In Memory of Vista

With the Windows 7 RC now available to the public, you may not see much value in its predecessor. But Vista had some good points.

I feel sorry for Windows Vista. I think all computer users tend to anthropomorphize their technology, and if there was ever a piece of technology that deserves some pity, it's Vista. Vista's bad reputation isn't totally undeserved, but here are some things that I think merit some nice thoughts for the soon-to-be-outdated OS.

  1. It made 64-bit mainstream. RAM is dirt cheap. Virtualization is getting very popular for many different purposes, and virtualization requires extra RAM. And even though many applications can't take advantage of more than 2GB of RAM, more RAM means better performance for multitaskers.

    The problem with increasing the amount of RAM in PCs is that before Vista, PCs were mostly stuck with 32-bit OSs, and 32-bit OSs can't use more than 4GB of RAM. Sure, there are 64-bit editions of Windows XP. (Two of them, in fact, one for x86 processors and one for Itanium processors.) But XP 64 wasn't widely adopted. There aren't 64-bit XP drivers for a ton of hardware, and its small numbers didn't give vendors much reason to make applications and hardware work. Linux OSs and a few others also had early 64-bit support, but again, they didn't have the market share to push manufacturers.

    64-bit Vista, however, is commonly sold on new computers. Thanks to Vista, vendors have been dragged forward into the 64-bit era. While it caused incompatibilities, especially when Vista was first released, everyone should thank Vista for taking the hit in popularity so that PCs can use more than 4GB of RAM.

  2. When it's stable, it's incredibly stable. I've heard plenty of anecdotes about Vista crashing all the time, but my personal experience is just the opposite. I've used Vista for about a year on two different computers, over 10 hours a day on average, and I've never seen the OS crash. Sure, applications crash, but I've never had to reboot my system because of a crash. Maybe I just have a ton of luck when it comes to Vista, but I'm impressed by the stability.

  3. On high-end hardware, performance is great. One of Vista's biggest failings is that it can slow down even respectable machines to a crawl. My office machine has a mid-range dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM, but Vista's performance is unimpressive at best.

    At home, however, Vista is impressive. I assume it's mostly due to having more RAM, or maybe it's a side effect of using 64-bit Vista at home instead of the 32-bit at the office, but it has that hard-to-define feel of everything responding and loading as soon as you click. It's also the fastest booting machine I've ever seen (unless you count things like booting to a DOS prompt, of course) and it doesn't gradually slow down over time, begging for a reboot, like XP often did.

    Everyone should cut Vista some slack here. I think Microsoft designed Vista assuming that everyone would be using very powerful PCs not long after the OS's release, and tuned Vista to work best when there was power to spare. The problem for Vista is that the average user's computer hasn't gotten much better since 2006—the average system specifications of PCs has probably fallen since Vista's 2006 launch, thanks to the proliferation of underpowered netbooks.

  4. The instant search box is cool. Vista is criticized because many of the changes made in the UI from Windows XP are seen as arbitrary, rather than improvements. But the addition of the instant search box to the Start menu strikes me as one of the best ideas I've ever seen in a UI. At any time, you can hit the Windows key and access almost anything on your hard drive. It provides much of the functionality of a command line without losing any of the benefits of a GUI.

Vista brought some good additions to the Windows line, and all of my favorite features of Vista seem to have made it into Windows 7. So even though Vista added to Windows, and I feel sorry for it, I'd have to recommend against anyone switching to Vista now. Wait for Windows 7.

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