Our big boy Windows Vista is turning six today, and like any proud, overbearing and slightly embarrassing parent, we want to give a little speech. Only, in this case, we want to remind you just why Vista was a godforsaken OS with more design flaws than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Happy Birthday, buddy.
Look, we’re used to getting shafted by tech companies when it comes to UK pricing. Microsoft, though, really took the piss when it came to Vista pricing. For the privilege and honour of upgrading your system to the mighty Vista, UK customers were expected to fork over £100 — and that was just for the non-singing, non-dancing Basic version. Not toooooo bad, you might be thinking — but in the US, it cost just 100 dollars. Back in 2007, the exchange rate was basically 2:1, which means Microsoft was charging us double the real price of Vista. Grrrr.
Vista’s biggest change, for most people, was the supposedly-sexy new Aero interface. It was meant to add a touch of 21-century 3D desktop magic, but it ended up sucking the life-blood out of your computer’s hardware. This wasn’t helped by Microsoft lowering its ‘minimum’ hardware standards to help manufacturers; this left Vista running on cheapo laptops at the pace of an arthritic snail. In fact, a fair few computers were actually slower on Vista than on XP — that’s not how an upgrade’s meant to work.
This leads nicely into Vista’s next failing. For a supposedly new OS, it relied far too much on XP-era interfaces for anything slightly complicated. Once you delved past the nannying questions into something like Device Manager, it was straight back to XP-style window. Truth be told, Vista’s UI reminds me somewhat of manufacturer skins on Android — sure, they look nice, but often they slow down a perfectly good OS, and dig too far and you land back in the old UI.
The User Interface problem wasn’t helped by Media Centre. The idea was Media Centre gave a hub for all your media files, and also a control for TV tuners. That’s all well and good, but the overwhelming majority of people never connected their laptops to a big screen, or used a TV tuner. Nonetheless, Windows (in Premium and Ultimate editions, at least) slapped everyone with Media Centre.
It sucked as a ‘Media Centre’ for a laptop because it yanked you out of the desktop and into an irritating, slow, buggy interface that was basically just a souped-up skin for Windows Media Player. Fine, so anyone with common sense installed VLC and didn’t look back, but for far too many helpless victims, Vista meant a really terrible media experience.
With any big release, driver support is always going to be an issue; with Vista, Microsoft ballsed it up even more by failing to get key players like NVIDIA to provide stable drivers at launch. Sure, not being able to plug your webcam in is annoying, but having no driver for your graphics card is a real buzzkill.
One of the big things Vista integrated was User Account Control, which required users to click “OK” on a pop-up pretty much any time they did anything. It was meant to get in your face and force you to second-guess decisions — even Microsoft were quoted as saying “the reason we put UAC into the platform was to annoy users“. It went way too far, though, since the crazy stupid number of pop-ups meant that if you wanted to get anything done, you just mashed “OK” on anything that popped up, leading to situations like this:
“Want to install this program?”
“Yes, of course I do you dumb machine, that’s why I clicked run”
“Want to install this dodgy virus that’ll steal your identity and first-born child?”
“ANYTHING, JUST GET RID OF THE FREAKING POP-UP!”
Needless to say, Microsoft’s cunning security feature wasn’t exactly a big hit with users.
Initially, Microsoft was very eager to get the whole world and their doggies running Vista, so they stopped sale of XP. Considering that Vista was a buggy piece of crap, this upset many intelligent folk who wanted the comforting stability and security of XP. Eventually, Microsoft relented, but not until they’d pissed off a small horde of customers.
For whatever reason, Microsoft’s shiny new OS was generally a little bit worse at running games than XP, an OS six years older than it. That’s inexcusable. One of the awesome things about Windows 8 is that almost everything runs faster, giving you a solid reason to upgrade to it. Vista was pretty much the complete opposite to this.
For some reason, Microsoft felt the need to take things that had worked perfectly well before — like “add or remove programs” — and turn them into badly named, lopsided and just plain worse features like “uninstall or change a program or feature”. Not only that, but Microsoft also buried useful stuff in patronisingly-named holes under miles of crap, like the goddamn “Network and Sharing Centre”, which sounds more like a hippie meditation retreat than somewhere you go to sort out your Wi-Fi.
Ultimately, Microsoft jumped the gun with Vista. They were so keen to get out an update to a perfectly good operating system that they put out a half-arsed, buggy beta release of 7, that just happened to be called Vista and cost you real money. XP wasn’t desperately broken in 2007; if Microsoft had held on for another year or two and skipped Vista altogether, they would’ve saved themselves a lot of face, and the rest of the world a whole tonne of dough.