Is Windows Vista a Train Wreck?

November 19th, 2007

When I read a story the other day quoting someone from Microsoft almost begging people to give Vista a try, I had to come away with the feeling that they were struggling to right a sinking ship.

Of course, it’s also true that you can’t call Vista an abject failure. All right, people haven’t been lining up to buy retail upgrade kits, as they’ve done with Mac OS X Leopard, but it’s also true that millions upon millions of new PCs ship with various and sundry versions of Vista. So you really can’t say that it’s become a money loser for Microsoft. In fact, it has been estimated that their profit margin from operating systems is in the range of 80%, so it’s a win-win situation.

But they can’t say the user experience has been anything near as good as they hoped for. There are loads of incompatibilities with peripherals and you need extremely powerful hardware to deliver all those fancy 3D visual effects. That, of course, depends on whether Vista users really care all that much about eye-candy, of course.

The greatest insult to Microsoft, however, is the fact that PC makers are still letting their customers downgrade to Windows XP, and its shelf life has been extended for months to allow that to continue to occur.

Now on a practical basis, a sale is a sale, and Microsoft is still showing stellar profits, even if a lot of them come from older product.

I also believe they’re really trying to make Vista better. Just last week, they released updates that supposedly make Vista use note-book batteries more efficiently, and address some USB bugs and other issues. But that’s an awfully long time to address serious issues of this sort.

In comparison, Leopard shipped October 26, and less than three weeks later, there was Apple with a 10.5.1 update with lots of changes and security patches. A file copying bug, involving moving a file to another partition, drive, or network share, was evidently also repaired on the process, and the current reaction appears to be pretty good. Yes, there are the usual number of random conflicts with something-or-other reported on the Mac troubleshooting sites, but no significant trends or major new defects appear to have emerged so far.

While I realize that many of you are disappointed with Leopard’s higher CPU requirements, it is nowhere near as massive as Windows Vista. Those ubiquitous $399 PCs have an awful time with it, and are stuck with a sharply-reduced interface. But does it end up as a warmed-over version of XP? Probably not, but I can see folks feeling that way when year-old PCs exhibit performance limitations trying to deliver the full Aero interface effect.

Understand, I want to be fair to Microsoft. After all, their operating system powers over 90% of the world’s personal computers, and major businesses depend on them. If they fail to deliver a reliable product, the computers that manage bank transactions, medical records and other critical data cease to function reliably. Many millions of people suffer, or end up paying higher prices to cover the cost of repairs.

As I have suggested in yesterday’s commentary, maybe Microsoft is losing its focus in its struggles to complete with Google in delivering ad-sponsored search and other Web services. Once again, there is an emerging rumor that Microsoft is hell-bent on acquiring Yahoo somehow, to magically increase its share of the search market to 30%.

The big question, of course, is whether Yahoo would be amenable to such a takeover. What’s more, how would the company be impacted? Even if such a sale passes all the regulatory hurdles, would Yahoo’s key executives and engineers simply jump ship? Would they just go to Google, assuming they could gain employment there?

Even if such a merger were to succeed in large part, would it really help Microsoft take a huge jump in improving its Web services share? Or would the maneuver end up simply diluting both brands? How, for example, would the combined company manage synergy, assuming such a thing even existed?

Based on some casual research, it appears that most of Yahoo’s servers are running FreeBSD and Linux operating systems. Clearly Microsoft would prefer they run some version of Windows Server instead, but that’s not something that can be accomplished so easily, when you’re dealing with thousands of boxes spread around the world. The other question is whether such a move would generate a massive rebellion on the part of Yahoo’s programming and IT staff.

Even if an operating system transplant were to happen, it would probably be a gradual migration, with no guarantee of success. It’s not as if Windows Server is easier to manage.

Meantime, Microsoft is laboring over its first Vista service pack, now in beta testing and due early next year. Even if it does arrive on time, will it contain all the essential fixes that will change the skeptical minds of IT people who are, according to published reports, still reluctant to deploy Vista in a production environment?

Now over time, resource needs won’t seem as severe, as more and more PCs are upgraded with newer, Vista-savvy hardware. But will Microsoft have to go back to the drawing boards, and rush up Vista’s successor, or fix what’s broken now before Vista can be declared a real — and not imagined — success?

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13 Responses to “Is Windows Vista a Train Wreck?”

  1. shane blyth says:

    Vista SP! is not a service pack at all but simply all the little updates so far. So if you have downloaded all the updates to this point then SP1 adds nothing. People are expecting a speed bump and one site I am on there is a huge discussion about it (as this site runs Ableton Live software which runs on Mac and PC)
    Someone ask what to get XP or Vista.. The poll is about 50 to 2 in favor of XP as Vista is a slug and they see no speed increase coming. The 2 guys that rave about Vista have high end systems with 3 and 4 gigs of Ram.
    Vista will win out in the end cause all PC’s will come with it MS users will have to buy it and the spec of the machines will slowly grow and grow which makes PC manufacturers happy. Just wait another 12 months and see.. MS has plenty of time and as the higher spec systems arrive and become the norm people will be happier and stop complaining.

  2. Dana Sutton says:

    I still see plenty of ads for peecees with XP installed. It’s been too long since Vista has been introduced for these to be units that were in the production/distribution pipeline when Vista was released. Presumably some manufacturers and sellers are catering to what they perceive as a public demand NOT to have Vista.

  3. shane blyth says:

    Yes some manufacturers are being allowed to put XP on still and I read somewhere earlier today that they are having that extended for approximately another 3 months. So what happens then ? I am surprised that as soon as Vista came out that XP wasn’t totally removed from sale by MS

  4. Andy Carolan says:

    My laptop is Vista Compatible, however, I decided to stick with XP as I simply need my system to work. From what contact ive had with Vista and its users, it would appear that it was simply released as a product that was not ready for consumer consumption with many issues still needing to be addressed.

  5. Tom B says:

    “Based on some casual research, it appears that most of Yahoo!’s servers are running FreeBSD and Linux operating systems. Clearly Microsoft would prefer they run some version of Windows Server instead, but that’s not something that can be accomplished so easily, when you’re dealing with thousands of boxes spread around the world. The other question is whether such a move would generate a massive rebellion on the part of Yahoo!’s programming and IT staff.”

    There would be a huge hit, in terms of security and performance.

    Hopefully this acquisition won’t happen; I’ve had a Yahoo E-mail account for about a decade. Hotmail and Outlook prove MSFT is incapable of managing anything as complicated as E-mail. I’d have shift 100% to GMail. I’d have to get used to Google Finance, which still isn’t as good an Yahoo. Finance.

    I HOPE they’d spin off Flickr– it’s the best Yahoo service of all, and I have a huge stake in it.

    And they wouldn’t reap the expected ad revenues. People wouldn’t have “Yahoo” as their home page anymore; thus, where would the revenue come from?

  6. Paul Greatbatch says:

    While the most avid Windows fan will not say that Vista is a train wreck, they would at least have to acknowledge that it’s sitting at the crossing.

  7. Scott says:

    My experience with Vista has been very positive. It shipped with an HP Slimline desktop PC I bought to replace an aging G4 Mac. The package cost approx. $600US and runs Vista Home Premium, with Aero, just fine.

    Vista is proving to be a perfectly functional system and has been very stable and very compatible. And yes, it offers some tangible, practical advantages over the Mac platform. All of my peripherals run without a hitch. Here’s a list…

    Canon printer/scanner/copier
    Canon digital camera
    LaCie external HD
    APC backup power supply
    Kensington trackball
    Griffin PowerMate controller
    Apple Airport Extreme router

    All of these devices were recognized by Vista, the necessary drivers installed without issue and stability has been near 100 percent.

    Granted, installing Vista on an existing PC might not be a great idea. The hardware requirements do exclude many working computers from the Vista club. And of course, there are the usual issues with drivers and updates and such. I’m an individual user so I won’t comment on any networking/sharing concerns.

    Your mileage may vary.

  8. John Davis says:

    “The gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t coming.”


    John Davis

  9. Scott, just so our readers know: We’re not an “I love to trash Microsoft” site. We’re trying to focus on reality, and I’m happy your situation has proven to be reliable. In the end, that’s what it’s all about. If you can run the applications you need with stability and security, that’s just great.


  10. shane blyth says:

    scott nice to know it is working fine for you. often we only here of the hassles
    Vista of course would be hard to compare to an aging g4 of course.
    whats the spec on the vista and what are you mainly doing on it ?


  11. “The gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t coming.”


    John Davis

    It crashed 10 miles back 😀


  12. Andrew says:

    Seems both Apple and MS are doing more quality control prior to release these days. I remember having some issues with Tiger on my PowerBook when first released, and of course had issues with XP and even 2000 when those systems hit the market.

    So far, both Leopard and Vista have been easy to install (on existing hardware), stable and fast on my admittedly modern hardware (C2Duo MacBook and Lenovo ThinkPad T60p). Other than utility type applications (which every OS release seems to break on both platforms) I’ve had absolutely ZERO application incompatibilitlies and very few peripheral or driver issues (buggy IDE controller driver used to BSOD Vista on a Toshiba laptop, fixed with a June driver update).

    Both systems so far add a lot of features and improve the user experience compared to their predecessors, and while Leopard is far cooler than Vista and better implemented (it is a Mac, after all), neither one interferes in my work at all and in all honesty, it makes almost no difference which I use for about 90% of the work I do.

  13. Scott says:

    >>the spec on the vista and what are you mainly doing on it>>

    Nothing high-end, really. It’s not a gamer’s rig by any means – dual core Athlon, 2 GB memory, 320 GB hard drive, Wi-Fi, surround sound support and all the usual ports. It does have Nvidia graphics with 128 MB of VRAM. The machine is rather compact by PC standards and quiet as well. It has a number of easy access, front mounted ports and slots, and the bundled keyboard is functional as well.

    As for my use, it’s pretty much mainstream. Office 2007 – Word, Excel, OneNote – take up much of my time. That’s a very nice package. Speed, stability, compatibility – it runs rings around the Mac version. I’m guessing that it would run equally well under Boot Camp on an Intel Mac. Word and Excel have a clean and uncluttered design. Has anyone seen the preview of Office 2008? What an eyesore of an interface!!

    I also run QuickTime Pro, iTunes, IrfanView (think GraphicConverter), Firefox and Thunderbird.

    Oh, my trusty iBook G4 still runs well under Tiger. It’s used mostly for wireless internet access. I’ve been trying out the iWork package but it just doesn’t thrill me. Numbers has been very unstable – for whatever the reason. It gobbles up (sorry!) too much screen space as well. Pages is OK, but I have little need for its design features. From a word processing standpoint, Word gets the nod.

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