Windows Vista has gotten a lot of bad press since it was released. One of my managers here in Windows Server User Assistance said that this is because of customer perception, and I agree. Customers perceive that Vista sucks. Probably because it does.
Fortunately for Microsoft and everyone using Vista, Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) doesn’t suck, and is actually quite a good operating system that addresses many of user’s complaints with Vista, as I’ll discuss below. But first, let me talk about why I think Vista (pre-SP1) sucks.
Windows Vista crashes a lot
I was part of the Windows Vista Reliability and Release Criteria survey group internally here at Microsoft, during which time my computers were analyzed for problems. Afterwards, I provided some characteristically to-the-point feedback about Vista. It read something like this:
“Windows Vista is the least stable Microsoft operating system that I’ve used since Windows 95, and really needs another three months of bug fixing before we release it.”
There were some good business and technical reasons why Microsoft ignored me and shipped Vista when it did, but they’re not super-interesting, so let me get back to my point of Vista sucking.
When Vista was released to manufacturing (RTM), I performed a clean install of it on my desktop at home (homebuilt Athlon X2 3800+), my work laptop (Thinkpad X60 Tablet), and my work desktop (Dell Optiplex 755). Of these three systems, only my work desktop (running 64 bit Windows) was reasonably stable – the others were crashing maybe 1-6 times per week. Not good.
It turns out that one of the big reasons that Vista crashed a lot was badly written drivers. As part of a lawsuit against Microsoft, it was revealed that only 17.9% of the Vista crashes were known to be caused by Microsoft (during an unspecified portion of 2007) – the rest were third-party drivers or unknown causes. So, not all MS’s fault, but still not good.
Applications don’t run well on Windows Vista
When Vista first came out, lots of applications didn’t work well on it. Some wouldn’t install, others crashed. This is somewhat typical of new operating systems, but it doesn’t make for a lot of fun.
Windows Vista is slow
There is a perception that Windows Vista is slow. Some of this is easily confirmed with benchmarks (see below for SP1’s benchmarks), but some of it is subjective. The interface doesn’t always keep up with the user and sometimes lags behind or feels slow.
Much of this is because of slow display drivers or because Vista uses more eye-candy which slows things down. Some is because Vista likes fast new hardware, and some is just frankly because Vista is slow. If you don’t have 1 GB of RAM, don’t run Vista. If you do have 1 GB, upgrade to 1.5 or 2GB +. More on this later.
Why Vista Service Pack 1 Doesn’t Suck
Here’s the tough thing to sell for a disillusioned audience: Windows Vista Service Pack 1 doesn’t suck. It’s actually my new favorite OS and what I recommend to everyone with a computer that can run it.
Vista SP1 is really stable!
I recently had to switch desktops, so some of my data isn’t very old, but my previous Vista SP1 desktop had been subjectively very reliable until I replaced it.
- Work desktop (clean SP1 install): 0 Windows failures or Miscellaneous failures in 9 months. System stability index: 9.45
- Work laptop (clean SP1 install): 1 Windows failure (bluescreen) and 4 disruptive shutdowns in 8 months. System stability index: 9.25 on 11/4/2008
- HP Media Center PC (home PC originally running Vista RTM – upgraded to SP1): 11 Windows failures and 5 disruptive shutdowns in the 10.5 months I’ve had the system. System stability index: 9.24. This system used to be “pretty good” when running Vista RTM (crashing every couple of weeks), but after installing SP1 and identifying an unstable nVidia display driver four months ago, this system has crashed only once. Not bad considering that system is running 24/7 recording HDTV, doing video editing, running Zune software as well as Outlook, etc.
Vista SP1 is as fast as Windows XP SP3
According to synthetic and gaming benchmarks performed by ExtremeTech, Windows Vista SP1 now matches or outperforms Windows XP SP3. This is largely due to improved display drivers, but is also partially because Vista SP1 is faster than Vista RTM.
Subjectively, Vista SP1 rarely feels slow anymore on my systems. It does what I want when I want it almost all of the time.
What Still Sucks about Vista
Although Vista SP1 is worlds better than Vista RTM, it’s still not perfect. Here’s what I think still sucks about Vista SP1:
Applications still crash too much
This probably isn’t Vista’s fault, but it’s still annoying. Some applications have compatibility issues with Vista, though mostly the problem is just poorly written applications that crash. Here are the programs that crash most often on my computers:
- Internet Explorer 7 (part of Vista…)
- Outlook 2007
- Word 2007
- Adobe Photoshop Elements 4
- Windows Vista Sidebar (also part of Vista)
- Windows Explorer (also part of Vista – usually related to bad network latency)
External monitor detection still sucks
This has been improved, but still isn’t good enough. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been to where someone can’t get their laptop to talk to the projector properly. To be fair, this is probably not just Vista’s problem – a large part of it might be in the projector, but still – this is supposed to be Plug and Play, not Plug and Pray.
Conclusion – Vista SP1 Is New and Improved – It Sucks Less
As you can see, I think that Vista (original version) sucks, but that Vista SP1 is new and improved – it sucks less (I’m waiting for marketing to approach me for that slogan). I went from one of the biggest Vista critics (I tried really hard to delay shipment of it), to a reluctant fan. I haven’t used the latest version of Mac OS X or a recent distribution of Linux on a regular basis, so I can’t make an informed comparison with those operating systems, but when compared to Windows XP on a relatively new computer, it’s no contest. Vista SP1 is the winner.
*Disclaimer: Your mileage may vary. I have friends who happily used Windows ME for years with no trouble while I seem to make all operating systems crash. For best results, apply to new hardware, don’t install random software from the Web, and keep things as simple as reasonable. Unlike me.