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RETURN ON TECHNOLOGY: With Vista, the view is anything but grand

November 12, 2007

As you probably know, early this year Microsoft released its new operating system, known as "Vista." I first wrote about it in March 2006. I got my initial look at it when it was code-named "Longhorn" in 2005, and I wasn't impressed. It hasn't improved with age.

You'd think that, after creating operating systems since 1985, Microsoft would know what it's doing. You'd think wrong. Reading the articles, blogs and other commentary about Vista is like cracking open the door to hell and listening to the cries of the damned. And now I can add my voice to the baleful chorus. I own Vista, and I regret it.

To be precise, my wife owns Vista. It came preloaded on a machine from one of the country's last big computer manufacturers. I had no choice at the time. Microsoft has now relented and permits computer makers to continue offering the older XP version of Windows, which has served me well for years, but it wasn't an option with my purchase. My wife does only simple work from home, so I opted for Vista Home.

When the machine arrived, I quickly connected it together and booted it up. Or tried to. It appeared to hang partway through boot-up. Twenty minutes later, it finished booting. I then proceeded to load software onto it. That required rebooting. Which took another half-hour or so each time. I tried to download and install Microsoft's Instant Messenger, because my wife likes to use it to keep in touch. It would download, but it wouldn't install. To this day, it hasn't.

It may have to do with Vista's hidden administrator account. You may be aware that every PC comes with an administrator account that, when logged into, grants almost unlimited powers to install and delete programs, among other things. But Vista introduced the concept of a hidden one. Just what I need-a computer treasure hunt.

Microsoft responded to my e-mails, to its credit. But it didn't have much good advice to offer. For some reason, the lengthy boot-up problem went away within a few days, but I'm still seeing online complaints from others about how long it takes for Vista to light up.

As frustrating as all this was, it only presaged my wife's irritations. I work with and around computers constantly, so I'm understanding of their frailties. She is not. When Vista began pestering her with constant notices that this or that application was trying to contact the Internet, or trying to launch a process (don't ask), or some other innocuous thing, she frequently had to pause and ponder. Then she would interrupt my work to ask me what she should do.

The result is that she now has hardware that, on paper, is faster than mine, but does everything more slowly, thanks primarily to Vista. Much of the sludgy speed is due to security "enhancements" that make Vista seem like a timid new employee constantly rushing into your office to ask whether every decision, however small, is OK with you.

Perhaps I'd be better off starting over and loading XP, but that would take a huge amount of time and tinkering. I'm not eligible to have my system "downgraded," as Microsoft puts it, so I'd have to do the job myself.

Others have also complained that Vista doesn't work the same way with some peripherals, which can make them choke and die. That means that, not only will you have to change to Vista eventually, but you may well have to buy a new printer, external hard drive or Webcam.

What with Microsoft's recent antitrust problems overseas and its still-raw wounds from the antitrust battle it fought with the U.S. Justice Department, the company seems to be uncharacteristically conciliatory about forcing customers to bond with its ugly new baby.

It's permitting computer makers to keep putting XP on new computers, and it's maintaining XP support for quite some time. XP loses its mainstream support in April 2009, and its extended support in April 2014. Mainstream support includes security updates, fixes to major bugs and Microsoft's willingness to accept requests to change features. When the product moves to the ironically named extendedsupport phase, only security updates and paid support stay in force. After that, it's Vista all the way, apparently.

Interestingly, Microsoft's home page, at this writing, doesn't mention Vista. If I were Microsoft, I'd downplay the product, too. Most of us see no need for Vista, don't trust it, and don't really want it, but will have to buy it regardless because, before long, new computers will come only with Vista installed, not XP.

The only substantive way to protest is for all of us to switch to Apple Macs, and if that hasn't happened before now, it isn't going to happen. So happy Vistas to us all.



Altom is an independent local technology consultant. His column appears every other week. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at timaltom@sbcglobal.net.
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