Windows Vista has kind of gotten a bum rap. Some of the rap is deserved -- Microsoft shipped it too early. But for the most part, the rap is carried on by vocal techies who just like to poop on things because they think criticizing things makes them appear more knowledgeable.
Talking to a techie about the quality of mainstream software is a lot like talking to a film school graduate about the quality of mainstream movies. Sure, you might have liked Pirates of the Caribbean but talk to a film snob and it's the 7th sign of the Apocalypse. So how good is Windows Vista? The answer is, pretty good. Far better than Windows XP. But I can think of 5 big mistakes Microsoft made that has taken a window out of its sails.
Let me outline those 5 mistakes Microsoft made with the Windows Vista launch and talk about how Microsoft might be able to keep Windows Vista from being a sequel to Windows ME.
#1 The UAC. The User Account Control in Windows Vista is a feature that appears to have been designed by a marketing committee. Some casual computer user decided that the way to make other casual users think that Windows Vista was "secure" was to have more prompts. A lot more prompts. And so, even a power user (i.e. early adopters) logged on as an administrator is going to find themselves being prompted regularly. They can turn it off but that defeats the entire purpose of having better security.
The result: Power users turn it off and casual users learn to ignore the myriad of repetitive dialogs.
Solution: Have the UAC be a lot smarter. A simple "Always give permission to continue for this action" checkbox at the bottom of the dialog would be nice. It's bad enough that changing the IP address on Vista requires 5 clicks to get to (versus 2 in Windows XP) but it adds a 6th click to get past the UAC.
#2 Windows Vista was shipped before drivers were ready. This, combined with item #1 are probably responsible for the majority of the negative vibe Windows Vista has received.
As a practical matter, the first usable beta of Windows Vista wasn't made available until 4 or so months before Windows Vista shipped (or merely 1 month before "gold". This meant that many drivers, video drivers in particular, weren't ready. But for all those people who have a finicky scanner or Air card or other specialty peripheral had to be guinea pigs.
The result: Early adopters were stung with problematic behavior and a lack of drivers which caused frustration that they shared a lot with others.
Solution: This is mostly dealt with now (as of July 26th for nVidia users for instance). But when one considers how much reputation damage this caused Microsoft should really give more care in the future. Release a stable public beta long enough before going gold so that developers can provide adequate support.
#3 The new Start menu. Love the new Start Search. Kudos. Don't love the Start menu navigation which wants to exist in a fixed window. The example screenshot shows Microsoft's own apps being cut off. For those of us who liked to seriously organize our Start menu items into categories and such, this new start menu option is a huge pain.
Solution: Make the All Programs button behavior an option between the classic expanding menu or the new menu container.
#4 Unbelievably bad desktop performance. Another item that really hurt the initial impression of Windows Vista was how horrible basic desktop operations like copying and zipping were. A user would be copying a handful of files and would get this dialog trying to estimate how long the copy should take. Here's your answer: less than a second! At least, that's what it should have taken. Instead, the estimating time dialog would take a few seconds and then the copy would take a second or two. This sort of thing on routine file copying and moving made Windows Vista feel like a pig.
Solution: Service Pack 1 is supposed to address this sort of thing more thoroughly but the good news is that Microsoft did officially release some patches that improves desktop performance significantly.
#5 Upgrade Pricing is a joke. I wonder what color the sky is on planet Microsoft. Because on planet Microsoft, the Xbox 360 is $350 which not only includes the OS (with Media Center), a 20 Gigabyte Hard drive and other goodies, but at the same time Windows Vista Home Premium Upgrade lists for $160. Sure, it's not a truly fair comparison (console makers get a piece of revenue from console games) but the point is still valid. One might get the impression that Microsoft has a monopoly in the PC OS market but does not in the console market.
The big problem is that Microsoft's marketing never made the case for what you are actually getting for that $160. I like Windows Vista. I think it's a big improvement over Windows XP. And when I buy a computer, I am glad Windows Vista comes with it. But upgrading my existing computers? The incredibly stingy "Family Discount" (which has expired) wasn't even close to justifying upgrading machines to Vista.
Maybe there is $160 in value buried in Windows Vista Home Premium but Microsoft's marketing didn't make the case. And I can't find it -- especially when you combine it with the above issues. This wasn't a problem with Windows XP. Windows XP was blatantly better than Windows ME/98 and it was noticeably better than Windows 2000 (which only had a tiny share of the market compared to 98/ME). As a result, 7 months later, Windows Vista has less than 10% of the market. By contrast, I remember watching Windows XP's launch and the migration to Windows XP was pretty swift.
Solution: No solution. They aren't likely to lower pricing any time soon. Once Service Pack 1 has been integrated into the OEM versions (the ones that ship with new PCs) you'll see nearly everyone opting for Windows Vista on a new machine while older machines continue with Windows XP.
I could go on with numerous other items like the terrible icon handling, the fact that development tools weren't ready for prime time, that Microsoft's marketing efforts were seemingly handled by non-technical people (I mean, really, Flip3D is actually one of the first things mentioned on the Windows Vista home page -- how deep are you digging to find compelling features when a fairly useless task switcher is your money shot?), all have contributed to the negative buzz around Windows Vista.
Which is a shame because Windows Vista is really very good. On a scale from 1 to 10, if Windows 98 was a 4, Windows ME a 3, Windows 2000 a 6 and Windows XP a 7 then Windows Vista is easily an 8. It's a worthy and significant upgrade. It deserves a good reputation. Hopefully, Microsoft can get Service Pack 1 out sooner rather than later and address as best they can the issues that many people have brought up.
Note: This is the first of the new series of weekly Neowin.net editorials. Let us know what you think.