Practical Technology

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Why Windows Vista will suck


Oh! My aching head.

When I first saw ExtremeTech’s Why Windows Vista Won’t Suck, I thought: “Aha, sarcasm.”

Nope. I was wrong.

They really were saying that Vista is pretty good.

Oh please.

First, let me say, I’ve been running Vista myself for quite some time. Next to me at this very moment is a Gateway 835GM. Under the hood, it has an Intel Pentium D 2.8GHz dual-core processor, an Intel 945G chipset, 1GB DDR2 (double data rate) DRAM, a 250GB SATA hard drive, and built-in Intel GMA (graphics media accelerator) 950 graphics. That’s a fairly powerful machine. Which is a good thing, because it’s the only PC in my office of 20 PCs that’s got enough oomph to run the Windows Vista February CTP (Community Technology Preview) build 5308 without driving me into fits of rage.

Mind you, it’s not enough machine for Vista. I could run any Linux with all the bells and whistles on it without a problem. But, even though this system meets Intel’s recommendations for a Vista-capable Intel Professional Business Platform, it still doesn’t have the graphics horsepower needed to carry off Vista’s much ballyhooed three-dimensional Aero Glass interface.

My point is, though, that while I write a lot about Linux, and I prefer it, my real specialty is that I know operating systems of all types and sorts, including Vista.

So when I say Vista sucks, well, I know what I’m talking about.

“Suck” is a relative term, though. Vista will be better than XP, which has easily been Microsoft’s best desktop operating system to date.

However, Vista also requires far more hardware oomph than previous Windows systems. I’d say Intel’s recommendations are pretty much a minimum for Vista. I would only add that if you expect to see the fancy desktop, you need to invest in, say, an ATI Radeon XPress 200, an Nvidia nForce4, or a high-end graphics card.

The truth is that very, very few people are going to be upgrading their existing systems to Vista. To make it work well, you’re really going to need a new computer. If you didn’t buy your PC in 2006, I wouldn’t even try to run Vista on it.

OK, so the first reason that Vista sucks is that, no matter what version you get, it’s likely to be expensive. No matter what Microsoft ends up charging for it, the only way most people are likely to be running it is when they get a new PC.

Now, let’s see what my colleagues at ExtremeTech have to say in Vista’s defense …

Vista is much safer and more secure. “The whole kernel has been reorganized and rewritten to help prevent software from affecting the system in unsavory ways.”

Well, yes, this is certainly what Microsoft would have to do to make it truly secure. I’ve say that myself. Unfortunately, while Microsoft has worked hard on improving Vista’s security, it’s still pretty much the same old rickety kernel underneath it.

Need proof? In January, Microsoft shipped the first security patch for Vista. It was for the WMF (Windows Metafile) hole. You know, the one, that my security guru friend Larry Seltzer called, “one of those careless things Microsoft did years ago with little or no consideration for the security consequences.”

Good job of cleaning up the core operating system, Microsoft!

Of course, Linux never had this kind of garbage to clean up in the first place.

The ExtremeTech guys also say that Microsoft has done a good job of cleaning up Windows’ use of memory management and heaps. They’re right about that.

What they don’t mention is that Linux and Mac OS X have both done that kind of thing well for years. They also don’t mention that for an application to actually get the most from these improvements, it will need to be rewritten. So, if you want to get the most from Vista, be sure to set some money aside for new applications as well as a new PC. You’ll need it.

They also praise SuperFetch, Microsoft’s new combination application pre-fetching technique and hyper-active virtual memory manager. Intelligent pre-fetching is a fine idea for boosting performance. You’ve been able to use it in any application written with the open-source GCC for years. Microsoft’s execution of it, however, has one of the biggest “What were they thinking of?” mistakes I’ve seen in a long time.

You see, with SuperFetch you can a USB 2.0-based flash drive as a fetch buffer between your RAM and your hard disk. Let me spell that out for you. Vista will put part of your running application on a device that can be kicked off, knocked out, or that your dog can carry away as a chew toy. Do you see the problem here? Me too!

I also understand that Vista will have improved TCP/IP networking. It’s nice to know that they’ve finally done something with that open-source BSD code that’s the basis of their TCP/IP network protocol.

What ExtremeTech doesn’t mention, though, is that Microsoft is also planning on making it so that you can use IPSec (IP security protocol) for internal network security. This is another of their “What were they thinking of?” moments.

IPSec works fine for VPNs (virtual private networks). But, as John Pescatore, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said about this scheme, “Once you try to encrypt internal communications, your network architecture breaks.” He’s got that right.

Next up, they say wonderful things about Home Premium Vista having Media Center capability being built into it. Maybe I’m just a little confused here, but after looking at the feature sets, the only thing I see that’s changed here is that they’ll be calling the next media-enabled Windows “Home Premium Vista” instead of “Media Center Vista.”

They also praise this version for having CableCard support, with the result that you’ll be able to record HD (high definition broadcasts) from cable instead of being stuck with OTA (over the air) HDTV, without turning your entertainment room into an electronics lab.

Excuse me, but that’s not because Microsoft is being innovative. It’s because they are still not shipping CableCard cards for PCs. Come the day they finally ship — and I’m betting the ATI OCCUR makes it out first — I suspect MythTV and the other open-source PVR (personal video recorder) projects will be right there.

The ExtremeTech crew also has nice things to say about Vista’s audio support. Mea culpa, it is better than anything else out there. So, Linux desktop designers, it’s time to get cracking on audio support. Vista’s still won’t be out, at the earliest, until the fourth quarter of this year, and that gives you plenty of time to play catch up.

DirectX10, which is mostly used for game graphics and in the aforementioned Aero, is also much improved. It’s also, however, completely different from DirectX9. Current games, current graphic cards, won’t be able to do anything with it, which is why Vista also supports DirectX 9.

Here again, I’ll give the Microsoft guys come credit. DirecX10 is a big improvement for the gamers. It’s still not going to make your PC the equal of a dedicated game console, however.

The folks from ExtremeTech also like the fact that Vista will have many more built-in applications. Isn’t this why Microsoft got into trouble with the Department of Justice a while back? Isn’t this the kind of thing that has both South Korea and the European Union raking them over the coals? Why, yes. Yes, it is.

Be that as it may, as I sit here looking at my SUSE 10 Linux desktop, I can’t help but notice that I have, for free, every software application I could ever want. Advantage: Linux.

At the end of the story, the ExtremeTech crew ‘fesses up that “We don’t know that it’s going to be great just yet.” True. And, I don’t know that it’s going to suck yet, either.

Expensive? Yes. Awful? We’ll see.

What I do know, is that I really don’t see a thing, not one single thing, that will make the still undelivered Vista significantly better than the Linux or the Mac OS X desktops I have in front of me today.

A version of “Why Windows Vista will suck” first appeared in DesktopLinux.

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