Thursday, February 01, 2007

Tech Link (Operating System): Windows Vista Arrives with a Thud

The day has finally arrived: the retail launch for Windows' new ambitious operating system. Surely with an event as highly anticipated as this one there would be PS3-like mayhem in the streets. Except there's not. We give our thoughts on why.
I can not agree more on this, I also can't convince myself why I need to upgrade to this operating system. Read the whole editorial by expanding this article.

Why We're Not Excited
As this goes to print, Windows Vista is available in the retail channel. Can you feel the buzz? I can’t either, because there isn’t one. If anything, the buzz has been negative, and more along the lines of “Tell me why I need this again?” than a laundry list of Vista features that users can’t wait to get their hands on.

This is obviously not the position Microsoft wanted to be in leading up to launch day. I remember meeting with Microsoft last year at E3 where I had my backside filled with smoke for an hour by the Vista PR crew. The gist of our hour-long meeting was, “It’s going to be awesome!” I kept asking them specifically about DirectX 10 and what it would bring to the table, and they said that since no DX10 hardware was available at that time, they didn’t want to comment. But it would, without question, “be awesome!” They also didn’t have a lot of specifics about how Vista would specifically and tangibly be better than XP, but man oh man, it was going to be great.

Fast forward to July of 2006, and I’m sitting in a room (along with many other journalists) with Peter Moore, who is in charge of Microsoft’s new Games for Windows initiative. Several people ask him questions about Xbox live and other console questions, but finally I raise my hand in the air and say, “Mr. Moore, we’ve heard all this talk about how great Vista is going to be for gaming. Can you tell me specifically how gaming on Vista will be better than on XP?” He thanked me for my question, and then rattled off a PR-laden answer that is best summarized by “It’s going to be awesome!” He finished his answer with a claim resembling, “Just wait, you’ll see.”

Finally, a short time later, I get an email saying Microsoft’s Games for Windows and Vista people want to meet with me to show me how awesome Vista and PC gaming are going to be. I readily agree, but tell my co-worker before entering the room “If they tell me it’s going to be awesome one more time…” We enter the meeting and proceed to be snow-jobbed for a half hour once again. This time, however, the meeting focused on one solitary feature of Vista - parental controls. Now, I agree that is a good feature, but I don’t have kids so this feature doesn’t mean much to me. Besides, we were there to see how good Vista was at gaming.

What was interesting though, was they were running Vista on a Voodoo PC. At the end of the presentation they asked us, “Isn’t this running great on this Voodoo PC?” We said something like, “Sure, it looks great,” while shrugging to one another. The Microsoft representative then looked at us with a big smile and said, “We’ll send you a Voodoo PC next week, so you’ll have a super-fast PC to run Vista on in your lab.” This not-so-subtle art of diverting attention is semi-common in the hardware industry, but we were surprised to see a company as powerful as Microsoft stoop to this level.

While Microsoft was running a full-court press to convince journalists of Vista’s capabilities, it was also trying to convince a delay-weary public that despite Vista’s long, winding road to market, it would all be worthwhile. The problem is that a large percentage of potential customers stopped caring about Vista some time ago, especially when key features were cut and the OS kept getting delayed. The appearance of numerous articles and editorials describing the fledgling OS as an impending disaster for Microsoft also did not help Microsoft’s PR campaign.

Now that Microsoft’s largely ineffective marketing campaign is coming to a close, we’re all faced with the question of whether or not we should upgrade. To be fair, however, most of us know that we will eventually upgrade due to Microsoft’s inclusion of DirectX 10, so it’s not really so much a question of “if” but rather “when.” Indeed, DX10 is practically the only feature most of us want, and we’ll have to pay for it, as Vista is the only way to get it. Microsoft deserves credit, in a Darth Vader type of way, for tying DX10 into Vista in order to force consumers to upgrade.

But putting DX10 aside, what other features does Vista offer that are must-haves? I think the answer is none. We all know how lacking Windows 95 and 98 were (I won’t even bother mentioning the disaster that was Windows Millennium), and both those OSes clearly needed to be improved. When XP arrived, it basically fixed most of the problems people were having with the older OSes, and a lot of people – myself included – have been perfectly happy with XP for some time now. It’s surely not perfect, but it’s damn good and very stable. All applications and games work fine, drivers abound and it’s easy to work with. What more could a computer enthusiast ask for?

That is the vexing question Microsoft is seeking to answer, and it’s a tough one since most people seem to be rather happy with XP, in all of its iterations. However, in the interest of science, I’ve been using Vista for the past six months and it’s left me completely underwhelmed. Rather than being a major step-forward in User Interface (UI) design, accessibility, and ease-of-use, it’s largely a step backward. Everything from the wonky Start Menu to the broken address bar navigation is a mess. And I won’t even get into the unbelievably cluttered Control Panel, the Network Places confusion, and the constant “this program needs your permission” dialogue boxes that pop-up for something as mundane as transferring files from a Compact Flash card to your hard drive.

There are literally so many things that irritate me about Vista, it’s not even worth going into detail on each of them. Let me just summarize by saying Vista is the opposite of what I would call “user friendly,” and a lot of steps Microsoft has taken to make things easier have had the opposite effect. Throw in the discombobulated driver support, lack of support for third-party hardware, benchmarks that show Vista to be slower in games than XP, and its steep price tag and you’ve got an OS that most people don’t see the need for, and quite frankly, don’t really want.

Sadly, none of these issues will slow the adoption of Windows Vista. It’s been reported that Microsoft makes 80 percent of its operating system revenue from pre-built machines, which will fuel the adoption rate and allow for Vista to achieve widespread market penetration this year, despite the consumer’s reluctance to upgrade. Unlike with previous OSes from Microsoft, it seems that almost all Vista sales will be for pre-built PCs, rather than enthusiasts buying a copy for the PC they already own.

And enthusiasts won’t buy it because of a simple reason; at this time, there’s no compelling reason to do so. John Carmack, of the id Software fame, said it best recently in an interview with where he said, “I suspect I could run XP for a great many more years without having a problem with it.” He concluded by adding, “They’re [Microsoft] really grasping at straws for reasons to upgrade the operating system.”

Source:Windows Vista Arrives with a Thud

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