The Blog

Dec 29, 2007

How Is Vista, Anyway? 

by Maxim Porges @ 1:40 AM | Link | Feedback (6)

There was a point in time where I was pretty well heeled in all things computerized. I was a source of knowledge and assistance to my family and friends when they had computer problems, and I was eager to assist.

However, it's occurred to me recently that in some ways, I've lost my edge. I had to field a call last month from Jessica's dad to assist with setting up a wireless network in Vista, and having never used Vista at the time, I had nothing to offer. From a Windows perspective, I'm stuck with nothing except what I remember from using XP, an OS I probably spend no more than 30 minutes in every week. I've also lost my ability to guess what the OS wants me to do, since OS X is generally so intuitive and helpful regardless of the task you're pursuing.

Shortly after that call, Jessica's family was in town for Thanksgiving, and I installed Office on her mom's new laptop, which was the PC running Vista from the aforementioned call. I was excited to actually get to play with Vista, since I've only seen it over people's shoulders, and while I've heard a lot of bad things about it I wanted to make up my own mind.

People tend to think I'm a Mac bigot, but this isn't really true. I call Apple on their stupidity as much as I laud them on their accomplishments. If anything, I'm always more annoyed with Apple when they screw up because they so often get things right in my opinion. So, my opinions on Vista are as objective as I can make them.

There were two things that stood out big time as I moved around Vista.

First, I was surprised by how cluttered and confusing the UI was. There are so many tabs, buttons, colors, and text that looks very much like marketing banner ads from the Internet that I never knew where to look. The eye candy, like transparency and drop shadows, reminded me of my early Photoshop work in high school: too many effects and not enough real substance. OS X uses drop shadows to visually explain the app being used, and transparency to show that one window is a less important child of a parent window, whereas Vista seems to use it because alpha blending is cool. I won't even go in to how many pop ups I had to deal with, or how many times I had to enter an admin password to get anything done.

Second, I was surprised how sluggish the OS was. Now, bear in mind that Jessica's mom's laptop was a bargain basement model, but even so, performance shouldn't have been that bad. Installing Office took almost a half hour. I think it took less than ten minutes on my single-processor VMWare instance, and Jessica's mom's machine had dual cores. Opening apps truly took ages, to the point where I had to fire up Task Manager to see if anything was happening. This also indicated to me that Microsoft has done nothing to fix the long standing problem of Windows not giving you visual cues of what is happening when it is performing background processing.

Any positives? Yes. When I fielded the call in November, I was able to walk Jessica's dad through finding his wireless network without ever having seen Vista before. I kept saying things like "there should be something that looks like this" or "look for network setup options", and the wizards asked intelligent questions that Jessica's dad could read to me to guide us through. So, it appears that (at least some of) the wizards are smarter and more intuitive than in the past.

I was prompted to write this post after reading Eckel's recent thoughts on Vista after a year of use. Based upon the scathing articles he linked to, and compared to what has mostly been praise for Leopard, I really do wonder what the hell happened to Microsoft. They used to at least be able to put out a half decent product, but something has gone horribly wrong over in Redmond.

Leopard certainly isn't perfect, and I think Apple is as guilty as any software company of putting something out that isn't fully baked, but I have to say I prefer their approach. There comes a point with software where it's good enough for prime time, and the best way to find and fix the bugs is to put the gold master in to the wild and start fixing them. Leopard was released in November, and Apple has seeded their second patch set already, less than two months after the release. I, for one, have had very few issues with Leopard, and the OS in general has a cohesiveness to it that the previous releases had lacked (mainly in the UI, which finally looks like one OS across the board).

I've got a copy of the top-of-the-line version of Vista that Jessica won at a conference last year, and it's been sitting waiting to be installed on VMWare for almost a year now. I just haven't heard anything compelling to make me want to even bother with it.

But I'd love to hear what actual Vista users have to say. If you're on it, let me know your thoughts, and if you find it overall an improvement - or (as Eckel feels) it's just a step backwards in the evolution of the OS.