Just Say No to Windows Vista revised 7/31/08

A year and a half after the debut of Windows Vista, Microsoft is still trying to convince users that this latest version of the venerable desktop operating system is the best ever. Their latest ploy was taking a group of Vista skeptics and demonstrating a "new" operating system to them in controlled conditions. These unsuspecting folks were told that they were seeing new software named "Mojave", but in fact it was good old Vista. Many of them rated the "new" product highly, and were embarrassed when it was revealed that what they had just heaped praise upon was actually plain old Vista. Of course, the demo machines were almost certainly powerful new models, packed with 2 GB (or more) of RAM, and carefully set up and tuned by Microsoft's experts - if so, they were comparable to neither a typical user's existing hardware nor what the average buyer is taking delivery of these days.

To give Microsoft its due, Vista is now less of a turkey than it was when first released. Service Pack 1 is out, which includes a number of fixes and improvements, and gives somewhat better performance. In addition, many more devices now have Vista compatible drivers, so hardware issues are also reduced. It's also only fair to note that a substantial number of users have had no problems with Vista and were quite happy with it even before the Service Pack became available.

But having said all that, I'm still a Vista skeptic. The bottom line is that for the vast majority of users there is no compelling reason to go to Vista, and many substantial reasons not to. The three big features that were initially touted as reasons why this was a must-have upgrade turned out to have little substance:  the new WinFS file system never made it into the product, the User Account Control security has pestered users with so many needless warnings that more than a few of them have simply disabled it, and the Windows Aero interface is basically eye candy with little, if any, functional value. And in a real marketing blunder, scads of PCs that sported a "Vista Capable" sticker turned out to be too anemic to actually display the Aero interface - for that you need a beefier PC with the "Vista Premium Ready" sticker. Vista remains sluggish with anything less than 2 GB of RAM, and even with Service Pack 1 installed performance seems to be about on par with Windows XP, at best. Even though hardware support has improved, some devices may still have problems. In comparison, XP remains a proven, stable and reliable operating system, offering decent performance with only 512 MB of RAM, and excellent performance with 1 GB, all at a much lower cost than Vista.

So what's a person to do? If you're sticking with your old PC, don't even think about upgrading to Vista unless it has at least 2 GB of RAM, you've got lots of time (or a tech savvy friend) to deal with the upgrade process, and Vista is either required by your work or you suffer from a compulsion to own the latest version of all things technical. If your machine is running a pre-XP version of Windows, and it has at least 512 MB of RAM, this would be a great time to upgrade to XP, plenty of copies of which are still available on Ebay. If you're buying a new machine, all the same considerations apply except that you'll be spared the trouble of an upgrade; however, as of 7/1/08 Microsoft has pulled the plug on sales of most XP-equipped PCs. If (as is likely) you can't find the machine you want with XP installed, look for a manufacturer that offers an XP "downgrade" option, which will require that you pay for one of the more expensive versions of Vista.

Personally, I'm sticking with Windows XP, at least until the successor to Vista is released and has proven to be stable.