Windows XP or Vista?

There are two main types of Windows users in the world. Which kind are you:

Windows XP or Windows Vista?

The recent news that testers at Devil Mountain Software found Microsoft’s beta of Windows XP Service Pack 3 to be 10% faster than XP SP2 has pushed me over the edge.

I honestly find no advantage to Windows Vista, and there are some downsides. For example, no matter what Vista advocates say, Vista requires Vista-level hardware. Pentium M/Centrino single-core notebook hardware just doesn’t run it well. Pentium 4 desktop hardware runs it better, but usually that class of hardware needs a video upgrade. I’ve personally seen instabilities with the shipping version of the Vista code: applications freezing, Windows services slowing to a crawl, even OS crashes. I’m not saying everyone is having these problems, but I see no real improvement over Windows XP. While the architecture of Vista is a little better, Vista adds a lot of overhead to support quite a bit of new and sometimes questionable functionality. Vista is a lot more complex than Windows XP. It’s probably more secure, but it still needs a raft of third-party security software and hardware. I don’t trust its anti-malware protection or its firewall. And it doesn’t have an onboard antivirus product.

I have five Windows Vista installations. I’m reducing that number to two, one of which will be in a dual-boot with XP. The Windows Vista installation I have on my main Windows machine was a Vista upgrade install, and it’s the least stable. That’s why it’s getting fresh dual-boot clean installs. The other Vista machine I’m keeping stays in the office, where I don’t use it frequently. If I need other Vista boxes for testing, I’ll set them up as I need them.

The rest of my Windows hardware will shortly revert to pristine Windows XP installations. Windows XP is a mature operating system that’s not trying to be something that it’s not. The user experience is better than Vista’s. There’s no “reduced functionality mode” that will inadvertently trip when Microsoft’s WGA/SPP servers have an outage again.

I hope to test a later release of Windows Vista Service Pack 1, but based on my hands-on use of the first widely distributed beta code and performance testing also conducted by Devil Mountain Software, Vista SP1 is no faster than the original shipping version of the OS. Devil Mountain’s report of XP SP3 being faster than SP2 is very intriguing, though. I’ve been using XP for more than six years, and I’d be perfectly happy to continue using it for another six if Microsoft continued to support it properly.

Until they build something better than Windows XP, I see no reason to switch. As it is packaged today, Windows Vista is not that OS.

Microsoft needs to release a new version of Vista that doesn’t stratify the features (why does CD and DVD burning happen only on the Home versions of the OS, for example?). It needs to unload some of the crap it padded Vista with. And it needs to rethink the user experience with respect to functionalities like UAC and SPP. Enterprises aren’t buying Vista because it offers very little advantage for them, and end users aren’t clamoring for it. Of all companies, Microsoft should know that end-user desire for an OS has a huge effect on how rapidly it’s adopted. The company seems to have forgotten its roots.

I have no doubt that Microsoft could turn Vista around if it wanted to. But it would have to own up to the idea that, with its Vista product and business strategy, it’s been wrong-headed in a number of ways. I’m not so sure that the current management, as Bill Gates continues to edge toward the door, has the technical vision to make the right choices.

Update: Vista SP1 Dumping the ‘Kill Switch’

Microsoft is showing one or two small signs of coming around. First it admitted that the WGA breakdown last August that caused thousands of Vista users to wind up being pegged as software pirates when they couldn’t activate their copies of Vista was, in fact, an “outage.” The company had denied that terminology earlier. Now, Microsoft is eliminating reduced functionality mode — more commonly referred to as Vista’s “Kill Switch.” This change will be implemented by Vista Service Pack 1, which is expected to ship in the first quarter of next year.

Bottom line, though, this is a welcome change, but it doesn’t materially change the user experience at all. Most of us will hopefully never come face to face with reduced functionality mode. And until we actually test what Vista does instead of the kill switch, I’m not prepared to embrace. The Windows Vista RC1 that I’m looking at now still has the kill switch in it.

56 Responses to “Windows XP or Vista?”

  1. Scot Says:

    Reply to Dionisiog:

    Fwiw, I’ve been a magazine editor for most of my professional life (except for a short stint in the film/video production industry two decades ago). But my father a was Madison Ave. ad exec who taught me about the reach and power of advertising (TV, radio, and print). In many ways, he instilled in me the bedrock of cynicism required by journalism for success, a way of thinking that boils down to this notion: question everything.

    The point of telling you about my father is that the Mac is not all about advertising, while Apple’s advertising is very definitely a reflection of how Mac users view their Mac experience. Apple isn’t so much trying to address its own weaknesses. Many ads do this, they outright lie to you about how the product doesn’t have a weakness, when in fact, it has exactly that weakness. Apple is using another advertising tactic: To convey the word-of-mouth, grass roots, common experience shared by most Mac users. For comparison, look at Toyota ads, which use the same tactic: “Ask someone who drives one.” Although the styles of Toyota and Apple ads are very different, the tactic is the same.

    So, based on my experience, I suggest you give the Mac a serious try before you guess at why it’s never died off and why it’s enjoying a renaissance of late. Hardened Windows users (and I did this for years) tend to scoff at the insistence of Mac mavens that the Mac just works, dismissing it as so much eye wash from the cult of the Mac. But the claims of superior reliability are absolutely true. I’m not saying the Mac doesn’t have issues. What I am saying is that it has significantly fewer issues than Windows PCs — even when working in a Windows-oriented business environment. My very conservative estimate is that, for every 10 problems that force Windows users to stop everything else and fix something, the Mac has one such issue. (I’d be willing to bet that many Mac users would disagree with me, saying that the frequency of stop-everything Mac problems is far smaller than that.)

    This was the Mac’s primary selling point for me. It’s not that the Mac’s legendary ease of use makes it so special. It’s that the excellent combination of strong reliability and ease of use in one package is absolutely compelling. When you look at the competition, Linux and Windows, each has one of these two attributes; neither one has both. It’s important to note that Apple didn’t have the reliability aspect until the advent of OS X, which incorporates a Unix variant as the core of the operating system.

    About your initial Windows Vista experience: Not everyone has these problems with Vista. Many people who buy new Vista machines have very good initial experiences, but unfortunately, it’s not the first time that I’ve heard about a brand new machine booting up with a driver error. I have to agree, that’s pretty pathetic. My initial scorn, though, would be more reserved for Acer in this case than for Vista itself. If an OEM PC maker can’t pick a driver that works, what can it do? That’s really the largest value add an OEM computer delivers to Windows — since it’s integrating the hardware, it should ensure that the hardware is fully supported by the driver hardware installed in the OS.

    I wonder whether these machines might not have been donated to the hospice because there was an issue of some sort that Acer or some value-added reseller either couldn’t or wouldn’t resolve.

  2. Jonathan Says:

    I’ve turned off UAC in Vista Ultimate but then I get security popups that tell me UAC is turned off. It doesn’t seem like I’ve gained anything there. Is there any way to get rid of the security reminders that I’ve turned off UAC?
    BTW, this is running on an old (as computers go) 1.4GHz machine with a 128MB video card. It’s no speed demon, especially with Vista, but it runs okay and so far I don’t recall any BSODs or lockups.

  3. Scot Says:

    Jonathan, I’m not familiar with the pop-ups you’re referring to telling you that UAC is off. I don’t get them on any of my machines. HOW did you turn off UAC? There are several ways, actually. But Microsoft has built-in UI for doing it, and that method does not throw off pop-ups of any sort. It’s not that I doubt your experience; it’s that I think the people here can help you improve it if you tell us more.

  4. karone Says:

    Scot, I just purchased an Acer laptop with Vista Home Premium. Then I found this forum. Can or how does one downgrade to XP Pro? I am still in my 14 day return period if I need to go that far. Use is for my college student child. I will be system admin and support for her and have XP on a couple of other systems and some knowledge to go with. Appreciate any response.

  5. hkspike Says:

    UAC is a total pain. Just one query might be ok but it runs 3+ levels deep. I agree with Jonathan that having turned UAC off in the Control Panel, I get a taskbar nag from the Notification area with a red shield. Only way I see to get rid of it is to turn it on again.

    I read your warnings, Scot, but thought that after about a year and on a new build high spec PC, it couldn’t be that bad. Ohps. I have so many (maybe) minor issues still lurking round your forum looking for answers. Setting up a home network was a horrid experience. Does MS not understand that when it says Vista Home Premium, a dialog box that says “Contact your network administrator” shows a depressing lack of clarity of thought? You are that man! How many places do you need to check to share a folder?

    I have a number of outstanding irritations with Vista. Number one right now is that an OS designed not to be turned off, 2 or 3 times a day forgets how to connect to the ISP’s server hence the web or e-mail and needs rebooting. All the rest of the XP PCs on the same network smoothly get on with life.

  6. rickk1 Says:

    Xpsp3 is another ms bust. Based on what I’ve read about sp3, it will install all previous updates that were blocked or not installed in sp2. The problem I have with this is that there is at least 1 update in sp2 that caused alot of systems alot of trouble…kb927891. Ms is aware of the problem yet it still wants it installed. Duhhhhh!!!

    Another feature of sp3 that I don’t understand is that IE6 is the default. Ms claims that IE7 is the best, is more secure than IE6 and is less troublesome than IE6 too. So tell me, why would ms put IE6 into a new service pack that is supposedly alot worse than IE7?

    I tried IE7 but it crashed darned near every time I tried to surf the net. It also left out some important add-ons that I used previously in IE6 that are still not available. I’ve had far fewer problems with IE6 than I had with IE7. I wonder…does ms ever check out their updates before releasing them fully to the public? I think not!

    Being in the computer repair business, I have worked on many systems with Vista. Most of my Vista customers constantly complain to me about how much they hate Vista. Some have totally removed Vista and installed XP whereas others want to but cannot afford the price.

    Many of my friends and customers have called me to help them buy a new computer. After I show them the differences between XP and Vista, they always opt for XP. Some of my customer’s kids that have told me that Vista is great have never used anything but Vista. Many of them have gotten me to remove Vista and to install XP. Of those that installed XP, they now tell me that Vista was a stick-of-mud plagued with constant problems and they’re far happier with XP than they were with Vista since they have now been able to use them both.

    Why does Ms keep creating new operating systems other than the money issues? Perhaps they ought to look at MAC and see why they’ve been able to stay in-the-game for so long. I’m growing tired of learning a new OS every couple of years. Perhaps it is high time that I get a MAC!!!

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