Putting Windows Vista on trial

Is Windows Vista ready for prime time?

In the September 25th issue of the WXPnews newsletter, the editor, Deb Schinder wrote an article (Don't Find Vista Guilty Until Proven Innocent) in which she attacked the people attacking Windows Vista. "In way too many cases, people condemn operating systems or applications that they've never even used..." she says.

That's me. Here in this blog, I recently advised that anyone buying a new Windows based computer, should opt for XP as opposed to Vista .

Certainly, Deb's point sounds reasonable, but, if a tree falls in the woods, no one has to have been there to attest to the fact that it made a noise. Even without hands-on Vista experience, it is still fair to say that:

  1. Vist is less debugged than Windows XP
  2. Vista is less compatible with hardware than Windows XP
  3. Vista is less compatible with software than Windows XP

In addition to bug fixes, Windows XP's maturity includes changes to the inevitable design mistakes Microsoft always makes with a new version of Windows. For example, the initial version of XP had the firewall and the installation of bug fixes both turned off by default. Now, the XP firewall has been improved, it's on by default and so too are automatic updates.

Did Microsoft make a design mistake with Vista's UACC? While reasonable people may disagree over this, there is no doubt that there are design mistakes in Vista. I don't need to have used Vista and make my own list of design problems to know they exist and that frustration awaits for many. With Windows XP most of us have gotten used to it's quirks.

Regarding hardware compatibility, Deb says "...don't blame Vista when peripheral makers fail to provide drivers for their hardware components." While some may frame the fact that Vista is less compatible with hardware as an attack on Vista, it isn't. Nonetheless, it argues in favor of choosing Windows XP. To someone buying a new computer, where the fault lies is irrelevant.

Even while defending Vista, Deb points out "... there are some good reasons not to upgrade to Vista. If you have older hardware that's not supported and you don't want to buy new peripherals or a new machine, or if you have applications that won't run on Vista, that's a perfectly good reason to stick with XP."

Which leads to point three, software incompatibility. Here too, no hands-on Vista experience is needed to know that after six years on the market, all Windows software is compatible with XP, while some is not yet Vista compatible (and some will never be). Even if all the software you need to run now is Vista compatible, you may want or need a program in the future that's not supported on Vista. And people who are not "techies" may have other things to do with their time than research the dozens of applications on their computers for Vista compatibility.

Is the new Vista user interface better? Easier? That's a matter of opinion. Certainly everyone agrees it's pretty. But the user interface change means that time needs to be invested in learning it. At this point, people have to ask themselves whether going with a Mac might be a better choice for a new computer. If you're going to learn a different way of working, why not opt for an operating system with few malware problems?

And here too, non-techies may not have the time or inclination to deal with a new interface. So even without criticizing Vista, the familiarity of XP argues in its favor for many.

Finally, Deb says to "... remember that XP went through its growing pains, too." It certainly did. But, whereas she sees this as defending Vista, I see it as an argument in favor of the now mature XP.

While Deb might condemn me for writing about Vista with little hands-on experience under my belt, I don't think that issues such as startup times, UACC, notebook battery life or the Aero interface should be the only factors in judging Vista. I'm trying to look at the bigger picture. As it stands, Vista is too new to recommend, especially for a computer you depend on.

Like the original Saturday Night Live cast, it's not ready for prime time.

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About the author

    Michael Horowitz wrote his first computer program in 1973 and has been a computer nerd ever since. He spent more than 20 years working in an IBM mainframe (MVS) environment. He has worked in the research and development group of a large Wall Street financial company, and has been a technical writer for a mainframe software company.

    He teaches a large range of self-developed classes, the underlying theme being Defensive Computing. Michael is an independent computer consultant, working with small businesses and the self-employed. He can be heard weekly on The Personal Computer Show on WBAI.

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