “high impact issues.”
In my opinion, they should have waited and tested everything a lot more and release a product with more quality in the end. Almost everyone is going to wait now for the first service pack release before they consider using Vista, and even then, will wonder what the benefits are that they will get from using it. The DRM “features” in Vista and the fact that it is so expensive won’t help either. And by the time the first Service Pack for Vista comes out, companies will wonder again if they should go ahead and deploy Vista, or if they should just wait a year for the next release of Windows, which is already planned for 2008. The only way they’ll get people to buy Vista is to not sell Windows XP anymore and to make certain software only available for Windows Vista, like DirectX 10.
With Vista, Microsoft has given a unique opportunity for the competition to catch up with them because of various reasons. The most important reasons are the fact that the quality of the OS isn’t very good, the absurdly high prices, the fact that there is no (compelling) reason to upgrade, the anti-consumer DRM “features” and locking down the OS with Software Craptection Platform which will backfire on them. People are already writing about the fact that Apple should now take a chance and start supporting Mac OS on third party hardware:
THE INTRODUCTION OF Microsoft Windows Vista and its’ many confusing and progressively expensive flavors has opened up a er, period of opportunity for Apple (formerly Apple Computer). Will Steve Jobs take a really bold chance to increase his market share or just play it safe with his little fiefdom of iPods, iTunes and forthcoming iTV?
Operating systems may not be sleek and sexy to Steve, since he realizes he can make more recurring revenue off of music at a dollar a pop than selling decent hardware.
However, Vista is being beaten like a dead horse by the mass media most of them already are enthralled to the God of Jobs if you read between the lines, so Microsoft could make nuclear fusion work tomorrow and they’d give it a lukewarm review at best. The consensus view out of the babbling punditry is “Don’t buy Vista today, unless you have to buy a new computer tomorrow.”
Even Microsoft’s own Jim Allchin wrote to Gates and Ballmer before about wanting to use a Mac:
“Mr. Allchin says, I’m not sure how the company lost sight of what matters to our customers, both business and home, the most, but in my view we lost our way. I think our teams lost sight of what bug-free means, what resilience means, what full scenarios mean, what security means, what performance means, how important current applications are, and really understanding what the most important problems our customers face are. … I would buy a Mac today if I was not working at Microsoft.”
And from here:
“In my view, we lost our way,” Allchin, the co-president of Microsoft’s platform and services division, wrote in an e-mail dated Jan. 7, 2004. The e-mail was presented as evidence late last week in the Iowa antitrust trial, Comes v. Microsoft Corp.
“I think our teams lost sight of what bug-free means, what resilience means, what full scenarios mean, what security means, what performance means, how important current applications are, and really understanding what the most important problems our customers face are. I see lots of random features and some great vision, but that does not translate into great products.”
And it seems today that still very little has changed. It’s sad that Allchin will be leaving Microsoft with Vista being the last version of Windows he worked on, because it’s a disappointment. He did a much better job with Windows XP. And he’s not the only one who would buy a Mac. Check out this hilarious email exchange between Microsoft executives who were drooling all over Mac OS Tiger:
Tonight I got on corpnet, hooked up Mail.app to my Exchange server and then downloaded all of my mail into the local file store. I did system wide queries against docs, contacts, apps, photos, music, and my Microsoft email on a Mac. It was fucking amazing. It is like I just got a free pass to Longhorn land today.
As you may know, Mac OS Tiger introduced the features promised for Vista way back in 2004, and now in 2007, Vista is still having a lot of difficulty giving us what Mac OS has had for so long, but what they promised way before Mac OS actually had those features. As a longtime Microsoft fan, all of this makes me sad, just like Charlie Demerjian. I can only hope they change course very soon, but I’m not seeing anything that points in that direction. As a developer I remain excited about the various new technologies available right now and coming out soon, but with an OS as mediocre and expensive as Vista, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Like I wrote before, if my clients don’t want to use it or it is too expensive for them, I’ll have to look at developing on other OS’s in the near future. I’m also not willing to put up with the DRM crap and the high prices for Vista myself and might be forced into looking at alternative OS’s in the near future as well.
The lack of quality in the software might also be caused by the fact that employees at Microsoft don’t seem to be very excited or motivated these days to create superior products. This is a result of the various issues at Microsoft among which the bureaucracy that seems to exist there now. Apart from that, employees also don’t seem to be compensated very well for their work, and aren’t happy because of it. Why can’t Microsoft create an environment for their employees similar to Google? Why can’t they invest in the people who the company depends on the most to create kick-ass software? Why can’t they keep those people happy and attract even more of them? Instead, top managers and partners seem to be getting more financial compensation than they deserve right now, while the rest of the employees are being neglected. In addition, I’ve heard stories of employees at Microsoft getting “fired” from their team and having to join other teams because they had the guts to point out obvious flaws inside the software the team was working on. That kind of stuff is just amazing.
What are you doing about all of this, Steve-O?