Friday, April 25, 2008

Bogus Vista

If actions speak louder than words, then Microsoft is admitting that Windows Vista sucks without actually saying that Vista sucks.

LOUVAIN-LA-NEUVE, Belgium -- Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer offered a glimmer of hope yesterday to fans of the company's Windows XP operating system, saying the company may reconsider its decision to stop selling it soon.

But Mr. Ballmer was adamant that most people who buy PCs today buy them with XP's successor, Vista.

"That's the statistical truth," he told reporters at a news conference at Louvain-La-Neuve University. "If customer feedback varies, we can always wake up smarter."

Let me speak from experience about this. In the past, I was never one to get excited about new operating systems. I remember when Windows 95 was released. I remember how all of the Microsoft users rushed to get their hands on the new OS as soon as they could. Most of all, I remember the furor over Win95's propensity to crash and burn with the greatest of ease. Bill Gates and Microsoft were a huge joke at the time. Things didn't improve until the release of Windows 98 a few years later. Microsoft was a bit more careful about flooding the market with that OS. Users were much more careful about installing an unproven product on their machines. Same thing with subsequent releases Windows 2000, Windows NT and Windows XP. Microsoft got smart and retained the lion's share of the computing market.

As eager as I was to get onto the Internet, it would be a while before I had the means to go online. I purchased my first new PC from Dell in 2000. It was a relatively cheap, low memory, low storage, adequate performance machine that ran Windows 98 SE. I had no problems with the system, aside from anything that I caused on my own. (Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies.) The computer lasted a good five years before entering its death throes and finally succumbing about a year ago. By that time, it had become our secondary home computer, having been supplanted by a much higher performing machine a couple of years ago.

The New Computer, as it was then known, ran on Windows XP. I deliberately waited a couple of years after making up my mind to buy it. Having witnessed the misery of the Win95 user, I didn't want to take a chance on another brand new unproven OS. It still runs quite well and I am happy with it.

My Frau started talking about getting her own computer, preferably a laptop, so the whole family wouldn't have to take turns sharing one PC. Sensible. So I rewarded her sensibility by getting her a nice new laptop. Like its two predecessors, the laptop was a Dell purchase. Not only did it come with the good old reliable XP operating system, but there was an option to upgrade FOR FREE! to the the brand new Windows Vista in a couple of months. I thought that was just swell. For the first time ever, we can have the newest and best operating system that Windows has to offer, almost to the very day of its release. So I signed up for the optional upgrade to Vista.

I should have quit when I was ahead.

The installation process was an absolute mess. I literally slept through most of it. It was still running when I woke up, but presented me with a number of problems. Some XP applications were not Vista compatible. Other parts of the old system were having trouble making the transfer to the new. When the process was complete, the desktop looked nice. That was a start. Then things really started to go pear-shaped.

Armed with the knowledge that new operating systems are constantly being checked for bugs, I set the computer to automatically download all new Vista updates. So, of course, the updates them selves were full of bugs. After three months of Vista, I had to do some amateur tech support in order to restore the system to a safe point in time before the offending updates had installed. ("Amateur tech support" is my way of saying "find a computer that works and type the error message verbatim into Google". Works every time.) I stopped the automatic download of Vista updates, too. I was spending more time working on my wife's computer than she was working with it. No need to download more bugs onto the machine courtesy of Microsoft itself.

Other problems popped up for which we had no solution. Outlook stopped working. Then it started working again. Then MS Word stopped working, never to return to the land of the living. It was a veritable comedy of errors. My wife once attempted to call Microsoft tech support and ended up having a very frustrating exchange with a rude bastard at a call center in India. She'll never do that again. (I took care of her problem using the aforementioned Google tech support method.) The system began suffering frequent crashes and I had to hear about it every day.

A minor household tragedy that took place a few months ago turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Without going into details, I will just say that the computer stopped functioning. I didn't want her to go without, so I bought her a new computer for the second year in a row. Another laptop, physically identical to the first one, was my gift to her. Not wanting to relive the previous year's nightmare, I made sure that it ran on Windows XP. Since XP is no longer state of the art, I bought it from Dell for slightly more than half of what I paid for the other one -- and with double the gigabytes of storage. It runs happily. My wife is happy with it. That makes me happy.

At the same time, I decided to turn my XP over to the kids and get myself a nice new desktop. Vista had been out for a year, so it couldn't possibly have any bugs left undetected, right? Besides, I was buying a brand new computer that didn't need a system overhaul. It was a Vista virgin.

Sure enough, it didn't show any signs of performance problems -- initially. The desktop display looked great, and everything ran smoothly and quickly. Then I started to install software on the computer than did not come with the machine. It seems as though some applications do not like running at the same time as others. Firefox started crashing. My genealogy program is the slowest thing I've used since I was puttering away on an old 486 back in 1996. It is also prone to frequent crashes when running with Firefox or Internet Explorer.

That's bogus. I can run a nearly unlimited number of applications on Windows XP and not have any problems. Try to run 3 or 4 simultaneously on Vista, and system performance becomes an issue. I still have confidence that all of Vista's bugs will be wiped out over the next few months. But there is a part of me that wishes I had gone with XP again.

Not long after acquiring this machine I learned that Windows intended to stop selling XP. Why, as Steve Ballmer says in the above quote, do more people buy Vista than XP? Maybe it's because marketing is pushing Vista to the exclusion of its superior predecessor. Maybe because Microsoft is encouraging vendors like Dell to make it harder to buy XP systems. It would be nice if Microsoft kept XP on the market for at least another year before scrapping it entirely. Getting rid of XP now completely ignores the concerns of a large portion of Microsoft's consumer market.

In other words, I've been loyal to Microsoft for years due to the high quality of the company's product. If Vista continues to suck, and rivals such as Apple can compete with Dell's prices, I may just have to switch brands for any future purchases. There are many more users, I am sure, who feel the same way. And Apple knows it.

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