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Ultimately, Vista Fails To Deliver

By the end of the week, I will once again be running Windows XP.

Although it wasn’t long ago that I wrote about upgrading to Windows Vista, and how it was going pretty well so far, I’ve now had a few weeks to work with Microsoft’s new OS. Having used Vista in both a business and leisure capacity, I’ve come to the conclusion that this OS is just not ready for prime time. Or, at the very least, it’s just not ready for me.

In the beginning, I actually had very few problems with Vista. Sure; my firewall of choice wasn’t compatible, but I found a new one. Yeah; file transfers take longer than it seemed they should, but I learned to live with it. But over time, more and more of these little idiosyncrasies started to pile up, culminating in the huge headache I had to deal with today when I attempted to install Visual Studio 2005 Team Edition.

Visual Studio 2005, a Microsoft product, has “known compatibility issues” with Windows Vista, another Microsoft product. At least, that’s what I was told in a dialog bog about halfway through the installation of Visual Studio. I admit I had a chuckle over this, since practically every piece of non-Microsoft software I’ve used so far has been perfectly compatible, but one of Microsoft’s own most prominent development tools isn’t. However, it wasn’t a big deal, because this same dialog box also informed me that a service pack for Visual Studio was available for download, and it would fix these issues. Great, I’ll get the service pack and be on my way.

I completed the install (which took more than half an hour, as VS2005 is such a huge piece of software that gets its tendrils into everything). Then, I used Vista’s built-in update manager to go out to the web and get that service pack. It was almost 500 MB, so it took a little while to download. When it finally came in, Vista proceeded to install it — and then seemingly got stuck.

The installation progress bar quit moving, and all hard drive activity stopped. I could still use the computer, but that wasn’t very helpful, given that I needed to use Visual Studio for something. I decided to give Vista a bit more time, and in the meanwhile, got out my laptop — which runs Windows XP, and already has Visual Studio installed — to finish my assigned task.

Fifteen minutes later, with that task finished and ready to be emailed out, the Vista update still hadn’t installed. In fact, it hadn’t budged.

So I clicked the “Stop Installation” button. Comically, it had no effect. So I rebooted the machine, grumbling, and — since I’m a glutton for punishment — tried to install the update again. Maybe I had too many applications open last time, or some such thing. However, on my second attempt, the installation progress bar wouldn’t even start moving. Again, “Stop Installation” did nothing. Angrily, I decided to forget it, and rebooted the machine again to clear the stuck installation dialog away.

Of course, Windows is now continually prompting me than “an important update is available.” I dare not install it, of course, because it simply won’t work. Moreover, I cannot even uninstall Visual Studio — the uninstaller simply errors out. Great, so I have this piece of shit application on my system that won’t work, because it’s incompatible; can’t be updated, because Vista is having some kind of problem; and can’t be uninstalled, probably due to aforementioned incompatibility. How wonderful!

As I’ve already mentioned, though, this isn’t the only pesky little problem I’ve been having lately with Windows Vista. Oh, no. There are lots more.

Example 1. While burning backup DVDs this past week, the files I was burning would routinely become inaccessible to the OS after I had finished backing them up. In other words, I want to burn files onto a DVD and then delete them from my hard drive. I would routinely find that the files could not be deleted, requiring a reboot to cure the problem. In learning this, I discovered Vista behaving in an incredibly unorthodox fashion — I’d delete the files, they’d disappear from Explorer, and then I’d refresh the view and they’d reappear again, magically!

Example 2. Merely clicking on certain video files cause Vista to throw an error message: “COM Surrogate has stopped working.” And then when you dismiss it, it throws you the “Windows is checking for a solution to this problem…” dialog. Then you dismiss that, and then the solution pops up. Except it’s a typically vague solution that doesn’t really help me. This series of three dialogs pops up every blessed time you click, drag, move, or otherwise take any action on one of these video files. These errors stack, and occasionally occur multiple times per event. So if you click on a file and drag it to a new location, you might get eighteen error dialogs. I don’t even know what’s so special about them — probably the codec they use. I suspect this is some kind of incompatibility with Nero Burning ROM, but I don’t know for sure.

Example 3. The computer will not go to sleep. The much touted “Sleep” function now included with Windows Vista, which is designed as a convenient way to save energy without actually turning off your machine, has not worked once. I try to put it to sleep, and it immediately wakes up again. I discovered this problem early on, and decided I could live with it. But recently, the machine won’t even shut down properly. On more than one occasion, I’ve shut the machine down, actually watched Windows get past its whole “Shutting down…” rigamarole, and then gone to bed — only to return in the morning and find that the system is still running, but unresponsive, with all screens blank. A cold boot is then required to get it off and running again, but meanwhile, I’ve wasted a night’s worth of electricity. Now, I have to stand here and babysit the machine every time I tell it to shut down, to make sure it will actually shut down. I never had to do that with Windows XP.

Example 4. A whole slew of little UI inconsistencies, the likes of which I haven’t dealt with since Windows 95/98, have returned with a vengeance. Most notably, windows that have been closed or minimized to the system tray seem to, at random, be displayed as applications on the taskbar. If I click the erroneous taskbar item, the window reappears; I close it again, and then the taskbar item vanishes as it should. Not serious, but painfully annoying.

Example 5. I eventually got so sick and tired of User Account Control prompting me two or three times about everything that I just shut the bloody thing off. But then, of course, the “red X” icon appeared in my system tray, telling me that my system wasn’t secure. As long as UAC is turned off, that icon has to sit there and disturb you with a balloon pop-up on every boot-up. So I turned off that notification as well, but now, of course, it will also not inform me if, say, my firewall stops working, or my A/V software is out of date. It’s either all or nothing. Retarded!

Example 6. The completely-rewritten audio stack in Windows Vista is atrocious. It’s completely overcomplicated and almost unusable. You know that little volume icon you have in your system tray, from which you can control the volume levels of your various devices/inputs? In Vista, that’s been replaced. Now, your mixer doesn’t control your various inputs, it controls — independently — every application that’s ever played a sound on your computer. Ever. So you have this huge list of programs that you can independently adjust the volume for, like Outlook (because it goes “bee-boo!” when a new email comes in) and Thunderbird. Of course, applications for which this actually makes sense — like Cool Edit — don’t display right, and instead you have a whole bunch of items called “Unknown Application” so you don’t know what any of them actually do. All this, when all you really want to do is turn up the volume for your auxiliary input, so you can listen to the stereo system you’ve lined in while you’re working. And don’t even talk to me about the steps you have to take to actually monitor incoming audio on an auxiliary input. It’s a fucking mess.

So I added up all of the above, and decided that I was starting to get mighty sick of Windows Vista. I then asked myself, what have I gained since the upgrade from XP? Or more to the point, what would I lose if I went back to XP right now? I decided that the only thing of any substance that Vista has over XP is the flashy Aero UI, and some slightly faster application startup times due to Superfetching. That’s really about it. All the other things are hand-holding nanny features designed for the “lowest common denominator” user and that are merely a hindrance to me.

The verdict? Vista has been designed for users far stupider than me, at the expense of users like me. Way to go, Redmond. I’d switch to another OS, except, y’know, they don’t exactly make Visual Studio for anything else, and I sorta have to do a job here.

Just let me get my Acronis TrueImage boot disc, and I’ll be back to XP in a few hours. Happy trails, Vista — what a joke.

2 thoughts to “Ultimately, Vista Fails To Deliver”

  1. Yikes, this is scary, especially since most of the new computers come with this program already installed, don’t they? Can you get rid of it? Or should the “normal user” just suck it up and learn to deal with it?

    Hope your XP re-install goes smoothly.

  2. Yes, I actually believe that all new, Windows-based computers come with Vista now. For the first half of the year, many major retailers (like Dell) were giving people the choice of XP or Vista, largely because so many people demanded it. But I don’t think XP is an option on new systems anymore.

    I doubt you would see 90% of the problems with Vista that I have seen. I have a vast array of weird little freeware utilities that do various things, and I’m finding that not all of them work 100% with Vista. And I’m always doing things that most users don’t do very often (like rearranging folders on my All Programs menu), which was causing User Account Control to get all up in my face. Those error-throwing videos were Korean and Japanese TV shows; most people aren’t downloading stuff like that. But I’m a power-user, and I’m finding some really annoying “gotchas” in a lot of nooks and crannies.

    Still, this is not a great time to buy a new computer for one simple reason. Right now, we’re in the “find the bugs” phase with Vista. When the first service pack is released, I expect the OS to improve. However, that likely won’t happen until first-quarter 2008 at the earliest, so for simplicity’s sake, waiting ’till then to purchase new machines might be best. Installing service packs after the fact isn’t hard, but it’s not always a 100% error-free process.

    Alternatively, you could always get a Mac! 😉 I’m actually being semi-serious — Macs are the absolute perfect platform for a user like yourself; someone who’s creative, into writing, blogging and photography, and not into app development, gaming, et al. I’d be pretty powerless to help you troubleshoot it, since I’m not familiar with them, but the good news is that you’d likely have very little to troubleshoot.

    I’ll probably do the XP reinstall in the coming days, but the good thing is, it’s not even a true reinstall. I have a complete snapshot of my system as it was before I installed Vista, and I can restore it sector-by-sector so it’ll be exactly how it was before — and it should only take an hour or so.

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