History repeating? Recalling the Vista 'upgrade'

With Microsoft's Windows 7 beta all the rage, it's easy to forget the Vista operating-system purgatory that many people were stuck in.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read

While much of the media is tripping over itself to mark the Second Coming of Windows (aka the Windows 7 beta), I am recalling the First Install of Windows Vista.

Although I have been running Vista without major incident since January of 2008, the initial switch in August of 2007 consigned me immediately to my own private Vista hell. Let's hope that Microsoft makes the upgrade to Windows 7 easier this time.

In a personal blog post written in August 2007, I wrote: "As more people experience the fiasco that is Windows Vista, I thought I would pile on. With trepidation, I upgraded to Windows Vista. My instincts were dead-on."

The upgrade from Windows XP went far beyond the typical upgrade woes: "I can handle the usual driver problems. But the last straw was a paid call to Microsoft that lasted four hours. I know that it lasted four hours because I remember being jolted out of the stupor of my support call purgatory by the phrase, "Thank you for being so patient over the last four hours." (For about two of the four hours, the Microsoft support person was remotely controlling my computer, and I was not present for much of that time.)"

Ordinarily, calling Microsoft for paid support is unthinkable, but at that time, I had little choice. "I had wasted so much time trying to configure Vista to work with some level of stability on my network that I just couldn't afford the additional time to figure it out on my own," I wrote. "Just so you don't think I'm an idiot, the Microsoft 'expert' had just as much trouble trying to solve my myriad problems as I did. In short, he was stumped."

In trying to think of ways to describe Vista at that time, I came up with my own code name for the program: Molasses. "The computer still hung in various situations and, to appropriate a phrase used by someone else, was like molasses. Also, as pointed out by fellow sufferers, going into standby is a crap shoot: the odds are 50-50 that you'll see the Windows desktop again. Vista seems almost ingenious at finding ways to hang, besides being just slow (I won't go into my docking-station woes)."

Reboots were excruciatingly slow. "Installing the constant parade of updates, which usually require a reboot, from various software providers can, alone, be excruciating, but Vista pushes this beyond the pain threshold. On my corporate Hewlett-Packard client (a presumably stable platform used in Fortune 500 companies across the United States), I can sometimes reboot Vista without incident, but more often than not, it goes into a 10-minute reboot holding pattern (with absolutely no indication from Vista about what it's doing)."

I had no idea what Vista was doing: "It may actually be using processor cycles to do something necessary, but you would never know it."

Granted, there were a few lucky people out there who upgraded with few problems. But I would submit that these few lucky souls used Vista on a relatively simple, straightforward workstation. Anything more complex--e.g. an IIS web server and a wireless network with a windows 2003 file server--and things could take on the consistency of molasses.