Practical Technology

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Vista: Born Broken


You’ve heard the critics say Vista was second-rate from the start, now hear what Microsoft’s own OEMs had to say about it. They thought it was junk too.

I’ve never been a friend to Vista. I’ve found it flawed, a resource hog, and, when you got right down to it, a step backward from Windows XP, not to mention Mac OS X and the various Linux desktops.

It turns out though that as harsh as I’ve been on Vista, it’s nothing compared to how computer builders and some of Microsoft’s own senior executives have felt about the misbegotten operating system.

For example, the New York Times reports that included in the documents that Microsoft was forced to turn over to U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman was one from Dell, which was aptly named, “Windows Vista Post Mortem.” In this March 25, 2007 document, Dell states that the “Late OS code changes broke drivers and applications, forcing key commodities to miss launch or limp out with issues.”

In the document, Dell went on to tell Microsoft that its Vista “upgrade program needs a complete overhaul” and that Microsoft should “not change program requirements after release to OEMs as changes are costly, time-consuming and distracting.”

Almost a year later, with the known device installation problems with the OEM version of Vista SP1, Microsoft is still missing this clue.

Is it any wonder that not long after, Dell started shipping desktop Linux and began to re-emphasize Windows XP? Thanks to the “Vista Capable” court case, we now know that Microsoft wasn’t only misleading customers, it was misleading OEMs as well.

Even inside Microsoft, we now know that it realized after Vista was shipping that the OS wasn’t really ready for prime time. A personal favorite of mine is Mike Nash, e-mailing the crew on Feb. 25, 2007 that “I personally got burned by the Intel 915 chip set issue that I bought PERSONALLY (eg with my own $$$).” He went on, “I know that I chose my laptop (a Sony TX770P) because it had the Vista logo and was pretty disappointed that not only wouldn’t it run [Aero] Glass, but more importantly it wouldn’t run Movie Maker.” As it was, Nash felt that he now had a “$2,100 e-mail machine.”

Steve Sinofsky, Microsoft’s senior vice president of Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group, himself, in a memo to Steve Ballmer, wrote on Feb. 17, 2007, that Vista was annoying customers for three reasons. These were: “No one ever really believed we would ship so they didn’t start work [on drivers] until very late in 2006.”

Sinofsky, himself, confessed that his Brother multi-function printer didn’t have drivers at first and even after they were available, it didn’t have full functionality.

Next up was the, “massive change in the underpinning for video and audio” which “lead to incompatibilities.” Sinofsky cited the example of graphic cards that might be able to run Aero Glass, Microsoft’s high-end graphics display, but only had XP drivers, which, of course, could never run Aero.

Last, he mentioned that many XP drivers broke under Vista. “This is across the board for printers, scanners, wan, accessories [fingerprint readers, smartcards, TV tuners] and so on.” That’s bad. What’s worse is that Microsoft wasn’t even ready for its own hardware to run under Vista.

Sinofsky wrote: “Microsoft’s own hardware was missing a lot of support (fingerprint readers, MCE [Windows Media Center Edition] extenders).

Bad Dogfood

Sad isn’t it? Even Microsoft’s top brass didn’t know just how bad Vista was until they actually had to use it for themselves.

As the New York Times noted though, Joan Kalkman, the general manager of OEM and embedded worldwide marketing, a week after Sinofsky’s note, wrote: “There is really nothing we can do in the short term. In the long term, we have worked hard to establish and have committed to an OEM Theme for Win[dows] 7 planning.”

This is a smoking gun. Recently, I said that that Microsoft has already given up on Vista and is really planning on Windows 7 to be its real next-generation operating system. It seems to me that this is a tacit admission that, within the first three months of Vista shipping, some people at Microsoft had already realized that Vista was a failure and it was time to look for fast-tracking its replacement.

Certainly, I’ve found that Vista SP1 is no real improvement over Vista SP nothing. As for me, I’ll keep using my Linux desktops and Mac OS X, and when I do need Windows, I’ll be running the far superior Windows XP SP3 instead of Vista. After all, if it’s not good enough for Microsoft’s own, why should I be using it?

A version of this story first appeared in eWEEK.

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