Death match: Windows Vista versus XP

So there you are, signing the "Save XP" petition, shaking your fist in triumph as you stick it to "the man." It's a liberating feeling. You've found the courage to buck the trend and jump off the Wintel upgrade treadmill. You feel empowered, enlightened. But still, there are these nagging doubts.

Can you really skip the Vista upgrade cycle? Will Windows XP still be properly supported by Microsoft and, as a primary development target, by third parties? Is there something we've missed, some hidden gotcha that's going to trip us up 12, 18, or 24 months from now?

Of course, there's no universal answer to the Vista upgrade question. Yes, in all likelihood you'll be just fine sticking with Windows XP -- at least until Windows 7 ships in 2009 or 2010. But let's not rush to universal judgment. Let's take a close, measured look at the key considerations, and compare Vista's merits against the state of XP on the essential points that IT organizations and end-users care about. And if we can't solve this calmly and objectively, like fair-minded professionals, then let's at least have a good fight.

Are you ready to rumble? OK, then. Operating systems, return to your corners, and come out swinging.

Round 1: Security

Security is one of the first areas to come to mind when considering a Vista migration. Features such as UAC (User Account Control) and Internet Explorer Protected Mode have been making headlines for more than a year -- but not always in the context Microsoft would have wanted. UAC, in particular, has been savaged by critics who balk at its many annoying confirmation dialogs. Just try enabling or disabling multiple network connections quickly or moving a file into a protected folder.

However, even with UAC -- which is really just a more visible, "in your face" implementation of the user account controls that have been built into Windows NT since day one -- Vista still isn't fully secure. There are documented ways around UAC involving Internet Explorer, security token privilege escalation, and the exploitation of the "deprecated administrator" status of the default Vista account model.

More importantly, however, is the fact that most IT shops have already implemented a form of UAC under Windows XP by not allowing domain users to run as local administrators and, in some cases, writing their own "elevation" utilities to make it all work seamlessly. In practice, these "locked down" XP systems are in some ways more secure than a UAC-protected Vista system, because they're immune to the aforementioned privilege elevation exploit. To bring Vista systems on par with XP, you need to force users to work with a true non-admin account, as opposed to Vista's "deprecated admin" account, which puts you right back at square one (that is, where XP is today).

Other security features, such as the updated firewall and more esoteric, internal fixes like Address Space Layout Randomization, are interesting but by no means compelling. Most IT shops have implemented a proper hardware firewall solution or third-party software for mobile/remote users, and address-based code exploits usually require some degree of social engineering to get them to work -- a phenomenon even Vista can't thwart.

Decision: From a security standpoint, there's just not a lot to compel XP shops to upgrade. Many of the issues addressed by Vista have already been resolved under Windows XP using in-house applications or third-party tools.

Round 2: Manageability

One of the key drivers for Windows 2000 adoption, and later Windows XP adoption, was the debut of Active Directory and its Group Policy framework. For the first time, IT shops could address the myriad configuration management issues that plagued traditional, fat client installations, using a standardized, centralized repository of rules and restrictions. Vista adds a few extensions to this mechanism. However, as with the aforementioned security improvements, many of these issues have already been resolved.

For example, Vista adds support for locking down block devices at the client level. This is a useful feature -- you can restrict users from accessing certain external media devices, such as CD driver or USB keys -- but it's another XP loophole that was closed long ago by third-party management agents. Likewise, the inability to install printer drivers using a non-administrator account -- something Vista now allows via a Group Policy extension -- was resolved directly by many large IT shops, in some cases through the creation of their own elevation utilities (see Security for details).

On the management tools front, there is a dearth of new Vista-specific features, either from Microsoft or from major third-party framework vendors. In fact, outside of support for Vista's new image-based installation and deployment mechanism, which is one of the product's few noteworthy manageability improvements, there's little incentive to move to Vista from a purely systems management perspective. The image-based installation model makes it easier for IT to capture a "golden" working image of their runtime configuration, and then spin this out to multiple systems regardless of the underlying hardware. This was a real challenge under XP, so definitely a point to Vista, but given the myriad third party installation and provisioning tools (one or more of which are probably in use at any given IT shop) it's no TKO.

Decision: Moving to Vista provides little or no ROI from a systems management perspective. Yes, the new image-based installation model is a welcome addition. However, the lack of significant innovation in other areas makes Vista's management story less than compelling.

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Randall C. Kennedy





this article is pure FUD



XP is a better choice

As one that has tried Vista and has been bitterly disappointed, I agree with the points made in this article. I don't advise anyone to use Vista unless they have a very compelling reason as well as a lot of money and time to waste.



Vista 64 vs. XP 64

If you compare Windows 2000 professional with the latest service packs at the time of the XP release to the original version of XP you could of written the same article.

My advise would be,if you have a PC that is more then a 3 years old and you do not have a good video card then Vista is not for you.

If you have a newer machine, especially one with a dual core processor then you should consider moving to Visa.

Vista 64 is the real future. If you compare Vista 64 to XP 64 vista blows it away. I have a PC at home set up as dual boot Win XP Pro 32 and Vista 64 and I have to say I never use my XP install anymore. In fact, performance wise my Vista install is an order of magnitude faster then XP. Vista 64 takes full advantage of my Video card and Dual core processor.



Vista needs improvement

I agree with your article, as I don't find anything absolutely compelling in Vista. I'm running Vista on my year old Sony Vaio laptop, only because Sony has not written XP drivers for it... So, I cannot downgrade to a fresh install of XP (I've tried).

It's not that Vista is really bad, b/c its actually OK. The issue is: it's just not compelling; at least that's how I feel.

I really hope MS get's their Consumer Operating System act together on their next OS and ships a: smaller, faster, more reliable, and more usable OS. Then, I'll be excited to upgrade. Until then, I'll stick with XP on my desktop, and unexcitedly use Vista on Laptop.

I'm looking forward to a couple years from now when MS ships Windows 7. But if it turns out to just be Windows ME 3.0.... then I'm becoming more enamored with Apple OS-X.

-- Jared



Please remove



Reply will not post against correct post

Please remove



RE: Pure FUD - What a Useless Comment

Comparing the content of your comment to the content of the article I would have to say yours lacks substance. If you think it's FUD, why don't you back it up with some proof.

To add additional FUD as you call it:

MS has been using tactics to coerce users to use Vista because, as the article states, there is no legitimate reason for most people to upgrade from XP.

MS normally supports their current OS and the previous OS. Why are they sun setting XP and leaving only Vista?

Normally an older generation of software is cheaper than the newer version. currently shows windows XP selling for 10-50% more than comparable Vista versions. Perhaps to compel people to buy Vista.

MS Finally released Halo 2 for the PC after two years as an Xbox only game. This was probably done to boost Xbox sales as the original Halo was released for multiple platforms. Originally the game would only play on Vista (are you seeing a trend) but after a hack came out to allow it to be played on XP, the software vendor promised to release an official patch for XP compatibility. There are other MS PC games being released as "Vista" only and I hope they get back-ported so that I can play them.

I am very happy with XP and look forward to the next OS version. I hope MS has learned something from the release of Vista.



just saying FUD is a weak man's arguement

This article has good points that can be counterpointed if somebody had the desire and intelligence to do so. It doesn't mean they'd be right, but to say it is just FUD implies you didn't even read or understand any of it.
It's obvious the author knows how to look up and try drivers, and has a point on the benchmarking. I admit, there is some FUD re: Vista, but it is based on reality and the numbers.



Vista Whining

I bought a laptop a year ago. I was FORCED to take it with Vista. I am a developer (and coder). The UI is "purdy" but it's so non-productive I won't even use the machine for development. It's now a dedicated iPod server. I also use it as a cup coaster. In another year I will probably test it's flight capabilities as a frisbee.

12 gb for an OS? OS stands for operating system, not Overlord System. My XP machine will literally run circles around this Vista machine even with the bells and whistles turned off. What's worse, my XP machine has a slower processor core and slower memory. Did anyone at MS actually have to use this thing before they released it?

My advice to anyone that actually uses their computer for productive purposes: stick with XP until Windows 7 SP2. That's probably August 2012, less than 4 months from the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar. :-)

Sam Coughlin


Way too much bias

When writing articles like this, please don't start with a bias.

You start out saying you're going against the grain when you don't upgrade to vista? Actually it seems to be the other way around. I've heard many people who have NEVER used Vista complaining about it saying they'll never use it.

Think back to Windows 2000, when XP came out couldn't you have said the same thing? It was basically 2000 with a new GUI and a few things changed here and there. Everyone LOVES XP now. It's just the internet wasn't at quite the same stage for everyone to complain ;)

I don't take the article seriously as I could because it's obvious you have a complete bias against Vista, everything good about it you dismiss rather rapidly.

You talk about Vista not being better than XP on some aspects because of some THIRD party software? That is truely not a comparison of operating systems, I'm sure these applications can be ported and there are probably versions of them for Vista also.

I personally think it is more productive once you get used to the initial shock of changing. I like the breadcrumb system, it makes a lot more sense and is much easier than pressing UP, UP, UP..instead it's just clicking one or two times. Also you can still use Backspace to go up a level in vista.

Moving files/renaming them is also a lot quicker in Vista and it seems to do intelligent things more often (eg when you click or press F2 to rename a file it selects it without the extention if you have extensions turned on).

Also the windows desktop search on XP is really horrid compared to on Vista, it works much better on Vista. Searching is an absolute breeze.

I think this article does have some points of merit, it sounds like something I would've written when I very first installed Vista and one of my hardware drivers was preventing Vista to load though! Much too much bias.



Biased author yields biased article

It is quite clear that the author does not like Vista and therefore saying the comparison is not biased is garbage. It is also clear that the author has spent little time with Vista given that the only features they can mention are those that everybody knows about. To be clear I ran XP for years and I'm running Vista now. In some cases it is a good choice, in others it isn't. The author tries to say Vista is a bad idea all around.

Let's cover the things the author conveniently skipped over.

1) BitLocker. If your computer gets stolen the information on it is safe even with an OS reformat. Not available without going to a third-party.
2) Parental controls. I have kids who don't need to be playing certain games or viewing certain web sites. XP's implementation was poor at best and didn't allow for limiting programs. Vista allows me to not only configure controls per user (so my wife can browse CNN without getting prompted for a password) but also control what games each can play. Again, not available without going to a third-party. Sure there is GP but what home user's can do that?
3) RunAs. Please, XP's implementation was half-baked. Unless you set the right options in Explorer you couldn't even start up a different Explorer instance. And then there was the whole command line thing. Sure IT departments might have a tool to do it but shouldn't it work out of the box?
4) Window Switching. You have to admit that the Win3.0 way of tabbing through open windows was pretty poor. If you had more than one instance of an app open you couldn't tell which one you were using.
5) Sidebar. While not critical it is really convenient. Sort of like a tray icon but with more information. Since most people have either multiple monitors or 10 billion pixel resolutions the space doesn't matter that much.
6) Reliability Monitor. A great tool for tracking reliability of your machine to try and find patterns in apps or the OS.
7) ETW. Available for a while but not really accessible until now. This gives IT and technical folks a lot more information on things happening inside Windows and apps.
8) Task Scheduler. The latest version gives you a lot more control over how and when things start and how they handle errors. It also works around issues with Windows Defender and startup apps. More importantly it allows you to run admin tools from non-admin accounts without requiring a password.

There are a lot of things I don't like about Vista. Here's just a small list:
1) Slow. Hopefully post-SP1 fixes will resolve this. I have the fastest PC you can buy and it takes forever to start up.
2) Drivers. Poor driver support. This is partially MS'es fault and partly third-party. Still XP and all other OS releases go through the same thing.
3) Services. There are way too many services that run by default. Why exactly do I need a service to support the F1 key? Why do I need a service for communicating with wMP when I don't even have an MP3 player? Why do I need a MCE service when I don't use Media Center? How about the various versions of audio support, performance enhancement and networking components? Too many services => bloat and performance issues.
4) DirectSound. MS removed direct hardward support. While I agree with the idea I think it came too quickly as most games will simply fail because of it. Makes your $300 sound card behave like a $10 one. Fortunately companies like Creative have Alchemy or OpenAL to resolve the issue.
5) Memory. Vista is bloated and it wears out the HDD while running. MS needs to fix this and adding new features isn't it. I think the OS still needs to go through another feature-cut phase to remove features that not everybody needs, or at least expose simplified controls to do it. Something like how W2K3 works would be good.

So is Vista the right choice for everyone? No. For IT groups, maybe. For devs and techies, probably. For home users with kids and newer games, yes. For novices and those who want to play Where is Carmen Sandiego, no.

Sneaky Pete


Vista x64 is the best

I couldn't be happier with Vista Ultimate x64 SP1. It boots up faster than XP SP2, and is the fastest OS I have ever used. It runs all my x32 programs, games and speed, stability, security are amazing. I use sleep and haven't needed a reboot in weeks. I run a Q6600, 4gb pc6400 ram, and a en8800gt video card. I have thrown all my XP install CD's in the bin and will never go back to XP, yuck phooey. I have no idea what all the fuss is about with Vista ? All you guys do yourselves a big favour, upgrade to a quad core and 4gb ram install Vista x64 Ultimate SP1 and stop your belly aching !

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