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Where Microsoft went wrong with Vista

Where Microsoft went wrong with Vista

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As I mentioned in my last post I've made my way to Microsoft HQ with a Visit to Canada on the way; this meant flying out through Heathrow Terminal 5.

T5 got off to a bad start, and we made contingency plans for lost luggage, delays etc. The reality: the easiest taxi drop-off I've seen at a UK airport, very short queues to check in in, lower security hassles than most airports, and as pleasant a place to wait for my flight as I've found; and baggage arrived successfully at the other end. The story is doing the rounds that the initial problems weren't just teething troubles, but were down to BA not training its staff on what was new... I understand that they showed up for work on the morning the terminal opened and had to work out where they were supposed to park and go on from there...

Now one of the things that has come up in the meetings I have been in is that we've done a lot of survey work around Vista. 94% of PCs sold via retail have Vista on them. In our recent financial statements to Wall street we said we'd sold 180 Million licences. Corporate customers are buying Vista licences faster than they are deploying, but the same happened with XP, and the rate of deployment of Vista is about the same as XP was at the same point in its life. But Vista is not getting the good press it deserves.

click for full size image. 2 years ago, at every meeting I went to someone would try it plug their laptop into a projector to show their slides. And it wouldn't work "Press Function F5" someone would call out "No, this one's a Dell , F5 is for the HP" another would say. "Oh... try F8" .  People would slip out of the room to get a coffee or make a quick call. By the time it had been sorted out 5 minutes had passed. It's a very conservative estimate to say I lost 10 minutes a week this way. Over a year that's a whole working day. 

Then Vista came along and it has the Mobility Center. Press [Window key] [X] and up it Pops. Click connect to display and WHOOSH the presentation is on the screen. That's a day saved: and knowing what Microsoft consulting Services used to charge for my time, that's worth more than cost of the upgrade licence, and the deployment cost and so on.

I brought this up in the group meeting this morning when someone said something about "people not being able to use PowerPoint because of Vista".. The betas of Nvidia's Vista driver 6 months before launch didn't work when a monitor was plugged in, but 3 Months before launch that problem went away. I must have sat through upwards of 500 PowerPoint presentations since Vista came out, and I've never seen a problem related to Vista. If the battery fails in someone's slide clicker what I hear is "That's vista for you", if the projector won't focus "It's vista". That's wearing a bit thin. What shocked me was someone at the same table leant over after I'd said all that and asked "What was the key combination for that ?"

Earlier in the session, a senior Microsoft person said she'd really valued the training everyone received on XP, and how she missed that with Vista. Anyone can switch from XP to Vista without re-training. You get security benefits, a better network stack, easier deployment  but it takes a little time to show people what can be done. How you get the best out of search, use tagging and previews in explorer, turn off the sound for one irritating application without turning them all off. The list goes on. We didn't teach people those things. And not everything about a brand new OS is positive.  Some hardware isn't up to the task - I will tell the story of my Home PC another time, but the short form is it needed me to spend £40 on RAM and the 5 year old graphics card doesn't support Glass; it works better and does more than it did under XP. Some things won't have drivers in the early days. The number of drivers available at launch was a creditable 30,000 but that's increased by over 150% (77,000 at SP1). Some applications don't work on a new service pack never mind a new release: not everyone has got to grips with the Application Compatibility Toolkit which has helped to provide an environment where some real horrors can be persuaded to run. And user account control annoys IT Professionals like the seat-belt alarm in my car annoys drivers. I don't need to be told I'm manoeuvring the car with my belt off. I do want to know if my children undo their belts when we're driving down the motorway. I hope the safety parallel is obvious.

We didn't give our own people the skills to talk about these things. And our own gleaming new state of the art product had a "Terminal 5" experience. SP1 for Vista was a milestone which gave people the feeling they could go back and have another look at Vista (in fact almost all of key changes had happened before SP1). I wonder how long it will be before people stop trying to avoid T5.


Update. Fixed several typos. Jet lag. Grrrr.

  • I use Vista and I have to admit that the one feature I really miss when going back to use a collegues XP machines is the start button 'instant search' feature to run applications and I rarely traverse the 'start' > 'programs' these days!  

    At home though, I have a decent Vista PC and a Macbook and I do find myself favoring the Macbook with nothing more complex than the browser (using online services like Google docs) to do most 'home' tasks over firing up the PC with Office.  The Mac is by no means perfect but it starts up far more quicky and feels way more responsive despite being older and a lower spec than the Vista PC and the benefits of 'cloud' computing are of far more value to me than semi-transparent window borders.

  • It's not necessary to upgrade to a new OS for some petty functionality(hooking a projector &co).

    Don't get me wrong , I will some day switch to the hungrier new OS after my current hardware life cycle will be long over.

  • @Manfred. No it doesn't. It's lousy with too little RAM, but I've put it on my 2003 Vintage Dell at home (single core 32 bit Celeron) and I had to upgrade the RAM. I love glass on my 2006 model machine but I just don't miss it. I put my TV tuner card on it and I have no problem at all - though I don't trust the "Balanced" power setting not to slow the CPU when I want to record. Your problem may be something else (feel free to mail me and we'll see if we can get you a support call to fix it)

    @Bruce. Serious question, is your Vista Machine still running all the crapware which seems to come loaded on any new box these days ? Not knowing those applications in detail I can't say for sure, but I'm willing to bet they benefit from pre-fetching like anything else does, they benefit from the machine doing its own disk defrag as a scheduled task, and probably benefit from better memory management (e.g. a big file copy doesn't move pages out of RAM and stuff the performance of the application).

    I'm guessing you don't have stats to say that any of those apps take significantly longer under one OS or another.

    @Simon, go to Windows help and type user account control, first match is how to turn it off. But don't turn it off, that's like driving without a seatbelt because you're a good driver. If you must do a lot of stuff which triggers it (e.g. setting up a machine from) then re-enable the default administrator account, and reset its password, it's not subject to UAC by default.

    @John. You downgraded people's machines rather than reseting the start menu and changing the power options ?  And you could have shown them how to make use the new features. How much time does a typical user spend in the network part of control panel anyhow ? At this conference I've had to deal with some very flakey networking and Vista's "diagnose and repair" has saved me about an hour compared with what XP would have needed over the last couple of days. (Constantly running IPCONFIG /renew, disabling and re-enabling adapters to see if they can connect to the access point this time etc)

    Congratulations John you've made people's  lives a little worse, not better.

    @Mickaël. I think you've probably got the most valid point of any so far. A lot of problems can be fixed by running using the admin account - because yes I know about running batch files that run non elevated and one line fails because it needs to be elevated. Steve Lamb has a tip of start CMD elevated so that problem goes away, and I'd also suggest doing the app setup part as administrator. Are you installing each of the apps on each machine rather than doing it once and making an image which you can deploy to everything.

    Oh and as for usability testing, millions and millions of dollars goes into it each year.

  • It's not necessary to upgrade to a new OS for some petty functionality(hooking a projector &co).

    Don't get me wrong , I will some day switch to the hungrier new OS after my current hardware life cycle will be long over.

  • I do not doubt that Microsoft is spending a lot of money in usability testing. What I question is what is tested, and how.

    Testing generally follows a protocol, and the results you get are directly relevant to what the testing protocol specified.

    Let's see the "change for the sake of change" kind of comments. Most people will agree with the fact that many of the user interfaces changes done both in Vista, Office, Visual Studio, etc... taken out of context (old habits and experience) are actually good ones.

    Problem is, they change some basic behaviors of the system (configuration, menus, way of doing things, etc...), so the user that need to upgrade to a new system or application can really wonder why to not switch to something else entirely. After all, if all these years learning by heart the shortcuts, the location of parameters, etc... is lost because the new version of the application/system is very different and need to be relearned, why move to Vista vs MacOS or some Linux distribution. Why move to Office 2007 instead of Open Office ? (well, that was for the sake of argument I think OO is really crap, but typically at home I'm using Office 2000 because in my book it's still the fastest and streamlined version of office ever. It has all I need, don't see why I should change :) Should I ?)

    Typically I'm using XP, in "Classic Window" mode, because I don't like the "Playschool" look.

    I'm also using Visual Studio, but with "Visual 6 keyboard shortcuts".

    That's two examples of things done well in Microsoft products: I can continue to work with what I know, without having to relearn a whole set of acquired knowledge.

    So yeah, I suspect that the kind of testing which is done is "Does it work well ? Do you like it ? What can be done to improve the product ?" without the "Is the transition going to be easy for people used to previous versions ?" fundamental question.

  • Vista is a very curious thing. There is a great deal in there which is way way better than XP -- single image installer, for example.

    For a corporate with 10k seats to manage, theres much to love and cuddle here. No doubt about it.

    However, what is there here for the home/SME user?  Glass? No meaningful upside, and a high hardware requirement. Redesigned UI -- no meaningful upside (we had already learned XP UI, thanks).

    And so on and so forth.

    Why does Vista need antivirus and antispyware tools? Why wasnt this nailed from day one? Answer - MS too scared of the likes of symantec and EA to make them code properly to the appropriate standards.

    What happened to the three pillars of Vista? The XAML programming stuff - nice, but no direct value to me today. Aero -- nice if you have the hardware, a pain if you dont, and still no real value. WinFS? I think I'll stop right there...

    Bottom line -- MS promised too much for too many people, and delivered too little for everyone.

    XP was adequate for most people most of the time -- Vista simply isnt compelling enough.

    And now look at the pricing on the Dell UK website -- buy a new Optiplex 330 and you get Vista Business bundled. Add in XP Pro downgrade rights for free. Go for Vista Ultimate with XP Pro downgrade rights and its 34 quid more. Well that was a hard choice...


  • It's not about Vista, or even any technical or "usability" features of Vista, it's just the way people react to change. It really doesn't matter how good, bad or indifferent the changes are.

    Fanboys aside, the people who will be the last to move to Vista were likely also the last to move to XP, and they were probably equally rude about that at the time. The operating systems get better, but the people stay the same.

    On the specific example of Etch-a-sketch users having to press some key combination to run something called a  "Mobility Center"[sic] before they show their Power Point slides ... well that sounds about as rational as having to press something called "start" to stop the machine.

    I use Vista because it's more secure and stable than the previous stuff. I like non-technical people to use it because it's harder for them to screw up. But it's still the wrong solution for most people, who really need an appliance not a computer.

  • First thing I did on my new and relatively speedy HP laptop (2.16 Ghz, dual core, 4GB memory and 256 dedicated video RAM) was repartition to installe Ubuntu for dual boot. All I am going to say about Linux is that it runs faster and that is with the fancy visual effects enabled in Ubuntu so from my validated perspective Vista has serious speed issues.

    Functionally, Vista has a few things I like but the UAC is stupidly intrusive. I hate IE7 and have hated it since XP so that isn't Vista's fault. Thank goodness for Firefox.

    Boot time on my laptop is slow and getting slower. I keep my kids off the machine and have limited apps installed so either my machine is spyware ridden and the UAC is crap and all the security claims are just posturing or the system really is slowing down over time.

    The start menu is horrible. Why does MS feel the need to move things around for no good reason? People get used to a way of doing things but then you move it, rename it and change the icon It is no wonder people are confused about new features so don't claim that it is just uninformed users who don't really appreciate the improvements. Remember the changes to control panel in XP? What percentage of people switched to the 'tradition' view because it was comprehensible - I bet there were a bunch. Stupidly I struggled with the new view in the expectation that this was the way MS was going so I might as well get used to it. And then Vista changes everything around again. It would be like the Oxford dictionary saying "this month champagne will be spelled sham-pain, pronounced 'bubblyboo' and it will actually mean 'beef flavoured jelly roll'. This is the real pain that MS puts users through every time they re-jig the UI for no apparent reason other than convincing the unwashed masses that it is something new and worthwhile.

    Performance wise, one of my first lessons was don't try doing anything while transferring files from an SD card. As this was a new laptop I transferred files from my old system and found that a 2+ Ghz dual-core system could do absolutely nothing else effectively while moving files off a memory card at a rate far *slower* than XP wrote them there in the first place. Based on other web discussions, analysis, etc. my suspicion is that Vista has so many paranoid DRM checks that it kills performance for legitimate uses and users. Perhaps you should wrestle with the consequences of kowtowing to the recording industry - another monopolistic dinosaur - at the expense of lost customers. In the end, where do you get more money and who should you respect more?

  • PhilW and George. Perhaps you should talk about "as rational as having to press something called "start" to stop the machine." vs "The start menu is horrible. Why does MS feel the need to move things around for no good reason? People get used to a way of doing things but then you move it, rename it and change the icon"

    George, you'll probably find if Linux is going faster it is doing less :-) Most users never see UAC , PowerUsers see it a lot, but remember the admin account doesn' see it at all. You've got a spyware checker in defender (bet you turned it off or didn't trust MS update) so check, and use tools/software explorer in defender to find out what is loading at boot time.

    I hated the XP start menu and went back to Windows 2000 style, I get on better with the Vista version. That was what the usability labs found too. Like Mickaël, I didn't like the fisher-price look of XP's themes and turned them off. Vista's don't jar so much

    Actually the changes to Control panel in XP weren't seen as a success (hence the use of traditional view) and again the vista changes came from the usability  labs. I just type what I want in the search box.

    SD cards , I've found huge differences with different readers, some appear to slug the performance of the machine and some don't.

    The stuff about DRM checks happening a thousand times a second are simply untrue.

    Mickaël , I suspect you're right that the tests concentrate on getting the best UI for a task, and just assume that people will pay the price of making the transition. Office 2007 deployment in my bit of Microsoft was a week of cursing while people found where things had gone, then a quiet week, and then people saying "hey have you seen X". I've been through the changes from MS-DOS Executive, to Program Manager, to Start menu (yes I ran progman.exe on 95 for a bit), ironically it is the changes which deliver most which tend to disrupt most.

    Jon H, I'm going to follow up the £34 quid thing because it seems odd to me.

    As for the home user.

    Media Centre, DVD burning, Photo tagging, sorting and previewing, better parental controls were the first few things I thought of. It's those home/consumer things which make me love vista. Deployment is just fantastic, but it can't inspire Love.

  • So I have been at the PC thing since 87 at Compaq and I would say the shock to the user is no better or worse than multiple prior 'new' releases... anyone remember WordPerfect's pandering in Print Ads "I'm sticking with DOS".

    Can remember which morph of office, I think moving 2000 where the UI shifted radically that caused a lot of bitching.

    RE: The Office 07 Ribbon.  I too had a lot of UI indigestion until I discovered that by hovering in the Ribbon you can scroll with your mouse from Home to Developer tasks quickly without lifting a finger.  After a lot of tinkering I believe quite strongly that this Office 07 is by far the best UI to date.

  • Dude, not everyone is just Vista bashing.

    Not everyone is pro-Mac (which you can't own if you don't have a turtle-necked shirt and wire framed glasses.)

    Not everyone likes open source, which is for and produced by people that don't mind doing hard work for free.

    Here's a simple test:

    Using a pair of Vista installed machines with gigabit net adapters, copy a DVD image from one machine to the other, look at the transfer rate. Before SP1 the highest I saw was 3.3MB/sec before tweaks, 8.5MB/sec after. After SP1, 13.1MB/sec.

    The same test on XP to XP, the highest I've seen is 54MB/sec, average 45MB/sec.

    Being a software dev, I tried this on many different machines multiple times and multiple OS tries per machine, even multiple switches. To rule out switchgear, I've even tried crossover cables.

                    1Gb/sec = 125MB/sec. Why so low?

    I also saw an increase average temp at idle from XP to Vista.

    On a 2GB RAM machine, RAM at IDLE, XP 400MB, Vista 550MB with no Aero/Sidebar.

    Before you jump over this without trying this test and whip out some jack-assery like 'I'm not inclined to copy a whole DVD from on PC to another' ask yourself 'WHY IS THIS SO SLOW? Why does it not matter what hardware this is tried on? Is there something else that is ALSO NOT WORKING to caps? Will higher average machine temp have a NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THE PLANET? (More heat = more power usage = more AC usage = even more power usage)'

    Well, I AM inclined to build and copy DVD images to archive. Apart from me, somewhere, someone has to be cutting feature films, producing commercials or source media for games.

    Some of those people are paid by the hour...

    Why should I pay a higher price for less actual performance?

    Before I go on a tangent-rant about how the Office2007 print menu is hidden in the glove box next to the 'Open Trunk' button, I digress...

  • I find it interesting that just briefly scanning the responses here, the majority (I'm guessing than around 90%) are generally negative about Vista.

    Admittedly, it's a very limited customer sample but after the 'Terminal 5' launch, it would look to me like either the Vista WOW message still isn't getting out there or perhaps people are finding that Vista doesn't meet their expectations or needs?

  • James: 'as rational as having to press something called start' - I find it amusing that you parrot one of the common mockeries from alternate OS communities. Beyond the 'Start' button being redesigned, the presentation after clicking has also changed radically and I don't see that being a significant improvement. There are some improvements but largely I find them lost in the clutter of cosmetic changes.

    Linux probably is going faster because it is doing less: I think the issue here is - What is the less that it is not doing? And why is there a growing performance disparity over time? I can be downloading a (legitimate) ISO through bittorrent while watching a video file on a rotating cube of multiple desktops with better performance than when ONLY playing spider solitaire on Vista. btw - I also turned off transparency. It was neat, I'm a fan of neat but in the end it was just annoying and provided no real value. (Also, look at the usability of the window for controlling screen effects and dock the pay of whoever gave it a gold star.) And Vista is still slow. And Linux runs faster. It may be doing less and doesn't appear to need to do them anyway.

    I have not turned of defender and have automatic updates enabled. My spyware remark was largely sarcastic in nature to underline a point.(Apologies for that not being clear, I will try harder next time.) It was intended to emphasize the fact that something is slowing this system down. I don't genuinely believe that the issue is spyware - so what is it? I will take the time to look for spyware but based on my largely paranoid approach to the web and software don't seriously expect to find anything significant. Did I mention that it gets scanned every time I use it to connect to work?

    I will accept your statement that DRM checks are not occurring. Still the card in question was an HP branded SDHC 4GB card specifically sold as a high speed card and used in my HP laptop with nearly vanilla Vista SP1 activated only a couple of days previously. I can't see how I could be any closer to mainstream vanilla Vista on supported hardware and your excuse is that mileage may vary? If, as you say, DRM is not the issue then there must be a serious and fundamental code flaw.

    I dispute your assertion that most users never see the UAC. If you include all business users who are locked down and are not allowed to install software then, technically, you are correct. It is perhaps a bit more disingenuous of you if the statement is restricted to home users who may on occasion, Gasp!, install software or do something as radical as update iTunes once in a while.

    Or is the assumption that all family members go running to Dad/Mom or big brother/sister if he/she is the family 'IT person'? And then that person runs as administrator to bypass all the laboriously inserted yet borked security encumbrances in Vista? If I read you correctly, UAC which Vista provides went through millions and millions of dollars of usability testing is best bypassed by running as administrator all the time.

    As for new features, most of these (with the possible exception of parental controls) are'also ran' add-ons that bring Windows Vista up to speed with respect to the excellent freeware alternatives already out there for XP. I expect them to be there but am not moved to a feeling of love.

    Deployment was not fantastic. My personal experience was a ridiculously long startup/configuration time on first power up. In fact this delay was the leading cause of returns for my brother-in-law's store. People assumed something was wrong and powered the PC off partway through the initial setup and trashed the OS. Great usability testing went on there. (Did you see the sarcasm that time?)

    In conclusion, all you have done is agree with me that Vista is actually slower, SD card utilization can be terrible for inexplicable reasons and acknowledge that UI changes can really irritate people.

    So where is the love?

  • Your whole blog post is like one of those dumb interview questions where the interviewer asks "what is your biggest weakness?" and the candidate replies something like "I care too much" or "I just can't stop working".

    You ask in the title, "Where did MS go wrong with Vista?" and you reply in your post "we are too smart to teach lame users the obvious".

    It all about attitude and MS is consistently condescending in their designs and responses.

    Tell me one thing. In a file save dialog box when I want to change the path and I use the pull down dialog box, why can't I get the system to show me the disk hierarchy which would all me to browse to the desired directory. Why did it get changed to only display an unordered list of various places that Vista remembers?

    I dare you to explain that to this luser.

  • @m2iCodeJockey  There's a post by Marc russinovich on this, which is basically on XP when you do an enormous file copy, it allocates a huge amount of ram for caching doing it, which knocks the stuffing out of any apps you run afterwards. Vista caps it, so you will find these kinds of performance effects.

    Yes, I understand the "that's not typical" "But it is what **I** do argument", but on the the flip side when I copy a DVD image it is from the US to the UK - lots of bandwidth and a ton of latency. It used to be something I had to leave overnight with XP, now it's less than an hour.

    George: the start menu. Personally I prefer it, the usability labs tried a bunch of different combinations and the one we went with came out top. We all have our preferences. Performance change over time. Well it could be as simple as you're shutting your machine down every night and Vista's default scheduled defrag never runs. It could be that you've got infested with other stuff.

    If the machine doesn't run it's shadow copy because it's turned off it will start it at boot time (though that should be a low priority IO task) and the more files it has the longer that takes. The list goes on.

    The SD card thing isn't the card but the reader. I've had a bunch of readers and some suck big time, some are fine and I've never got to the bottom of why.

    I shouldn't have said never. I don't see UAC as a problem because updating iTunes once in while is something where a box popping up saying "Did you know something is changing the software on your computer" is actually a good thing. But it's not a daily or even weekly occurrence. I'm not sure what the percentage of usability test time that went into UAC was (do I detect sarcasm). But there are a bunch of settings around do we display it for (a) THE admin account (b) members of admins (c) Non admins with a credentials box. The defaults are set differently for each. So corporates can push out a policy which says you have to type your password to install iTunes if that's what they choose.

    Conclusion. Slower. Every OS does more, but demands more hardware to do it. Fact of life (and I did do the update from Windows 1.03 to 2). There are some crap SD readers. And some people like what they have. Hell I'm running Paintshop pro FIVE which is NINE years old. I tried V.10 and it might have been better but I just didn't like it. Love... I can see my photos in explorer and tag them, then do a search and find all the pictures which have a particular friend of my daughters and burn her parents a DVD. No add ons needed.


    Look if you want to think I'm being condescending and calling you a lame user then that's up to you. [I'm not. My point was we did a lousy job of making the new stuff discoverable and compounded the crime by not giving our own people the knowledge to talk about it. ].

    File save instead of clicking the down arrow on the right click the arrow on the left. I quite like the arrows in the breadcrumb trail but the IE style "Recent" list isn't something I find helpful in a file explorer/file save setting.

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