Charles Engelke's Blog

November 2, 2007

Vista, again

Filed under: Vista — Charles Engelke @ 6:48 pm

Earlier this year, I gave Vista a try. After less than two weeks, I gave up in frustration and went back to Windows XP. So why, when I bought my own new ThinkPad six weeks ago, did I order it with Vista Ultimate? Well, I wanted to give it another chance. And I wanted some of the features it has. And it’s certainly worked out much better this time. It’s taken me six weeks instead of only two to give up on it and go back to XP!

Actually, I haven’t yet totally given up on Vista. I’ve bought a new hard drive to put Windows XP on, and I may move back to the Vista disk after Microsoft finally releases a service pack for it. But I’m not very hopeful. Vista doesn’t really offer much in the way of useful new functionality, and it takes too much away in performance and stability. I’ve probably had to reboot my PC at least once a day, and each reboot takes forever. In fact, pretty much everything I do in Vista takes forever.

In a nutshell, here are the pluses and minuses of this trial of Vista:

Not as bad as last time

When I first tried Vista, it was almost non-stop frustration. Devices and software didn’t work, or didn’t work right. That didn’t happen at all this time. I attribute that to the fact that this time I was using a PC that had Vista pre-loaded on it, so all the hardware had proper, compatible drivers to start with. And it was six months later, so software that didn’t have Vista-compatible versions (Groove and Palm Desktop) now do. So it was a decent experience. And if I wasn’t used to Windows XP, and expecting a certain level of performance from a brand new ThinkPad T61p, I might have never given up on Vista. After all, it didn’t crash any more than Windows 95 used to, and I didn’t used to mind that too much.

Vista benefits

Vista’s Aero interface is very pretty, and I liked that. I also liked the way the Windows Start menu was reorganized, a lot. And there were a lot of smaller good things:

  • The old Documents and Settings folder is now called Users. Shorter, and no spaces. Command line users like me appreciate that.
  • The user folder, Users/charles, is a first-class Vista citizen. There are shortcuts to it in the Start menu, and in all the file dialog boxes. That means that I can keep the documents folder just for actual dynamic documents, and move pictures, music, video, e-books, and source code all up to children of the user folder, instead of the documents folder, and still get to them all easily. This helps for backup, because none of those special folders have the same backup requirements as documents.
  • The My is gone. The folders are Documents, Pictures, Music, and Videos. More grown-up, and shorter and without spaces.
  • The new Windows sidebar seems very cool. I really want it, and I want to find useful things to do with it. Unfortunately, I never could find those, so I got rid of it weeks before giving up on Vista.

Of course, all that doesn’t really add up to that much of value.

Vista problems

Oh, there are still a lot of them:

  • It is S-S-L-L-L-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-W-W-W. Really slow. It takes forever to boot up and shutdown. Vista says that doesn’t matter, because why shut down? Just hibernate! But it takes forever to hibernate and wake up. It even takes forever to stop showing the screen saver and start working again.
  • It would often stop responding for up to several minutes, with just the hard drive light flashing non-stop. Why? I often couldn’t tell. I usually couldn’t even get Task Manager to run, to show me what processes were using the CPU. I just had to wait it out.
  • At least once a day, an application would freeze up and its Window would go kind of gray. Sometimes I could kill the application, and go on. Sometimes I couldn’t, and then each of the other applications would freeze up, one at a time, until there was nothing I could do but a hard reset. That was an almost daily occurrence.
  • Did I mention it was slow? My new PC is faster than my last one, but with Vista it just crawls. I thought this wouldn’t bother me too much, since non-interactive stuff ran okay. But it bothered me. Why should I keep waiting for my computer to catch up to me?
  • Before I’d had the PC for a week, it refused to boot one morning, despite repeated tries. I couldn’t even boot into safe mode. I even called Lenovo tech support! They were worthless. They told me to run the system restore process, which would wipe out my whole hard drive and restore everything to the state it was in when I got it. If those bozos would just provide a real Vista boot disk, I could have fixed it easily. As it was, I finally found an option to boot to last known good configuration, which worked, and then rolled back the most recent changes. What had caused the problem? Apparently, an optional video driver update from Microsoft. Last time I fall for that.
  • Every time I boot up, I worry it won’t work. Although the failure to boot happened only once, it was so early in my ownership that I just can’t trust Vista to boot any more. And the incredibly long time it takes for it to boot doesn’t help with that. (You see, Vista is really slow.)

Next steps

After several hard reboots in one day I finally threw in the towel and exercised my right to “downgrade” to Windows XP for free. Well, the license is free, but Lenovo charged me $50 for the system restoration media, which bugs me. The media arrived yesterday, and my new hard drive is supposed to get here today, so I’ll be installing that over the weekend.

I bought a big hard drive (250GB), so I’m going to also install Ubuntu Linux in a dual-boot configuration. I don’t think I can really operate all the time in Linux, but I’m going to give it a shot. I’m posting this from a desktop I’ve got Ubuntu on, and it’s fast and stable (and boots nearly instantly). I doubt I’ll have as good an experience on a laptop, with all its specialty hardware, but I guess I’ll see.

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