Why Windows Vista Failed, and why you have no one to blame but yourself - Part 3

This is the conclusion of the three part series about Windows Vista, for parts 1 and 2, click here and here.

In 2001, Windows XP was released to the world. At the time, it was Microsoft's best operating system release. Windows Vista improved on it in nearly every way. Let me say that again. Windows Vista improved on it in nearly every way. The biggest problem with Vista was the high barrier to entry, however, it was no more higher than the barrier to entry Windows XP faced in 2001. As I wrote previously, we were spoiled by lower hardware costs, and the fact that running Windows XP on cheap hardware from 2006 was akin to running Windows 95 on hardware from 2001. It could be run very well on very cheap hardware. In 2009, pretty much every computer except for the netbook class computer can run Windows Vista very well, and this is where Vista truly shines.

Many of the technologies that make Windows Vista so good are beyond the scope of this article, so I will concentrate on the features that the end user will see.

The first, and most useful, is start menu search. Windows XP had the add-on Wnidows Desktop Search software for years, however it was slow, not integrated into the OS, and in my opinion, just plain not useful. In my experience, it actually slows down a Windows XP PC quite a bit. Windows Desktop Search 4.0 for Windows XP did address some of those issues, but the simple fact is that Windows XP was never meant to have a built in quick desktop search application, and using an application like Windows Desktop Search or Google Desktop really highlights that deficiency. Windows Vista was designed with the instant search built in. This instant search, appearing in the start menu, allows you to quickly find applications, documents, even specific email if you use outlook. simply hit the start menu, or press the windows key on your keyboard, and start typing. Usually the first few characters of the application is enough for what you are looking for to appear. Type "word" and Microsoft Word will be the first result. You can even search for a particular document, and open it directly. Start menu search has many more functions, but at it's core it is used as a fast way to launch a document. Ever since my first experience with the beta of Windows Vista way back in early 2005, it has been my preferred way of launching applications. I truthfully rarely even go into "All Programs" in Windows anymore, as start menu search is a much faster and more efficient way of getting to where I need to go.

Speaking of the start menu, it received an overhaul for Windows Vista as well. Gone is the word "Start" present in every version of windows since late 1994. Also gone is the multi-column all programs menu. Instead going into all programs places the menu in a scrolling list in the left side of the start menu. As someone who regularly dealt with 2, 3, sometimes 4 columns of applications in Windows XP, this change is welcome for the few times I need to go into all programs. Other changes are more minor, but appreciated, including more streamlined access to the networking section of Windows, and more.

The second feature, which is arguably the single most important feature of Windows Vista, and remains integral in Windows 7, is User Account Control(UAC). Windows Vista represented a fundamental shift in how Windows handles user accounts and security. In every Windows version up to, and including, Windows XP, a normal user ran as a system administrator, meaning that the user has unrestricted access to the computer, and can make any change without prompt. The "limited account" option that existed in XP was an attempt to stop this, but in reality the limited account was so restricted a user could not really do many day-to-day applications with Windows. This method of user accounts remains the single biggest security vulnerability in Windows XP, even after 3 service packs and hundreds of security updates. Many types of malware take easy advantage of the fact that that they can make changes to Windows, install applications and services, and generally have their run of the operating system. Windows Vista changed all that. Instead of operating with unlimited permissions, all accounts, even computer administrators, operate under the principle of least privilege. This means that a user runs as a limited user, and when a change is made that requires administrator access, UAC will display a prompt. A computer administrator may simply click continue, and a standard user must enter an administrator password to continue. This ensures that no operating system changes are made without the user's knowledge, and any changes that are made are done so as a direct result of user interaction. This is the security model that UNIX and linux based operating systems have been based off for decades, and what Apple as adopted for OS X, which is UNIX based, back in 2001. UAC in Vista is not perfect, and many people feel that it prompts too many times. This is partially true, however, many people turned UAC off because of this, and they really shouldn't. UAC is the biggest piece of the security puzzle in Vista, and while turning off may add some convenience to using Windows Vista, it is much more open to attacks. After Windows Vista is set up, and most of the users applications are installed, UAC is much less obtrusive, because 99% of the day to day operations of Windows do not require elevated permissions. UAC is also much improved in Windows 7, with the same security as in Vista, but with far fewer prompts.

Windows Vista also introduced Aero. The Aero desktop is the visible component of the Windows Presentation Foundation, which was a complete re-write of the Windows User Interface. the new UI design allows for Windows to use more advanced graphics effects, such as transparent windows, the "glass" look of the windows, live window previews, and new transition effects between Windows. Many skeptics of Aero in Windows Vista say it was nothing more than an attempt to make Windows Vista look "pretty" and did not offer any real benefits. On the surface, this is actually true. However, like many things in Windows Vista, the underlying system was completely re-written, and Windows Vista represented the growing pain, and Microsoft implementing a brand new system for it's user interface. The truly advanced elements possible in Aero are evident in Windows 7. Going from Windows XP, to Windows Vista, and up to Windows 7, it is very easy to see how Windows Vista is the stepping stone, and many of the advancements in Windows Vista are taken and improved upon in Windows 7.

These are just a few of the changes in Windows Vista. As I have stated, Windows Vista represents a change that was as big, if not bigger, than the leap from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. Many of the changes are good changes, and many of the changes represent brand new ideas for Microsoft. For that, Windows Vista will fall in place as a transitional operating system. Is it perfect? No. There are many things in Vista that drive me crazy. But I do not let those things detract from what is otherwise a very solid operating system from Microsoft.

If I had written this 6 months ago, Windows Vista would have gotten a 100% recommendation from me. In fact, 6 months ago, I was urging people who were considering buying a new computer, but afraid because of the stigma of Vista, to upgrade. Very few people that I know that have purchased a new PC with Windows Vista on it have told me they dislike it. Give Vista a chance, a real chance, and you will generally be surprised with how good it is. However, with the release of Windows 7 just 2 months away, there truly is no point. Buying a new PC today will come with Windows Vista, but many will come with a free upgrade to Windows 7 anyway. I have no qualms telling people to run Vista, but cannot recommend people buy a new computer right now. Wait until Windows 7, and buy a new computer with the new operating system. In many ways, it is a shame, because many people will never really know just how good Windows Vista is, and how it provided the critical stepping stone to Windows 7, which is being regarded as the best release of Windows ever. So, as you move on to Windows 7, know that at it's core, you are using the technology of Windows Vista, and working day to day with everything Vista had to offer.

Windows Vista failed, and you have no one to blame but yourself – Part 2

This is part 2 of my article about Windows Vista, and why it failed, and why it shouldn’t have.  For part one, click Here.

Author’s note:  Part 2 had originally been intended to be an article about what makes Windows Vista a good operating system. That will now be featured in part 3.

there were nearly 4.5 years between the release of Windows XP and Windows Vista.  That is an eternity in the world of technology, and because of that, many things had changed.  Windows Vista is very much a reflection of that change.

Many of the changes going from Windows XP to Windows Vista are very technical, things I will not get into in this article.  But suffice it to say, that except for the name, and the mostly familiar feel, they are very different operating systems.  Windows XP was created in the age before most people had high speed internet, before twitter, before Facebook, before Myspace.  Windows XP comes from a time before Social networking.  When XP came out, Google was not the biggest search engine in the world.  It sat at least behind AOL search.  Windows XP launched within a month of the very first iPod. In 2001, fewer than 50% of the people in North America owned a cell phone.  The 5 most popular pop music artists/groups in 2001 were, in order:  Destiny’s Child, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, ‘N Sync, and the Backstreet Boys.  America went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq between releases.  As you can see, XP seems to come from an era of our past.

In the time between Windows XP and windows Vista, many things changed.  Computers became infinitely more powerful, and less expensive.  The internet became almost as common of a utility as having a phone line.  People used their computers in an entirely different way in 2006 than they did in 2001.

With those differences, came the challenges.  With the proliferation of the internet, so too came the proliferation of security vulnerabilities.  Windows XP was actually designed in the late 1990’s.  XP was built off of Windows 2000, which actually came out in late 1999.  Windows 2000 and XP, by design, let the user do whatever they may want without their computer without any difficulty.  The reason for this is that the largest concept of security in the late 90’s revolved around someone gaining physical access to a computer to compromise it, so less attention was paid to security.  As the internet grew, more and more computers were connected.  XP’s mentality of giving a user full access to everything on the system was it’s largest downfall.  This meant that it was very, very easy for a program downloaded from the internet to compromise a computer, because it could run even without the user knowing.  There were little to no safeguards.  Windows XP, the most stable Microsoft operating system at the time, was severely vulnerable to attacks from the internet.  And despite all of Microsoft’s best efforts, to this day, that is still true.  It is simply the way the operating system was designed.

In the internet age, it became clear that Windows had to change.  Many of the technologies at the core of Windows XP were actually first designed in the early 1990’s.  That simply would not cut it anymore.  A newer, safer, and more secure Windows was needed.  Windows Vista was the result of that.  Microsoft nearly re-wrote the entire operating system.  Many, many elements were changed.  Many of the things that were done in Windows Vista were brand new to Windows, represented a radical change for Microsoft in not only how Windows worked, but how the company made windows.

In many ways, Windows Vista is the operating system that was a proof of concept for many new things, and because of that suffered many growing pains.  In many years when we look back at Windows, we will see Windows Vista as the beginning of a new type of operating system for Microsoft, and the release that began the transition of Windows from an operating system built for a personal computer, and an operating system built for the internet connected person.

In part 3, I will discuss what Vista actually brings to the table that is better than XP, and how it is the foundation for the upcoming Windows 7.

Windows Vista failed, and you have no one to blame but yourself

As Microsoft prepares Windows 7 for release this October, I wanted to take a look back at Windows Vista. Windows Vista is the most stable, most secure, and has the most innovations of any operating system Microsoft has ever made. It is also their second biggest failure(the ill conceived Windows ME holds that distinction). The launch of Windows Vista was a Marketing disaster for Microsoft, and for the next year, it continued to receive bad PR. There are several reasons for this, some of which can be blamed on Microsoft, but the majority of which cannot. Instead of focusing on those points, I am going to focus on the complaints that I have heard over the years about Vista.

1. My Printer, scanner, or [insert other piece of hardware here] doesn't work in Vista.

This is, in my opinion, one of the top 2 reasons why people complained about Windows Vista. This, however, is something that is only partially Microsof's fault. Now, without getting too technical, the reason why this happened is that Microsoft changed the architecture for drivers in Windows. Now, a driver is essentially the software that allows your windows to work with the printer, scanner, mouse, iPod, anything. What this meant, was that for a lot of peripherals, the manufacturer, not Microsoft, was responsible for creating that driver. What many companies, printer companies especially, decided to do was not create those drivers for older printers. This was a business decision designed to get consumers to buy a new device.

The overall question though, is that is this a good thing? Again, without getting too technical, the changes that Microsoft made in the way drivers need to work were good changes. They unfortunately come with growing pains. Now, 2.5 years after Windows Vista launched, everything works just fine with it. And Windows 7 uses the same, improved driver model, so essentially everything that works with Windows Vista will also work with Windows 7.

The third party companies that make the hardware are the ones that are responsible for not supporting Windows Vista. Now, I fully admit that for them to support Windows Vista for devices that were, in some cases, 6-7 years old would have cost them a lot of money. They would have to allocate people and resources to create drivers for printers that no one in the company had supported for years. The return on investment for doing that likely would have been too small to justify the cost. However, that did not change the fact that when the average consumer bought a new computer with Windows Vista, and their printer did not work, they were un happy.

Overall, I'm going to call this a draw. Microsoft and the third parties were both justified in their decisions, and in the end, it did affect the customer. An unpleasant, but necessary growing pain for Windows.

2. Vista runs very slowly on my 4 year old computer, or the $800 computer I just bought runs vista very slowly

This issue has largely disappeared recently. Back in 2006, the consumer world had grown accustomed to a $700-$800 PC running Windows XP well. However, in early 2007, when Vista became available to consumers, windows XP was over 5 years old. even low end PC hardware in 2006 was significantly more powerful than what was a high end computer in 2001. Unfortunately, the consumer has been conditioned that they should be able to buy a computer for $700, and have it run well. In 2006, that was simply not the case, nor should it be. Windows Vista is a modern, advanced operating system that offered numerous improvements over XP. That's not to say it was perfect. It does have problems, even today. But to expect an new operating system to run on either hardware that was 4-5 years old, or on a computer made as cheaply as possible, is not fair to Microsoft.

Both of these reasons are the main contributors as to why Windows Vista received such a bad reputation at launch. There are other reasons, such as Apple's relentless ads against them, the emergence of netbooks, which Windows Vista does not run well on, and many businesses not moving to Vista. In part 2 of this article, I will discuss why people should be using Vista, and why it is so good.