Does Vista suck?

Though not without its warts, Microsoft's much maligned OS gets the job done for enterprise users

Does Vista suck? The word on the Web is that it sucks badly enough that we should all don iSheep caps and adopt Macs or Penguins. I usually don't get into those kinds of arguments because they amount to OS holy wars. My inbox fills with angry anti-Microsoft zealotry from folks who've made up their minds to hate one and love another no matter what. I just don't look at it that way -- and I don't think most systems admins, consultants, and integrators do either. To us, it's a toolbox.

The important thing is the application; the OS is just an enabler. You use whatever runs the app that customers need to do their work -- with the least amount of downtime, cost, and pain. So to us, the question isn't just "Does Vista suck?" but "Does Vista suck enough that businesses of any size should simply throw up their hands and migrate over to something else?" All due respect to the Apple orchard and open source, but my answer is "No."

I've done a little Web scouring looking for specific examples of Vista suckage, but it isn't that easy to find. There's far more "It sucks for reasons too long to list" type of stuff than an actual list. Then I've compared those to my own experiences, since I've been a day-to-day Vista user since last September. I've broken down Vista into some basic categories and assigned each a pass or fail grade.


Stop with the gripes about Vista installation. Most of these are left over from when Vista was in pre-RTM code mode. That's just not a relevant slam anymore. Post-RTM Vista installation is the easiest I've ever seen, bar none, and I've had to install the thing eleven times now across a variety of systems.

On the flip side, there are situations where shrink-level Vista is being installed on an older machine or a modded one. On the old hardware, I concur: Vista can't do it. But we all knew it wouldn't from the get-go, no matter what Microsoft said. If it's not a dual-core, 1GB machine, keep Vista off it or suffer headaches. That's been a matter of public record since last summer. Hardware modding is a different kettle of fish. I'm not a big hardware modder, nor (I suspect) are most of the readers of this column -- business networking orientation and all. We just don't do a lot of overclocking. So supporters of Microsoft's gaming platform can justifiably slam Redmond for this, but us wee business users really don't care.

Grade: Pass.


A number of folks claim this is giving them problems. I'll agree on hating the client. I thought I'd start hating it less once I had a chance to use it for a while, but it's been 10 months and it's still clunky and nested way too deep. That said, ever since I had my SonicWall wireless problems hashed out, it's never let me down. I'm running this thing all day, every day on a home network, at client sites and Starbucks and Borders stores all across this great land of ours and the thing has never failed to connect when I point it in the right direction. I can even use advanced wireless security without getting a nosebleed. Other than a crappy UI, this is noticeably better than Windows XP, especially when it comes to wireless. Functionally speaking, I can't complain here.

Grade: Pass.


I don't get the criticism about Vista security. I see comments on the Web such as, "It's a joke." But it's not. It's better than XP, no refuting that. It's had less penetrations than XP did at its six-month mark, no refuting that either. I sure don't like the constant prompting at system change -- or explaining the reason for it to users -- and if I want a really secure system for some reason, I'm still going to go to Unix. But is it keeping my legions of Windows users safer than they were before? Gotta say, "Yes." Bottom line: We should keep complaining about this because it's the only thing that'll keep them working on it, but for everyday Windows work, I'll take it.

Grade: Pass.

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Application compatibility

This remains my No. 1 gripe, though things are getting better. App incompatibility with Vista was horrific when the OS first arrived -- and this after Microsoftees took me aside and played up how they've been working with third-party developers more closely on Vista than with any previous OS incarnation. But today, the basic stuff works: Office, OpenOffice, Acrobat, Firefox, Thunderbird -- I can run my basic productivity suite whether it's Redmond's or open source.

But there are still apps that give me problems, which truly sucks when it's something critical like QuickBooks. This is getting better, but far, far too slowly for my taste. Then again, if I'm evaluating this for a business, the solution is simple: Test your apps. Pass and you can upgrade. Fail and you wait. It's not like XP Pro is going anywhere in the next 24 months. Plus, can we really ding Microsoft for this? I mean, if your business is ISV with a Windows concentration, how come you still don't have a Vista version 6 months after release?

Grade: Pass (grudgingly)

Hardware compatibility

My second major gripe, for much the same reasons as application compatibility: It just shouldn't be an issue this late in the game. Just like app compatibility, Microsoft specifically mentioned its diligence with regard to hardware compatibility during Vista's dev phase, yet 6 months post-RTM and I can still stump Vista if I want to. But it'll be something fancy or from a business perspective, unnecessary -- like a recent review of a Genius web cam that required a special driver download.

But if I stick to day-to-day business hardware, I can't complain ... much. I've been through printers from HP, Konica-Minolta, and Epson; scanners from HP, CardScan, and Fujitsu; USB 2.0 and Firewire storage peripherals from umpteen vendors, including cell phone-installed SD cards and digital camera memory cards, and no problems.

Again, I think the file transfer UIs could use work, but they certainly are functional. The clincher is that I've never had a hardware problem that wasn't solved by a new driver. Not one. So just like under application compatibility: 6 months post-RTM, how lax is your hardware operation if you haven't managed a Vista compatibility driver yet? I can't pin that on Microsoft.

Grade: Pass (Yeah, grudgingly.)

Are there parts of Vista I really hate? Sure. Built-in DRM is a biggie in my book, but it doesn't affect my business clients so I'm not slamming it here. The resource hog thing is also annoying, but from a business angle most of these upgrades are associated with new hardware anyway, so again it's not a big issue.

Bottom line: Vista doesn't suck. If I have to give a grade instead of Pass/Fail, it's C+ to B- depending on how cranky I am that day. Or to put it another way, I've only got one XP Pro machine left here, due solely to that app incompatibility agony. When that clears, XP becomes extinct and I'm not looking back.

What's that spell for Enterprise Windows networkers? Pretty much business as usual. No gold stars, but certainly not enough suckage to force the expense, time, and pain of a platform migration for a whole business PC portfolio.

Then again, Vista does suck enough to make that an interesting article: Get two similar businesses running Windows XP, then move one to Windows Vista and the other to the Mac or some Linux flavor. See who has more problems. Any volunteers?