Last week, I wrote up a quick article discussing my reasons for downgrading from Windows Vista to Windows XP on my primary desktop. I was taken aback by the comments. Some agreed with me and some took it upon themselves to attack me for saying it. Instead of shrinking from anything, I decided to debate them in the comments. I was accused of spreading propaganda. I was accused of not being computer literate and using shoddy reasoning to take shots at Windows Vista. I responded to each of these, but I was really left wondering why this subject drives people to get so defensive.

My Response

Before I go on, I will first make a few things clear. I know I am in a position where what I post can sway people to or from a particular operating system. There are a lot of people who read what I say here on this site. So, I know full well that if I bash Vista, there are some who will make decisions based on that. That said, I am glad I moved back to Windows XP on this machine. And it comes down to one thing:

Windows XP Simply WORKS! Period. Case closed.

I can’t say the same for Windows Vista – yet. And that is my qualifier here. Windows Vista IS better than XP was when it was first released to the public. With XP, it really wasn’t until after SP2 that it became as solid as it is. So, good effort, Microsoft. But, the thing is that as it sits now, Windows XP SP2 is a more stable and faster operating system than Windows Vista.

If you get Windows Vista on a fully proprietary machine pre-loaded, chances are it will work fine. And that is because the manufacturer has ironed out all the driver issues for you. But, if you buy Vista off the shelf and load it onto your machine yourself (proprietary or not), you may run into trouble. Some of the commenters in my last article kept brining up third-party software and drivers as the point of blame. They have a point, but it is short-sighted to say Microsoft is just an innocent pawn in this game. Vista is an absolute beast of an operating system, larger than any other OS in Microsoft history. The development time line kept getting pushed back and things were changing the entire time. In other words, the development time frame of Windows Vista was anything but straight-forward. Yes, they had a long beta period with Vista. But, it was a beta period wrought with unpredictabilities. If a company is trying to program solid drivers for such an operating system, it is hard to do so in such an environment.

Are third party drivers at fault for Vista instability? Yes, some. But, I think Microsoft didn’t exactly help with that problem with the constant delays of an RTM version of Vista. And enough things changed internally with Vista that some software needs overhaul in order to work properly. I know when I moved to Vista I had to upgrade at least two major applications I used just to get it to function under Vista. You multiply this issue out across the wide array of system configurations and software titles on the market and you can see why there are so many people having instability issues with Windows Vista. A search for “vista problems” on Google will give you almost 42 million results!

So, I don’t completely blame Microsoft for this problem. But, some of that blame does indeed sit at the door of Redmond. Absolutely.

Where is Windows Going?

For me, this is the question. Windows has evolved to a point where it is a beast that has built up over the years, almost to the point where I don’t even know if Microsoft fully understands how it works anymore. It strikes me as an operating system that started out with a core kernel and then got buried over time with corrections upon corrections, patches upon patches, almost to the point where Microsoft is losing sight of where it is going with this thing. In fact, in the Wikipedia entry talking about the development of Windows Vista, it states:

In a September 23, 2005 front-page article on The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft co-president Jim Allchin, who had overall responsibility for the development and delivery of Windows, explained how development of Longhorn was “crashing into the ground” due in large part to the haphazard methods by which features were introduced and integrated into the core of the operating system, without a clear focus on an end-product.

Is Windows bloated? Yes. Is it probably now too internally complicated? Yes. Windows is now a core OS that is buried so deep in little features, utilities, and system specific features that it now requires a full DVD just to fit in (as Windows Vista does). Logic usually tells you that power comes with simplicity. And as Windows moves further from it’s simplicity, my gut tells me that it will only become less powerful. Unix is so powerful and popular in intense server environments because it is simple and stable. Windows is not, and I personally have not used a Windows server that did not crash and become problematic over time.

Windows Vista is a good operating system that will get better over time, despite it being on bloated ground. Yes, at this point, I’m happy with XP. XP works. Vendors have dealt with any idiosyncrasies so that most everything works fine under Windows XP. Vista is not at that point yet. It will get there. But, then what are we left with? A big, beefier version of Windows that doesn’t really do anything new, but looks good.

Where Windows is going depends greatly on how Microsoft handles their next release of Windows. In my opinion, I think Windows needs to return to it’s core values. It needs to simplify. It needs to drop the bloat and drop some of these arcane features that could just as easily be done by third-party or even Microsoft add-ons. But, add-ons, nonetheless. I also think the next version of Windows needs to drop some of it’s backward compatibility. See, Microsoft tries to make Windows all things to all people. While the hardware requirements continually increase, they make an effort to make Windows backward compatible with a whole range of older software. The problem is that this leads to more bloat and code relics that can lead to problems.

I think Windows needs a ground-up rewrite. Other tech pundits agree as well. Bring it up to the times (like Vista) but without having to also run everything else under the sun. It will alienate some, but that is called evolution.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if we ever saw a Windows core which was based on Unix? Probably will never happen, but I can dream.

Microsoft is At a Crossroads

If Windows continues to bloat unabated, I think the Windows brand will subside over time. You will begin to find more Windows virtual machines rather than Windows as the primary OS. More computing activity is going online anyway. People want things that work and are simple. And lightweight is usually the better way to go. Perhaps we will eventually see more Linux machines running Windows in a virtual environment. We are already seeing more Apple computers running Windows inside of Parallels. Will this trend continue?

I hope that Vista represents the last beast version of Microsoft Windows. We don’t need a car with more bells and whistles. We need a car that just works – every time you use it. Sometimes a Honda Civic is just more reliable than the fanciest Ford. With the next version of Windows after Vista, let’s hope they give us a Honda Civic and not a Hummer.

If they do that, driver manufacturers will have an easier time. Microsoft themselves will have a MUCH easier time and it won’t take almost 6 years to develop a questionable upgrade. And users will be happy. At least I will be.