Vista myths and reality

CNET’s inclusion of Vista on a list of top ten terrible tech products has drawn some attention. Here’s the blurb:

Its incompatibility with hardware, its obsessive requirement of human interaction to clear security dialogue box warnings and its abusive use of hated DRM, not to mention its general pointlessness as an upgrade, are just some examples of why this expensive operating system earns the final place in our terrible tech list.

Fair? Let’s have a look:

  • Incompatibility with hardware

Not fair. I don’t think Vista is worse in this respect than any other new operating system. I have used Vista from day one and my only outright failure is an aged Umax scanner – that’s across several desktops and laptops.

  • Obsessive requirement of human interaction to clear security dialogue box warnings

Not fair. This is about UAC, right? Which you can turn off if you want. But you won’t see these dialogues often – only if you install software, perform admin tasks, or run badly designed applications like, say, LG PC Suite (I’ve suffered from this one recently).

In all cases UAC is working as designed. After all, the purpose of UAC is not just immediate security, but to force app developers to design apps that do not undermine Windows security.

  • Abusive use of hated DRM

Not fair. I’ve not run into any DRM issues with Vista. Some claim that Vista performance problems are DRM-related but I’m sceptical.

  • General pointlessness as an upgrade

Now this is a tough one. What is the benefit of Vista? Then again, what can you do in XP that you cannot do in Windows 2000? It’s certainly open to argument; but I don’t agree. I prefer Vista; I regard it as more secure; and there are a number of small details that I like, which together add up to a better experience.

What Crave didn’t say

Despite the above, I do have some Vista gripes.

One is performance. The spinning bagel – I see it often. The Windows Explorer loading thermometer – you know, the green bar – what kind of nonsense is that?

Second, audio. This matters to me. And here’s a telling comment to my blog post:

I’m a pro audio user with thousands of dollars invested in MOTU audio interfaces and many years of recording experience. For most of us who use our computers to record, Vista has been a painful lesson. Often we need to run much smaller audio buffers to get lower latency than gamers or home theatre enthusiasts. This is something that was no problem on a well tuned XP machine. Unfortunately Vista has proved itself to be a very poor alternative. Even pro audio apps that register with MMCSS to guarantee CPU time to critical audio threads perform poorly. My feeling is that the move of most of the audio driver components from kernel mode to user mode is at the root of the issues we’re seeing. This move was made to reduce the likelihood that a bad audio driver could cause a BSOD. The trade-off however, has been much worse audio performance at low latency, regardless of how much money you spend on top-shelf audio interfaces.

Third, app compatibility. This is the crux of the matter. Microsoft designed Vista to make life difficult for apps that trample all over the Windows security model. To mitigate this it then has a bunch of stuff that tries to make life better for those apps, but which may cause further problems.

You can think of this as a battle for the future of Windows. If Vista wins, then the bad apps gradually get replaced by good apps, and in a few years the compatibility stuff will become irrelevant and life will be better for Windows users.

Alternatively, if the bad apps win, then users just revert to XP or turn off UAC so that the bad apps continue to work right. What is the way forward for Windows then? I do not know who will win this contest.

Finally, let’s acknowledge that Microsoft put a ton of energy into Vista that has not resulted in any immediate benefit to the user. One energy sink was the years wasted going down the wrong path prior to the notorious reset. The other energy sink is all this UAC and compatibility stuff which makes sense long-term, but not as a “wow! that’s better” experience. Possibly DRM is a third example.

Bottom line: Vista is not as bad as its detractors make out, but not as good as it should be. I know, I’ve said this before.

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4 comments to Vista myths and reality

  • Nico

    Tim, I really apreciate your balanced points of view. But to be honest this article is confusing. From the points that you mention alone, I would draw the conclusion that Vista is useless.

    You mention disabling UAC as a solution to “obsesive requirement of human interaction…” but later you say that you prefer Vista because it’s more secure. Can we have it both ways? Also you say there are serious performance problems. Doesn’t it make the upgrade pointless?

    Audio and DirectX issues aren’t a matter of compatibility?

    About DRM, I don’t think it’s just a matter of degraded performance. DRM is also about who controls my computer. In this field, if Vista wins, then the good apps gradually get replaced by bad apps.

  • Tim

    Thanks for the comments.

    You mention disabling UAC as a solution to “obsesive requirement of human interaction…” but later you say that you prefer Vista because it’s more secure. Can we have it both ways?

    Personally I leave UAC on. However, you can make Vista more like XP by disabling it, improving both perf. and compatibility. So it is a point worth making – if UAC is the problem, you can choose to disable it rather than downgrading the whole OS.

    Also you say there are serious performance problems. Doesn’t it make the upgrade pointless?

    Depends if you think the benefits are worth it. Sorry, there aren’t any absolute answers here.

    Audio and DirectX issues aren’t a matter of compatibility?

    If the “pro audio” comment is right, it is more about the consequences of moving audio components outside the kernel, not really a hardware compatibility issue. I don’t have a definitive answer unfortunately. I haven’t personally had any problems with DirectX.

    About DRM, I don’t think it’s just a matter of degraded performance. DRM is also about who controls my computer. In this field, if Vista wins, then the good apps gradually get replaced by bad apps.

    I don’t follow you here. Which good apps? Which bad apps? Which bit of DRM? I am not trying to make some generic point about the merits or demerits of DRM – just saying I don’t think DRM components are responsible for, for example, compatibility or performance problems in Vista. Some people think they are, but their case has not yet convinced me.

    Tim

  • Nico

    I did try to make a generic point about DRM: it is wrong and any application that implements it is bad for me. I don’t want them and much less deep inside the OS.

    Tried to find the link about DX10 problems but no luck.

    I still think that Vista should be judged with full features set. If you disable new features, the upgrade is useless for the customer.

  • Tim

    I still think that Vista should be judged with full features set. If you disable new features, the upgrade is useless for the customer.

    I agree to some extent, but the ability to customize and configure Vista is also a feature.

    Tim