Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hasta la Vista, Vista

A few weeks ago I installed the free upgrade to Windows Vista that came with my new PC. Yesterday, I backed up my data, reformatted my hard drive, and re-installed Windows XP. Here's why I'm so happy I did:


My PC is three weeks old, has a brand new high end Core Duo processor, and 2GB of RAM. Yet, everything in Vista takes forever. Switching programs takes 1 second. Switching tabs in FireFox takes 1 second. Opening a popup menu in explorer once took 6 seconds. In that span of time, my processor could have performed at least 15 billion operations. These apparently were all required to show me a popup menu.

Copies Suck

Many new features in Vista seem to be aimed at copying something in OS X. Unfortunately, every one of these copied features misses the mark big time.

One such copy seems indicative of the whole Vista experience. On boot up, instead of seeing potentially confusing system messages, you now see a progress bar and the word Microsoft. This is a lot like the boot up screen with a Mac. Except, the word Microsoft is blurry. I know, who cares? But it is a great metaphor for the Vista experience. Decent (stolen) ideas, bad and lazy implementation.

For example: now Windows has a sidebar with widgets, clearly aimed to fill the same need as OS X's Dashboard. Except, the clock widget only supports a 24 hour clock. You can only have one sticky note. You can't have the sidebar auto-hide. Did this really take 6 years?

Oooh Shiny

Really, the main changes in Vista are the new look and feel. Finally, I can see a weird 3D slanty angle view of all my Windows! Hooray! And it only takes 3 seconds to render!

Now my window headers can look like frosted glass. Why?

Now when you close windows, they shrink to oblivion. But, unlike Apple's genie effect, which reinforces visually where my program "went", this animation just wastes time and processor cycles.

Or take FreeCell. The cards are much prettier now and when you click on one - it glows! Woooooh. Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to see the faint yellow glow and so you can't tell which card you've selected. Sometimes prettier is shittier.

Just Plain Bad

I had a folder that Vista magically decided should be read only. So, I opened the properties window, unchecked read only, and clicked OK. But I still had trouble with the folder. So, I opened the properties window. Lo and behold it was still read only. What?

Apparently, this error-message-free ignoring of my wishes had to do with Vista's new security features - one of which involves having a ton of users and meta-users like 'Everyone', 'All Users', 'Guests', etc. To make the file actually not read only required setting up permissions for 3 meta-users. Why?

Or, if I went to my 'Documents' folder, and then tried to click 'Pictures' I was told I did not have access. But, if I clicked on the same folder elsewhere (the 'Pictures' icon underneath my name in the left) I could get in. This doesn't even make sense.

I Did Like One Feature

The chess game was fun.

Lessons I've Learned

As a software engineer myself I feel like I need to learn something from this mess, if only to justify all the time I wasted waiting for popup menus.

1) Don't blindly copy - Vista copies the surface level features of OS X but fails to understand their motivation. They should have focused on actually solving the user's every day problems.

2) Performance is key - There is nothing worse than waiting for something that shouldn't take time. I'm happy to wait for CDs to burn, or Photoshop to apply a filter. I understand that these things are "hard". But there is nothing hard about switching from one window to another.

3) Usability > Design - Graphic design should be make the user's experience easier and more visually pleasant. In that order.

4) Get a Mac - After 13 years of being a dedicated PC enthusiast and Mac basher, I think I'm ready to switch. I don't want to rely on a company that takes 6 years to make their product worse.

Anyone else have similar experiences?


cquinn said...

Similar experience?

No, I am running it on a three year old laptop (Athlon 64 3200, 1.2G RAM), and it is quite snappy on that system; as responsive and reliable (if not more) than the copy of XP I dual boot with.

A couple of your complaints sound like driver issues, or a need for some background optimization to finish. (I agree that the tools to apply some of those updates and tweaks should be more obvious and readily available to the user).

Some of your other points seem valid for surface quirks, but for a software engineer to apparently not understand that the majority of changes in the OS are to the background framework that the new look and feel run on (and can be updated from), seems to miss a large part of the potential in the new platform.

I am sorry your initial experience with Vista was not more positive, but do not dismiss the idea that other users are getting good usage from the OS, and the expecation that such performance is very likely to improve into the rest of the year.

skel said...

lol, Vista is a lame attempt to copy Gnome for Linux... I'm sure macs are ok but it's much easier to just stick an Ubuntu Linux cd in your exisiting pc and kiss Windows goodbye. It's the software that's bad, not the hardware.

Nathan Braun said...

I've been using Mac OSX for about a year, and I like Vista actually.

It's quite snappy on my system actually (admittedly, a MacBook pro).

I could be wrong but I think it's faster than OSX. It certainly seems faster.

The usability upgrades are nice too. Don't get me wrong: i dont think Vista is perfect--far from it. (it does have those stumbling blocks).

But OSX is hardly perfect either.

What gets me about OSX and Macs generally is that their users/fanbois seem to think that the seems are utterly perfect--the greatest invention since sliced bread. There are some things that are simply easier to do on a PC--they just aren't as nicely integrated sometimes.

IMHO, Vista is slightly superior to OSX. It will be interesting to see what Leopard has in store tho.

The arrogance of Apple in general has me screaming to get off of their hardware though. There's something about the vibration I just can't handle. Steve Jobs is a little too icky for me; I prefer a straight geek like B.G.

Shub said...

The speed problem you're having isn't in Vista. As cquinn said, it could be a driver issue. The only other thing that springs to mind is a process pegging the CPU (I hope you're insulted that I'd suggest that.)

The killer for me was memory usage. I've heard it's not so bad with 32-bit Vista, but even turning off every non-critical* service only reduced starting RAM usage to 892MB!

Now I use Gentoo Linux, and making bell noises when I click the wrong place doesn't take 60 megs of physical RAM.

* For a loose definition of critical. I consider sound critical to my willingness to use a computer, for example.

Robby said...

@cquinn - I'm glad to hear that the Vista experience was less painful for other users - and I don't mean to say that it is a worthless OS. It is just a worthless OS for me.

As for not understanding the potential of a new platform: I do hope things get better. However - Vista seems to neglect basic usability issues throughout so I have my doubts about how great these enhancements will be.

@skel - When I reformatted my hard drive I left open a partition to try Ubuntu.

@nathan - I hope you didn't take this post to mean I'm a Mac fanboi. I'm not - in fact, I've always avoided Macs and trash talked them as much as the next PC enthusiast. My point was that my Vista experience was *so* bad, that I'm actually considering switching.

@shub - I did (of course) check for over-ambitious processes. A driver issue seems reasonable - I'd guess my video card. Agreed 100% on the memory usage - in XP I have never exceeded 1GB of memory used. In Vista it was hard to keep it under that. I'm actually very happy to have the OS use a ton of memory - but in that case it should be really fast.

FYI, I am using the 32 bit version - this one may be slower than the 64 bit version it sounds like the commenters are using.

Robby said...

@nathan - forgot to mention - since BG is now at his foundation instead of at MS we're actually not seeing SJ vs. BG. We're seeing SB vs SJ.

falcon said...

My experience is basically exactly that of Nathan Braun. I'm running Vista on OSX. Vista had its WFT??? moments, but then so did OSX. I love OSX's unixness. However, I also love Vista's WPF+3d Graphics card useability+F#.

Jonathan said...

Don't trust the memory usage you see in Vista; it is a lot more aggressive about using RAM insteading of allowing it to lie idle like XP does.

The basic idea is the lunch time problem, where in a virus scanner runs while you are at lunch. While it is running, all the memory is paged out so the scanner can have it. When you get back, all your programs are really slow while they get paged back into memory. With Vista, they are paged back in as soon as the virus scanner is done with the memory.

jc said...

Just installed Vista on my Tablet PC and love it. Way better than XP, but not as a good as my MacBook Pro.