The Trouble with Vista

It isn't the features you can see in Vista, or the lack thereof -- it's the priority shift at Microsoft's core

When you make a decision, what sways you -- cogent rationalization or what your gut tells you?

I'll tell you what I believe in: real-world, hands-on research. And lots of it. I want to know every facet of a new product or technology before I judge it. I want to try it for myself. Run it through different situations. Measure how it reacts to different conditions, and record how I and others react to those things.

This doesn't work so well for cookware, mobile phones or large-screen TVs, because you won't get the real-world scenario in the showroom. But it works for automobiles pretty well if you're persistent about getting a decent test drive or two. And it especially works for computer software if you're a beta tester. My first copy of Windows Vista came to me in late 2003, and I can't even count the number of builds I tested before the gold code arrived in late November. I have spent hundreds of hours testing Vista.

In the end, though, my decision arrives from my gut. I do the objective and subjective research and wait to see what my unseen, unknown jury says. It's something like a Magic 8 Ball, except that unlike the 8 Ball, I've come to trust it.

The only problem is that even after all that research on Vista, my inner 8 Ball keeps saying, "Reply hazy, try again." How could that be?

What's Wrong with Vista?

At least 80% of the changes in Windows Vista are positive. Microsoft took the extra time to smooth over some of the speed bumps noticeable in the prerelease builds of the operating system. You can't fault the software giant for lack of effort with Vista's development process.

The graphics improvements, both in terms of hardware support and how the software takes advantage of that hardware, change the user interface in scores of subtle and overt ways, all of them positive. The single best advantage of Vista is that ergonomically, it's easier and just plain more satisfying -- at the gut level -- to use.

On the other hand, nothing about Vista is truly innovative or compelling. With the exception of security (and we don't know yet whether Microsoft's security changes will be enough to significantly change the Windows experience), there's no transformational, gotta-have-it feature in Vista.

This is why computer software reviewers, though mostly positive, have struggled to put their fingers on exactly why they're positive. To use the '90s vernacular, there's no killer feature; yet for the most part, most people will prefer Vista over XP once they've had a chance to live with Vista for a while.

Make no mistake, either: Windows Vista will be a success. Two years from now, it may be a roaring success. Even Windows ME -- the most embarrassingly uninspired version of Windows since Windows 2.0 -- was a relative financial success for Microsoft. Vista makes Windows ME look like somebody's "Hello World" experiment.

So how come Vista doesn't pass my gut check? Vista has become the version of Windows I just can't get excited about. I was far more excited about Windows ME because I hated it. I don't even hate Vista. I'm just supremely tired of it.

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