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MS Vista is ... compromised

I'm now using MS Vista "Ultimate" on my main computer (32bit version), and on my main laptop( 64bit version)). I opted for it out of an unresearched decision to pick up the latest MS offering, shedding the XP I had on my main system, and because I was given no ordering choice for the HP Laptop -- it was Vista, or nothing, without the "nothing" option. (Now, given the issues Users are having with Vista, many companies, including HP, now offer an XP option). I've made those "unresearched" purchase choices in the past, and always regretted it. Vista is by far no different...

So, what is it about Vista that I don't like? I'll list my thoughts, "grade" them, and try to keep this to one page albeit, a long one!:

Cost vs. Value ("D-")

  • $400 for an OS is a lot, given there are alternatives (notably Linux for $0, and WinXP). But, MS has had years to understand what users crave and need in any OS such as speed, reliability, intuitive interface and usage model, compatibility, consistency, predictability, usability, security, flexibility and control over the OS, etc. With all the data gathered from users, the unimaginable mounds of data gathered, the years to take this to heart and to understand those needs, implement them using their vast resources, extensively test the product, and only then deliver an OS that meets those needs is can only be considered a given that Vista would be worth every dime it costs. That just goes without saying, right?

Nope, just the opposite. Read on...

Performance ("D")

  • Opinions vary, but Vista consistently delivers lesser performance than any of its predecessors, or competition ("Linux") on the same hardware. I've seen benchmark tests that show a small performance hit moving to Vista, perhaps less than 10%, and some eye-boggling tests showing it can be up to 1/10 the performance of XP. My own experience is that Vista is slower, both in general use ("file copy test") along with odd and inexplicable stumbles such as a tendency to just "hang" for seconds or minutes at a time (programs won't respond, consistently reporting that programs "Stopped Responding," ignoring any keyboard or mouse input), then "getting over it" and coming back to life. The later is clearly both a performance issue, but also a very annoying usability issue (who expected an OS running on a multi-GHz dual-processor multi-GB system to suddenly get "too busy" to respond to a user trying to just move the mouse? Who expects that starting programs can sometimes 20 or more seconds to show any sign it actually is starting, then taking surprisingly long to then load the program before you can start doing anything with it? I certainly didn't expect it, that's for sure).

    But then, MS has a solution: buy faster HW, more of everything such as CPU speed, more cores, a higher-performing video subsystem, and of course, more memory. I have all these, more than enough, and maybe I'm just doing something wrong (along with millions of my Vista-using "friends"), and somehow that didn't seem to fix it.

    So, to bring Vista to anything approaching usable performance levels, on what should have been an improved, streamlined, tweaked and more efficient OS, a partial but ineffective "fix" is to double every HW spec possible in an attempt to regain a degree of performance and basic responsiveness that they had prior to Vista. This is kind of like a homeowner dropping thousands of dollars to install improved double-paned windows and insulation, only to find they require a heating/cooling system upgrade to maintain their old temperatures at twice the monthly heating/cooling bill.

Compatibility ("D") One of the numerous program crashes Vista unexpectedly displays -- This one killed Dreamweaver while I was authoring this page.
  • I've read various posts from people who claim that up to 70% of their programs won't run, or run imperfectly on the switch to Vista. While that seems high to me, my estimate is that at least 1/3 of my existing programs that I elected to install following my "upgrade" to Vista, programs I used on XP and programs I needed and counted on, fail with "This program does not support this platform," or simply crashes, or most frustratingly, just "disappears" during the install with no notification as to why. Programs that do install might not run properly, or when you try to run them, nothing happens; they just do ... nothing, without error or reason. Or they just crash. But then, MS has a solution to this too: Vista pops up a window telling you the program is snafu, then tells you it is trying to find a solution, then, inevitably, tells you it couldn't and gives you an "OK" button to close the program. Sometimes it goes as far as to report crash data directly to MS. A nice feature, but it's not hard to wonder if this data is sent to a system with a "drainage pipe" that spills this data all over their campus or IT room floors (aka, "Into the Bit-Bucket." I sometimes wonder if the janitors who mop this up don't know more about the problems than the engineers).

    Drivers are another, and possibly worse story. I have some expensive and, gee!, useful and needed peripherals (I did buy them after all!) that just can't be used due to driver incompatibilities. Examples include networked RAID storage, All-In-One printers, and a variety of others that may "work," but operate oddly or are crippled in functionality. It could be worse, however. I opted to install the 32-bit version of Vista because of the known driver/compatibility issues. Actually that's understandable, to an extent because of the architecture, but I would've expected MS to provide some, oh, "abstraction layer" that would allow non-64-bit drivers to be used. Vendors can take a good part of this blame, I have to admit. My Lexmark printer, for example, came with an installation CD that refused to install, claiming "This program is not supported on this platform," despite the proud "Windows Vista Compatible" logo printed on the box! But, a quick download of the newest driver gave me one that tries to install, sometimes says it installed, only to either crash 90+% of the way through, or claims success, then reports that the product has no driver installed when you try to use it. Maddening.

Consistency of use/usability ("B-")

  • I'm not a real Linux fan, somewhat because of application support, because you still need to "get under the hood" to tweak or configure too many things in a much too complicated manner, but mostly because there is little to no consistency in the usage models of applications and of the OS itself. Many attempts, some quite good such as choices of GUI interfaces like X-Windows, Gnome, KDE, and Motif, exist, and many Linux distributors provide their own "value-add" interface and management interfaces to simplify what were daunting, technically-challenging, and manual tasks. However, due to the "choices" available, outside of the general consistency in the Linux core, they require users to select and gain expertise in performing the same or similar tasks using the different interfaces and use models. Applications are a very different story, in general, as it's up to the developer to create or define how their application presents itself, usage model, and reporting mechanisms. This is due to how Open Source is done: there is little or no overriding model to follow when developing a Linux app (compared to Apple who dictates the usage model for developers to use). (And before those of you who are outraged by anyone who questions what I've just said, I'll try to "defend" myself by saying I've done many Linux installs, from the days when "GUI" was unheard of and you had to write or tweak drivers to work with your hardware, to "All-in-one" Linux "distros" (pre-packaged complete distributions of Linux that generally provide a global interface (UI) for most/all tasks). I understand the desire to have a choice that most fits you for use of your computer, but I also understand "The fallacy of Choice" that can cause confusion, limited ability or desire to overcome the learning-curve, requiring time and expertise that the majority of people, and of businesses aren't able or willing to endure, and outright fleeing "retreat" from the platform. I've spent enough time to become comfortable with Linux and several of the UI packages, along with several UN*X versions, and I see both sides; as such, I won't get into Religious debates on this.
  • That said, I'm a big fan of consistency and consistent and predictable usage models. (You know that when you get into a car there will be a steering wheel, mounted, dependent on the country, either on the left or right, there will be a brake pedal and a gas pedal, perhaps a clutch and floor brake, turn signals, etc. You're not presented with, say, a "steering joystick," mounted on the roof, and a knob on the center console to throttle the engine, or on a different model of car a set of motorcycle handlebars for steering and a thumb-lever to accelerate or slow down; re-training of this nature would lead to too many people driving into the nearest tree or running through a stop sign because they couldn't find the brake. Unfortunately, Vista nearly falls into this later category, despite it's relatively consistent UI:
  • First,probably the most-noted UI gaff in Windows is the use of a "Start" button to Stop (restart, shutdown) the system. While consistent within Windows in general, it's in fact inconsistent with any real-world language concept, even though the learning curve is minimal.
  • But, Windows allows developers to create their own UI for using the programs, and "clever" programmers too-often create "cutesy" program interfaces that may look like a DVD player, that may present themselves as a "Skinable Orb," or that may provide you with a "Power" button to close the program. This, admittedly, isn't a Vista-only issue.
  • What are Vista issues are a general change in, oftentimes overly complex, methods to perform what should be obvious tasks, or that simply aren't available. Services that aren't critical sometimes can't be stopped, sometimes you can't delete or write files due to "security" restrictions, Vista complains if you change any setting that may affect what it considers a potential security weakness (that is, if you can find the method to change a setting, some are incredibly well hidden). I'm not being terribly specific here because the issues of usability and inconsistency (resulting in poor usability) are now ingrained in the OS, due almost entirely due to the new "security" Vista tries to enforce. I'm all for security, but to use an analogy, I don't unlock my car door, then have it tell me I need to run to the back to press a confirmation button in response to "Are you sure?", and sometimes have to then confirm ("authorize") the door unlock one more time because, as this is the driver-side door I need to authorize my unlock choice one last time to gain "Car-Door Driver/Administrator" rights to (finally) unlock the door and get on my way. Microsoft seems to think that putting these barriers up is the "solution" to the inherent security gaps in Windows, and the way to fill in these gaps is to put the burden on the user.

Granted, not all usability issues are security-related, sometimes they're just not well-thought out, or hidden so well and so weakly described as to make the use of anything that isn't standard "bread & butter" features confusingly over-complicated.

Predictability ("D")

  • Vista does what it wants, whether you ask it to or tell it not to. Often, and without apparent cause, it re-arranges my icons on my desktop for no apparent reason. It could be a reboot that gives me a different "look," or installation of a program and elect to have a desktop icon created that may appear anywhere on the desktop, usually near the top on the left, but sometimes mixed in the middle of the other icons, or placed at the "end" of the current icons. You can re-arrange them, but I haven't found a way to define how it will move them around, or whether it will opt to move them around.
  • The same with the Windows Sidebar. Left alone, not adding any gadgets, it re-arranges their order indiscriminately. It's simple enough to drag them back into order, but why should I have to do this?
  • The new implementation of "Search" is a barrel of fun. By default it only looks in "indexed" files, and unless you set it up to index regularly, many files will be overlooked. Even telling it using "Advanced Search" to look, say, in "C:" won't find what you're looking for unless you select "Non indexed, hidden, or system files (Might be slow)." The trick is, of course, to ensure ALL of your files are indexed, but I find even after re-indexing some files just don't show up via Search.
  • Some MS-sanctioned programs (e.g., "Sync Center") once installed won't let you stop/kill them; they give no apparent choice, and killing the process simply spawns a new one. For system-critical apps/services, I can see this, but an app that syncs mobile devices? Not much sense...
  • I love the way Windows Explorer now has a Jones for media, making it "easier" to find and manage your important music and video files. It often insists they get placed in the pre-defined "Music" or "Video" folders, but you can navigate to have them put into other folders, most of the time. But this is almost hard-coded; you can tell it to put it in, say, your "MP3" folder (e.g., "Save File") but the next download/save may or may not remember this directory and switch back to "Music" as it's default.
  • Further on Windows Explorer, given this Media "simplification," Explorer will label the columns with "Name, Artist, Album, #, Genre, and Rating." Nothing better than to see which "Artist" recorded "tapisrv.dll" and what it's "Genre" and "Rating" is. I found this while perusing the Windows\System32 directory, and found it happens in some other folders, and not in others. Further, I changed it manually, but it sometimes "sticks," and sometimes goes back to the Media-style headings. Using "Folder Options" you can set how folders are displayed, but in my case the "Apply to folders" button is grayed out.
  • I can save files, and often do, in just the "C:" folder, usually when I just want an easy way to save a file I intend to use and delete right after. Then again, sometimes I can't save files there, because, even though my logon is "Administrator," Vista considers this to be a protected or system directory. I'm not talking about storing "msdos.sys" there, or overwriting some protected file, this happens even when saving "document1.txt". "C:" isn't the only directory this happens in, unfortunately, and I never understand when it'll put up a fuss.
  • Screensavers, non-MS supplied ones, don't persist. Vista will "take" my choice for a screensaver, but over time it'll change it to "None" (Blank).
  • I once, just playing around, turned on "Text to Speech." That was fun at first, but after a while I got tired of it. I forget now how I did it, but turning it off wasn't an obvious option and I had to dig and fiddle to turn the darn thing off. (How about a button that says, oh, I dunno, "Turn Speech Off?")
  • If the system gets busy, sometimes just "'cuz it felt like it," my mouse and keyboard won't respond until Vista decides I can have them back. I'm not talking about sluggish response, it's just completely ignored. I was used to XP and 2000 where, even if the (much slower HW) system got busy, it would at least remember I'd moved the mouse or typed a char; Vista ignores anything you do until it gives you control back, and you only know that by testing them from time-to-time until you get some response.
  • Along with the above, I'm running a Core 2 Duo system, in effect two separate CPUs. My CPU monitoring gauge will show me that sometimes while running a CPU intensive program that one core will be pinned at 100%, and the other will idle along, but other times both will be pinned running the same program in the same way. Yes yes, I understand that not all apps are dual-core enabled, but I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about the same program that sometimes gets to use both cores, and other times, just one. What's up with that?
  • And another dual-core oddity. Again, running a CPU-intensive program that eats up one core while the other stays under 4%, I find that trying to run some other program(s) won't "hit" the 2nd core, and core 1 will do all the work. In one recent case it took almost ONE HOUR to load another program while core 1 was busy. It should have taken 5-10 seconds, but core 2 was resting, I guess. This behavior isn't consistent, and on other occasions I get use of both cores which is dandy, and is how it should work: I've worked with multi-processor UN*X systems and in every case adding a 2nd CPU worked predictably to improve performance.
  • My MS mouse and keyboard, using the latest MS driver, doesn't support all the dandy features it promises to support. Or, it supports them intermittently (pushing the "Volume Up/Down" button will often, but not always, work as expected, other times it has no effect. And the On-Screen bar, to display the current or changed volume level will, or will not, be displayed, independent of whether the volume actually changes. There's no pattern to it. "Volume" is just one example of this behavior, and there are others. I used "Cntrl-Z" (undo) or "Cntrl-I" (italicize) a lot, for example. But on occasion they do nothing. Usually they come back, but why "go away" in the first place? I'd blame the apps, but "apps" is plural, it happens in most any program. I have to blame the OS and the MS kybd driver, which darn well should get along.
  • I installed an additional 2GB of memory, for 4GB total. The system was/is much faster as a result. "Stupidly," on my part, I also enabled my existing but disabled RAID 1 config, at the same time. As a result, I soon stumbled upon a notice (When I opened "System" in "Control Panel") that told me I had 3 days to have the system Authorized, after which it would "Stop working." Ok, I "get" that system changes may/may not scare Activation into thinking you changed to a new computer under it, but ... adding memory and mirroring an existing drive? That's a bit "aggressive," but to use a psychiatric term, a bit "Passive/Aggressive" since it was willing to shoot my system in the head, but not tell me about it. I solved it by disabling the RAID, rebooting where Vista, without announcing anything (again), showed (via Control Panel->System) that my system was now "Authorized." I then re-enabled the RAID subsystem and Vista stayed as authorized. MS has had more than enough time to tweak their authorization algorithm (note, years ago when XP was in Alpha I was a tester. I quit because I was spending waaay too much time calling the alpha line to get my suddenly unauthorized system authorized again, and despite the alpha-testing status, getting a new release once a week or more, the problem persisted; what caused me to quit happened when I plugged in a LAN PC card. I didn't bother to call the alpha team any more. That was perhaps 8 years ago, more than enough time to make this a bit more intelligent...
  • Oh, more on Vista Authorization. Running my system for months, on numerous days a pop-up came that my system was no longer Authorized (and why it chose to pop up that time and not the last time I just described above leaves me clueless). It rejected my valid authorization code, telling me it was already in use (Online authorization), and I had to call MS. I'd made zero HW changes, although I did install some new apps or applied updates. MS "support" told me yes, that code was in use, and to fix it they had to disable my code -- the lovely one printed on the holographic sticker on the Vista case, and re-issue me a NEW code that I had to write down for later use, then use that code to get my system re-authorized. This process seemed to make perfect sense to the tech I spoke with, and she only said when I asked her why they couldn't just let me use my existing code that "This is how we have to do it if you want to have the system authorized." Not the greatest answer ("Naw, ferget it, I don't really want to use my $400 OS, sorry to have bothered you."), and it seemed like this was a normal day-to-day problem she had to "fix." Why not? Programs that just quit for no apparent reason? What else would users expect? ;)
  • IE. Is there a reason why it too re-arranges my settings? Primarily my "Links" toolbar, they move around from time-to-time, whether I add a new link or whether I don't. I use Google a lot, and put it 1st in the Links bar, but sometimes it's not there, it's been moved to the end (once it was moved to the "near end.") Now while I enjoy re-and-re-re organizing my settings as much as the next guy, I admit to some curiosity as to WHY it does that.
  • "Dreamscene" is kinda neat, and I enjoy installing it, a lot. Apparently Vista knows that because a week doesn't go by when Windows Update tells me I can install this dandy "Windows Ultimate Extra." Not a new version, the same one, over and over again. Dreamscene just "disappears," without a trace.
  • My "Windows Experience Index" is 5.6, not too shabby. But I made some changes and wanted to see if the score changed. Running "Update my score" ran through the check, and at the end displayed: "Your score is 5.4," along with the note "Score not updated." Huh? No errors or explanations, it just didn't do anything, although it seemed to have.
  • I just love when I'm deleting files. I use external drives to backup my system. AND it tells me there are "0 seconds left," to copy my files. but it chugges along for hours with the "status" of "there are 0 seconds left" How in the HECK did MS hire these 22 yr old "engineers" who can't write a very simple algorithm to analyze a SIMPLE way to judge program time?
  • No wonder Vista is as failable as it is. MS hires poor and young "engineers" on the cheap, and the product never gets right...

Security ("D")

  • Vista has done what it can to cover the amazing number of holes, holes that have existed since Windows 3.0, and sadly, continue to this day. It's an architectural thing, as well as an apparent lack of understanding about how to implement security, a lack of concern for user needs, and a meager nod to backwards compatibility (I say "meager" because, as noted above, Vista's "compatibility" is anything but).
  • I won't comment on the architectural problem except to say that Windows, when first created, provided essentially no security. This was understandable in the pre-internet days, and understandable more because goofball kids had better things to do with their time than spend hours trying to show how "clever" they are, letting their adolescent egos ruin it for the rest of us.
  • The "lack of understanding" is probably a misnomer. MS knows what security is and should be. How can they not? Apple and Linux and UN*X have been doing it since day 1, and I'm willing to bet that more than a few folks from those OSs are working now at MS, and while it's anyone's guess, my thought is that they wind up "Microsofted," and are hand-cuffed in implementing obvious and proven solutions. So what did MS do instead?
  • UAC, "User Account Control." While a grand idea -- that being to allow, and to warn users when they might do something untoward to their systems (or more-so, allowing viruses to do it) -- this long-proven concept has been "hacked" into Vista, so much so as to make it impractical, and unusual. Countless pop ups, and countless repeated pop ups that force the user to become their own virus/spyware guard is just the wrong way to implement it, and it's irritating. That irritation leads to users just clicking through the warnings they see all too often, just to get the job done, no matter how simple and necessary it is (example: using Notepad to edit and save a file can be ... "unreliable." Editing isn't a problem, it's saving that is: Notepad, which apparently was never linked into UAC often refuses to save a file in certain (and unpredictable) locations such as the C: "root" directory. You can open a file (that you may or may not have created yourself), you can edit it, but then a dialog (may or may not) pop up telling you it "Cannot create the <filename-here> file. Make sure that the path and file name are correct.", followed by only an "OK" button. No, it's not "OK." You're not "creating" a file, you're editing an existing one. Of course the filename and path are correct. But you're left with no options, no way to bypass the confusing and incorrect warning/error message, and no idea why. That goes back to the inconsistency of Vista's operation; sometimes you can do things, sometimes you can't, and you often have no idea why, or what to do about it. Trying the same edits on the same file using Word gives me an error as well, but actually tells me what's wrong: The file is read-only. This is a problem, a great one, on two fronts: First, since Word is an add-on application, why is it able to give the user some sense of the problem when Notepad, shipped as part of the OS doesn't? (Yep, I know, "because Notepad is a thin app lacking the 'features' of Word." "Features" like explaining basic information to the user? I dunno, but that seems much more than a feature to me). And second, in the example I'm using here, the file is NOT "read-only! It's not a protected system file, it's just a plain text file. So while Word tries to explain the problem, it's just not correct, at least, not in an accurate sense.
  • Nags, nags, nags... That's the key problem with Vista's security scheme, it "protects" so much that after a while you just assume it's crying wolf, and you, the user, both tire of having to click, sometimes multiple times, that you DO want to do the thing you want to do, and being tired and inured to the countless and repeated warnings, you just surrender and wind up clicking "Yes" (or "OK," or "I promise not to sue MS if I agree to continue") buttons just to get something done. Worse yet, in the example I gave, you're given no option, and the poor errors you get are "unhelpful," and sometimes outright misleading. A more well-written "dump" on this nagging and the failure of Vista to implement anything approaching security can be found here. I suggest you read it because it's both interesting, and true.
  • Finally, I both turn off UAC, and my main account has "Administrator" capabilities. I had to put "Administrator" in quotes because, like the "air quotes" people use to imply what they're saying isn't really true, Vista considers and "Administrator" as anything but. On UN*X, if I create a "super user" or "root" account ... that's what I am, and the OS steps out of the way. Vista apparently both ignores this, and defaults to thinking the user is both too "dumb" to really be an administrator, while simultaneously thinking the user is the only one smart enough to navigate the warning popups to do what they asked to be done. That's like telling your 9 year old they're too young and too small to drive, but handing them the keys anyway when they say "No dad, I'll be ok." You can't have it both ways.

    From that link to "coding horror" above, the author writes it quite well:

    Let administrators really be Administrators!
    Create all new users by default as plain Users. If a user opts to upgrade to an Administrator, that's the appropriate time to pop the scary warning dialog.
    If a user tries to do something that requires Administrator rights, show a dialog telling them so, and offering links to a) log in temporarily as an Admin, or b) enter the Admin credentials in-place for a quick one time operation.

    So that pretty much summarizes Vista's security: It's poorly implemented, "secures" you against many things that don't need to be secured, and instead of providing a valid and established security model, puts the onus on we "dumb users" to be smart enough to provide the security that Vista lacks. As I said, "You can't have it both ways," and this is a notion that Vista security ignores. The end-result is a model that just doesn't work, and in "not-doing-so" is simply a "pain" to those of us "dummies" who both bought Vista, while "buying into" the promises Vista fails to deliver.
  • A summary is simple: Vista is nowhere near a better OS than it's predecessors, certainly not XP, nor even Win 2000 (I'll admit in most respects it beats the versions before that, but then, how could it not given how long ago they were developed and released.) But, for me at least, is a lack by MS to address and fix these oft-reported and complained about problems. The problems should never have seen the light of day in the first place, MS had ample time, and I'm certain feedback from alpha/beta users to put a brake on the release before they threw on price tags and flooded the shelves with Vista. That's the problem with monopolies, without threatening competition you don't have to provide a better product when there are no real alternatives. My view of MS's concern in this area is a copy of the "concern" shown by the folks at the DMV; where else are you going to go to get your drivers license or register your car? MS knows that Apple and Linux aren't going to do more than dent their profits, so why not over-promise, under-deliver, and reveal a startling disregard for the users who are keeping their company afloat. But maybe it's "just me," thinking that capitalism works, but only when there's competition keeping one another on their toes...


copyright © 1997-2010 dean cashen    06-22-2010 

Copyright 1997-2008 Dean Cashen