As the release of Windows Vista approached, the reports about how neat it was quickly turned to reports about how messed up it was, or still is: dropped features, poor performance, compatibility problems, crashes, you name it. Most of that was overblown. Certainly the computers that ran the five-year-old Windows XP couldn’t all be expected to run Vista well (even the much-heralded Mac OS bumps-up system requirements significantly over that span of time).
But some of the noise was deserved, and Vista certainly had its share of growing pains. But it’s been a year and a half. The first service pack has been released, along with an absolute flood of other automatic updates and drivers and software patches and so on. Is Vista really all that bad? More to the point, is it even worth upgrading anymore?
The short answer, I think, is yes. If you buy a PC today and it has Vista installed on it, or build a new PC (even a low cost, sub-$1,000 box), you should be in fine shape.
The driver situation has really come along to the point where Vista is perhaps better supported on new-ish hardware than XP is, and the work Microsoft did in changing lots of driver models to stabilize the system is finally paying off—more drivers, and parts of drivers, run in User Space instead of Kernel Space now, so one messed up driver doesn’t hose your whole system the way XP would, and many driver problems are recoverable without a reboot. Performance is finally there, even on what you would consider a pretty cheap PC with integrated graphics. Vista sure appears to use more resources than XP, but appearances can be deceiving. Take RAM for instance. Empty RAM does nothing for you. You don’t want empty RAM, you want RAM filledup with pre-cached data so your applications and data files snap open without hammering the hard drive, with enough intelligence to free up that RAM if an app needs it. Vista does this pretty well. Hard drive space is a non-issue.
It really doesn’t matter if your OS takes up 3GB, or 8GB, or 12GB of your hard disk. It’s a small fraction of even most laptop hard drives these days. In fact, the percentage of the average hard drive used up by the Windows installation has declined with each major release, as the size of hard drives have increased faster than the size of the Windows installation. The truth is (as much as a person’s opinion can be “truth”), Vista “feels” as fast or faster than XP on any computer a year old or less, and even on some of the better machines that are older than that. And it’s got lots of nice features, if you can get yourself out of the “do everything exactly as in XP” mindset long enough to try them.
The “trail of breadcrumbs” at the top of an Explorer window is a great improvement. Popping open the Start menu and simply typing a few characters of what you’re looking for, then seeing the program and file list update in real time, is a very fast an easy way to get to that app, file, control panel, or utility you’re looking for.
There are actually Sidebar applets worth having now. Individual volume controls for all applications can be very useful. Vista-only features like DirectX 10 are finally starting to become meaningful.
You may have heard of Microsoft’s Mojave Experiment marketing campaign. The company took a whole mess of PC users who haven’t tried Vista yet, but hate it based on all the bad stuff they hear. You almost certainly know someone like this (or maybe you are one yourself). Then they showed these people what they said was the next version of Windows, named “Mojave.” Which everyone loved. Then the Microsoft group told everyone—surprise!— Mojave is actually Windows Vista. Sure, it’s just a goofy marketing trick and you could pull the Folgers Switch with a lot of things and get a similar reaction. But I think there’s some truth to it.
Vista got a bad rap, and perhaps not undeservedly so. The Vista experience today, however, doesn’t live up to that extraordinarily negative reputation. If you’re dead-set against it, maybe it’s time for another look.