I OCR scanned this out of the October 2008 issue of MaximumPC. I edited briefly for translation foul-ups (didn't get 'em all, as you'll soon see) but this is otherwise as printed in the mag. Shattered Dreams & Broken Promises We sat down with Microsoft to hear the company's side of story. What lessons have been learned following the worst Windows launch in the company's history? Is Microsoft doing enough to regain PC users' faith? Way back in January 2007, after years of hype and anticipation, Microsoft unveiled Windows Vista to a decidedly lukewarm reception by the PC community. IT pros, and tech journalists alike. Instead of a revolutionary next-generation OS that was chock-full of new features, the Windows community got an underwhelming rehash with very little going for it. Oh, and Vista was plagued with performance and incompatibility problems to boot. Since then, the PC community has taken the idea that Vista is underwhelming and turned it into a mantra. We've all heard about Vista's poor network transfer speeds, low frame rates in games, and driver issues-shoot, we've experienced the problems ourselves. But over the last 18 months, Vista has undergone myriad changes, including the release of Service Pack 1, making the OS worth a second look. It's time we determine once and for all whether we should stick with XP for the next 18 months while we wait for Windows 7. But before we answer that question, let's review exactly what's wrong with Windows Vista. What Went Wrong with Vista's Launch? We've seen worse launches over the years, but not from a multibillion dollar product that was a half-decade in the making. Here are the seven biggest contributors to Vista's dud of a debut INSTABILITY At launch, we complained that Vista was significantly less stable than its predecessor. We experienced more hard locks, crashes, and blue screens in the first weeks of use than we bad in the entire year prior using XP. Sadly for Microsoft, our experience was shared by many early Vista users. The problems weren't limited to high-end, bleeding-edge hardware, either. People with pedestrian, non-exotic hardware configs reported crashes, instability, and general wonkiness with Vista on laptops and desktops, in homebuilt rigs and OEM machines, and in PCs that originally shipped with XP Considering that improved stability was one of the highest promises Microsoft made for Vista, users were understandably upset. INCOMPATIBILITY Microsoft didn't make any big promises about application compatibility, and it's a damn good thing. If a desktop application didn't follow Vista's rules for behavior, Vista wouldn't let it run. The program would fail to load, crash on use, or eat the user's data, depending on the development infraction. And to be clear, we're not talking about shareware apps created why some dude in his basement, we're talking about Acrobat Reader, iTunes, Trilian, and dozens of other programs, not even counting the antivirus programs that are rarely compatible with a new OS. Getting hardware working could be just as challenging, If you had one of the millions of perfectly serviceable, but suddenly incompatible printers or scanners, you probably felt pretty raw. We know we did. Additionally, if you needed to connect to a VPN (virtual private network) that isn't supplied by Vista's built-in client, you were probably out of luck. Vista shipped without support from major VPN manufacturers, including Cisco, leaving work-at-home types out in the cold. The massive number of compatibility problems ensured that every user would he touched by at least one disappointment. PERFORMANCE We would expect a new version of Windows to be slower than the previous one, given immature drivers and new features that drain CPU cycles and absorb memory. However, the performance differential has always heen less than 10 percent in the past and only really evident in hardware-intensive apps, such as games. At Vista's launch, our tests revealed worse-than-expected performance in many different tasks and applications, Gaming performance suffered notably; using drivers from the launch time frame, our tests showed as much as a 20 percent performance difference between Vista and XP on the same machine, But that wasn't the worst of it. Even common tasks suffered. Large network file transfers took a ludicrous amount of time, even on systems hardwired to gigabit networks. On affected machines, Vista could take days to transfer a full gigabyte of data! While that was a worst-case scenario. many users complained that file transfers took twice as long to complete in Vista as in XI' USER ACCOUNT CONTROL Vista brought marked improvements to the overall security of Windows, one of the few areas in which the as actually lived up to Microsoft's promises. Unfortunately, one of the mechanisms that helps enable that security comes at a high cost - it's incredibly annoying. That's right, we're talking about User Account Control, aka UAC. Even if you do know what it's called, if you've used Vista you're undoubtedly aware that you need to prepare your clicking finger when the desktop darkens and your trusty PC start asking whether you really meant to install that application you just double-clicked. UAC prompts you whenever an app tries write to an area of your hard disk or registry that Windows finds suspicious, This seem like a good thing. right? It would be. excel UAC prompts every time the installer does somethll1g suspicious. We've had Vista prompt us no fewer than five times before completing installs it questioned. The problem is compounded by the the fact that those five prompts look and behave differently, even though they're all asking for basically the same thing: permission to write to a protected area of your system, To make matters even worse, none of the UAC prompts actually tells power users what the app is doing. When you click that Allow button, all you're doing is adding a speed bump to whatever malware you might be installing. Executed properly, UAC could have been a savior for people wont to install every application they find. Unfortunately, the UAC prompts quickly become so annoying that most users either disable them (the poweruser option) or mindlessly click Allow (the mom option). ACTIVATION Activation has been a hassle since Microsoft first included it with Windows XP. Microsoft's never really honored its stated 90-day limit for discarding activation information either. After installing the as once or twice, you inevitably have to call some poor sap manning the activation hotline to enable Windows. What bothers us about Vista is the inclusion of the Windows Genuine Advantage software, which periodically checks in with Microsoft to ensure that the copy of Windows you've already activated remains genuine. That's all well and good, unless something confuses WGA. Unfortunately, just about everything confuses WGA. It could be something as simple as a BIOS reset that sets the clock back a few years. Or it could be that Microsoft's entire activation process shuts down for a few hours-like it did last August. But at least Microsoft curbs piracy of Vista and other activated software by treating its customers like criminals, right? Well, not so much. Hacked versions of Vista that simply bypass activation are available on BitTorrent sites around the world. VERSION OVERLOAD In the old days, there were two distinct versions of Windows: one for home users and one for corporate users. For home, you bought Windows 98: IT departments bought Windows NT (at least the serious ones did). With Windows XP, this trend continued, despite the fact that both the home and enterprise OSes used the same core. With Vista, the old home and enterprise distinctions went out the window, as Microsoft added three more versions of Windows, removing crucial features like the 3D UI from the low-end release and forcing power users who want access to both work·friendly and enthusiast features to shell out for the $400 Ultimate edition. To help justify that exorbitant price, Microsoft promised Ultimate Extras, the first of which didn't materialize until months after launch, and those that did appear were disappointing. A bad Texas Hold 'Em game, a backup utility that should have been included in every box, and support for other languages do not "ultimate extras" make. Oh, and if you used Windows XP Professional at home and wanted to upgrade to a less-expensive home version of Vista, you were out of luck. The only upgrade path that worked from XP Pro to anything with Media Center capability was the spendy Ultimate edition. 'ONE MORE THING' If the last eight years of watching Steve lobs smugly introduce "one more thing" have taught us anything, it's that no matter how technically sound (or alternately, how fatally flawed) a product is, every major release desperately needs one or two supersexy features to incite lust in geeks everywhere. Every time lobs rolls out a new product, he teases the audience with a feature or two that you simply cannot wait to use. These features not only leave customers clamoring for the new product but also give those pesky users sitting on the fence a rationale for upgrading. While Vista had the technical chops in the form of the Aero renderer to deliver some potentially astounding API's, Microsoft's best effort was Flip3D - a gimpy knock-off of a feature that OS X implemented infinitely better. Aside from that, most of the API's included with Vista are rote updates of their forebears-from Movie Maker to Photo Gallery. There's very little that's new, even when the API's themselves are brand-new (see Windows Mail). Worse than nothing new, there's not much in a stock Windows install to inspire anyone-even the stereo¬typical dullard PC user. An Exercise in Angering Potential Customers: DirectX 10 Vista was supposed to mark the launch of a new revolution in PC gaming, spearheaded by the full might of Microsoft as manifested in the Games for Windows initiative. With promises of everything from a fully fledged online matchmaking experience (a la Xbox Live), easier installations, and (most importantly) a host of killer AAA titles, Games for Windows looked poised to really challenge console dominance and modernize the PC as a gaming platform. What Games for Windows actually did was tie the DirectX 10 API to Vista simply to drive sales of the OS. The first Vista¬exclusive AAA Games for Windows title was a downright geriatric port of Halo 2, a game that originated with the first Xbox and doesn't use DirectX 1O! To add insult to injury, there was no technical reason for a three-year-old ported Xbox game to be Vista-only. True, the community quickly released a patch that opened the door for XP garners, but we still can't understand who possibly thought this was a good idea. Microsoft continued down the suicidal Vista-only path for one more release, Shadowrun. Despite innovative gameplay and cross-platform support for its Xbox counterpart, the Vista-only release was enough to doom FASA Interactive, the studio that created the game. Abandoning the pretense that Vista is the perfect OS, Microsoft reps sat down with us to discuss the OS's problems in a (kind of) frank conversation We were surprised when Microsoft reps agreed to discuss Vista's launch problems and what the company has done to fix them. We were surprised not only that they agreed to answer our questions with candor, but that they were speaking to us at all. Our initial conversation occurred in June and set the stage for the article you're reading. This dialogue also marked the first time in eight years that we had a private conversation with any Microsoft employee without a PR manager present. The answers we got during this mid-June background conversation were brutally honest: Our source, a high-ranking Windows product manager, conceded that Microsoft botched the Vista launch. He added that the company's biggest concern wasn't the OS but rather the eroded faith in Microsoft's flagship product among users of all types and experience levels. Our conversation was refreshingly frank, and no topic appeared off limits. To wit: Our Microsoft source blamed bad drivers from GPU companies and printer companies for the majority of Vista's early stability problems. He described User Account Control as poorly implemented but defended it as necessary for the continued health of the Windows platform. He admitted that spending the money to port DirectX 10 to Windows XP would have been worth the expense. He assailed OEM system builders for including bad, buggy, or just plain useless apps on their machines in exchange for a few bucks on the back end. He described the Games for Windows initiative as a disaster, with nothing more than 54-bit compatibility for games to show for years of effort. He conceded that Apple appeals to more and more consumers because the hard¬ware is slick, the price is OK, and Apple doesn't annoy its customers (or allow third parties to). (cont.) Wanna kill these ads? We can help!