Windows XP or Vista?

There are two main types of Windows users in the world. Which kind are you: Windows XP or Windows Vista? The recent news that testers at Devil Mountain Software found Microsoft's beta of Windows XP Service Pack 3 to be 10% faster than XP SP2 has pushed me over the edge.

I honestly find no advantage to Windows Vista, and there are some downsides. For example, no matter what Vista advocates say, Vista requires Vista-level hardware. Pentium M/Centrino single-core notebook hardware just doesn't run it well. Pentium 4 desktop hardware runs it better, but usually that class of hardware needs a video upgrade. I've personally seen instabilities with the shipping version of the Vista code: applications freezing, Windows services slowing to a crawl, even OS crashes. I'm not saying everyone is having these problems, but I see no real improvement over Windows XP. While the architecture of Vista is a little better, Vista adds a lot of overhead to support quite a bit of new and sometimes questionable functionality. Vista is a lot more complex than Windows XP. It's probably more secure, but it still needs a raft of third-party security software and hardware. I don't trust its anti-malware protection or its firewall. And it doesn't have an onboard antivirus product.

I have five Windows Vista installations. I'm reducing that number to two, one of which will be in a dual-boot with XP. The Windows Vista installation I have on my main Windows machine was a Vista upgrade install, and it's the least stable. That's why it's getting fresh dual-boot clean installs. The other Vista machine I'm keeping stays in the office, where I don't use it frequently. If I need other Vista boxes for testing, I'll set them up as I need them.

The rest of my Windows hardware will shortly revert to pristine Windows XP installations. Windows XP is a mature operating system that's not trying to be something that it's not. The user experience is better than Vista's. There's no "reduced functionality mode" that will inadvertently trip when Microsoft's WGA/SPP servers have an outage again.

I hope to test a later release of Windows Vista Service Pack 1, but based on my hands-on use of the first widely distributed beta code and performance testing also conducted by Devil Mountain Software, Vista SP1 is no faster than the original shipping version of the OS. Devil Mountain's report of XP SP3 being faster than SP2 is very intriguing, though. I've been using XP for more than six years, and I'd be perfectly happy to continue using it for another six if Microsoft continued to support it properly.

Until they build something better than Windows XP, I see no reason to switch. As it is packaged today, Windows Vista is not that OS.

Microsoft needs to release a new version of Vista that doesn't stratify the features (why does CD and DVD burning happen only on the Home versions of the OS, for example?). It needs to unload some of the crap it padded Vista with. And it needs to rethink the user experience with respect to functionalities like UAC and SPP. Enterprises aren't buying Vista because it offers very little advantage for them, and end users aren't clamoring for it. Of all companies, Microsoft should know that end-user desire for an OS has a huge effect on how rapidly it's adopted. The company seems to have forgotten its roots.

I have no doubt that Microsoft could turn Vista around if it wanted to. But it would have to own up to the idea that, with its Vista product and business strategy, it's been wrong-headed in a number of ways. I'm not so sure that the current management, as Bill Gates continues to edge toward the door, has the technical vision to make the right choices.

Update: Vista SP1 Dumping the 'Kill Switch' Microsoft is showing one or two small signs of coming around. First it admitted that the WGA breakdown last August that caused thousands of Vista users to wind up being pegged as software pirates when they couldn't activate their copies of Vista was, in fact, an "outage." The company had denied that terminology earlier. Now, Microsoft is eliminating reduced functionality mode -- more commonly referred to as Vista's "Kill Switch." This change will be implemented by Vista Service Pack 1, which is expected to ship in the first quarter of next year.

Bottom line, though, this is a welcome change, but it doesn't materially change the user experience at all. Most of us will hopefully never come face to face with reduced functionality mode. And until we actually test what Vista does instead of the kill switch, I'm not prepared to embrace. The Windows Vista RC1 that I'm looking at now still has the kill switch in it.

This blog post was originally published in Scot's Newsletter Blog, my personal blog.

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