I have gotten several emails about Windows 7 recently (and even a couple about Vista). Since I am in the middle of a large Win7 architectural and deployment project, I thought I would take time and jot down some thoughts and try to answer the emails in the progress.
I don’t want to do a feature by feature comparison of Vista and Win 7, because there are hundreds of those available. I could spend the next three months writing about XP Mode(virtualization), multi-core performance improvements, TRIM support for solid state drives, the new task bar, and on and on. Within Microsoft the company, they changed the way they managed code internally during Windows 7 development. While this won’t necessarily lead to better code, it did speed development time and allowed more time for quality assurance testing. These are all great features and topics, but I want to take a consumer’s view of what happened between Vista and Win 7.
Windows 7 has been available for less than a year and it has already surpassed the market shares held by Apple’s OSX and Windows Vista. There will always be those who follow OSX in a cult-like fashion, but it seems that Vista has become a distant memory to even the most ardent Microsoft supporters. How is it that Microsoft can release an operating system that infuriated people then turn around and release a successor a couple of years later and have people claiming it is the best operating system ever?
What was so wrong with Vista?
From a consumer point of view, Vista was a train wreck when it was released in 2006. Specifically:
- Bugs: Microsoft and their legion of followers cannot deny it, there were bugs. Vista was a re-write of the Windows client. During the development process, there were numerous delays and feature cuts. At one point early in the development process, Microsoft even stopped development completely to push XP SP2 out the door. Microsoft was feeling pressure to release this much anticipated operating system. With any re-write, especially on the magnitude of Windows, there will be bugs. It is obvious this pressure forced Microsoft to release the bits before Vista was ready. As a result, there were many more bugs than there should have been on release day. I’m sure Microsoft was taking the “we’ll fix it later” approach just to say they shipped by a certain date. Within weeks Microsoft began to publish reliability and performance patches.
- Drivers: Like many things, the driver model changed from XP to Vista. As a result, all hardware drivers had to be rewritten. (This is the reason that some legacy devices won’t work with Vista/Win7) Even though there were several preview versions of Vista, hardware makers were not ready. I saw a stat that claimed Nvidia video drivers were the number one cause of all Vista crashes — but I have no way to verify this. This wasn’t just an Nvidia problem, they were just the most visible.
- Hardware: The hardware requirements in Vista were dramatically higher than in XP. No longer would 512 MB of RAM be sufficient to run Windows. Vista would require a minimum of 1 GB to operate, and 2 GB to operate proficiently. The same leap in performance was also required for the processor. Many early adopters were the first to buy Vista, but also the first to realize their XP-era computers could not handle the load.
- Crapware = bloat:The scourge of crapware started in the XP days and reached a peak with Vista. Mainstream computer manufacturers were adding their own utilities on top of the core operating system. Plus, they were offsetting the cost by allowing other vendors to place their apps and utilities on the system. True, most of the craplets could be removed, but the problem was that if you ever needed to restore your computer to factory state, the DVD that shipped with your computer included all this junk. Take for example my sister-in-laws Vista laptop. This Dell laptop had decent specs with 3 GB of RAM and a solid CPU. However, it took nearly five minutes for the laptop to boot to a usable state! I got a hold of it and found media players, photo editors, printer monitors, wireless managers, and all kinds of unneeded garbage that she didn’t install. Why would she need Dell’s wireless manager when the one built into Windows is clean and works very well? After I removed the junk, it went from a five minute boot to under one minute!
- Core Apps: Why did Vista include Windows Mail, Windows Photo Gallery, and Windows Movie Maker if they were also developing a new set of the same utilties called Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Photo Gallery, and Windows Live Movie Maker. It wouldn’t have been so confusing had the new Live apps actually replaced the bundled apps. Instead, when you installed the new apps, it left the old ones behind too. If you has JPG files set to open in Photo Gallery and PNG files set to open in LIVE Photo Gallery, it would get really confusing very quickly.
As a side note, there is a free utility called The Decrappifer which claims it will scan your system and remove all this junk.
Why didn’t Windows 7 suffer the same growing pains?
Fast forward to 2009 to the Windows 7 release. Why didn’t the problems listed above impact 7 in the same way they did with Vista?
- Bugs: Windows 7 was not a re-write. In fact, you could even consider it Vista Version 2 — really. Yes, MS made many improvements on the surface and under the hood, but the fact remains that most of Win 7 is, in fact, Vista. As a result, the opportunity to introduce new bugs went way down.
- Drivers: Since Win 7 was not a complete re-write, the driver model did not change. Even though most hardware makers updated drivers for Win 7, the Vista era drivers were sufficient in most cases.
- Hardware: Once again, since Win 7 is really Vista Version 2, the hardware requirements did not go up. So any Vista capable machine could run 7. In fact, due to lots of work optimizing the operating system, you could actually run Win 7 on fewer hardware resources than Vista required!
- Crapware: Yes, crapware still exists, but Microsoft has put limits on what can be installed. In fact, they even limit the number of icons which can be “pinned” to the Windows 7 start menu. With any new store-bought system, you should still examine what is installed and remove what you can. Dell or HP will try to sneak their wireless manager onto some systems. The Decrappifier works on Win 7 also!
- Core Apps: Windows 7 did not include a photo library, movie maker, or mail client. Instead, they directed you to a download of the new Live Essentials site. This is much cleaner and allows the Live apps to be developed and released independently of the Windows Client. No longer will you have to wait for a Windows Service Pack to add functionality to the mail client.
The Truth About Vista.
It seems that the industry in general ignores this, but the truth is that Microsoft eventually fixed Vista and it became a good operating system. Take this note I got from Robert R:
“Why are people telling me to upgrade to Windows 7 when Vista works perfectly for me? To me, Vista seems just as good as Windows 7.”
I wouldn’t say that Vista as good as Windows 7, but it definitelybecame good enough to run on a daily basis and to operate your business on. It took a few years to get to this point and many of the improvements were actually a result of the Win 7 development.
Even th0ugh there are many people using Vista (some liking it, some not) it has become the forgotten operating system and it is time to move on to Windows 7. In fact, there are already talks about what is going to be included in Windows 8! The damage is done. Even those who have never used Vista, claim it is a horrid operating system. Did you ever see those Microsoft Mojave commercials? The producers sat typical consumers down and asked them rate Vista. Then, they unveil Mojave, Microsoft’s newest OS. They then ask the same consumers to rate it. The commercials show user rating Vista a 2 to 3, then Mojave anywhere from an 8 to 10. Of course they drop the boom and inform them they are actually using Vista. A little dramatic, but they were trying to overcome the stigma which the bad release caused.
Time to Move On
The point is, the damage is done and no clever marketing can undo it (well, maybe Apple’s marketing could). This is why Microsoft saw Windows 7 as such a ciritical release. Even though this was really Vista Version 2, people saw it as much more and the results have been much much better for Microsoft, consumers and corporate users.