I hate Windows Vista, and in this post I’m going to tell you why. But before I do I want to say that I am a long-time admirer of Microsoft, most particularly in the way that they have managed to continually update their operating system while retaining backward compatibility with almost everything ever written for it. That’s no small feat. I have been writing software for Windows since the early 90’s, and I also make heavy use of Debian and Ubuntu. I am no operating system bigot, nor a knee-jerk anti-Microsoft geek. I’m not even under 40, or a lefty.
But, I hate Windows Vista. I hate the way it seemingly chooses at random from two or three different kinds of privelege elevation dialog whenever some program decides it needs elevated priveleges. I hate the way Explorer sometimes just hangs for twenty or thirty seconds when rebuilding the directory structure tree. I hate the way Explorer decides (seemingly at random) that a folder full of miscellaneous text files should be displayed with the media columns showing, or in “big icon” view. I hate that when I change it to the standard view it doesn’t stay changed, or remember the column widths. I hate that when I type a full filename into the search box the engine gets all smart and shows me partial matches and matches on internal content when all I wanted was to find one damn file. In fact I hate everything about Explorer, and while I know that you can resolve most of this crap by switching to classic view (I have), that’s hardly the point.
I hate the way that installed programs sometimes don’t show up on the start menu, but when I search the start menu, there they are. I hate having to elevate privs to manipulate system directories even when running as administrator. I hate the way that most games I install mishandle the desktop trying to get into full screen mode. I hate having standard system folders for my music, my pictures, my videos, my downloads, and my documents that the system insists on preferring over any other location. Dear Microsoft: I am not like everyone else, and I don’t keep my stuff in those places. I’m ok with system folders in general, whether they’re called “\Windows”, “\Program Files”, or “/bin”. But having standard folders for all that other stuff just reeks of smart-assed people deciding that everyone should adopt their conventions so we can all receive our “benefits” in a uniform way. If I bought a file cabinet, and it insisted on offering me a preconfigured location everytime I opened it with a medical file in hand, I’d be pissed. That’s not helpful. Yes, again, all this is customizable, but it isn’t necessarily obvious or easy to do. It should be. These things should be suggestions, that can be banished or changed at the click of a button.
I hate that my Creative Audigy 4 Pro is so poorly supported that I have to reset the mixer settings to get my center channel back every time I run a media program. Yes, I know that’s Creative’s fault, more or less, and that many of the other issues that bug me are software OEM problems, but again that’s hardly the point. Part of Microsoft’s appeal was that they managed this stuff, and I didn’t have to. This time around they seem to have the same relationship with their vendors and partners that I have with my teenaged daughters: neither party has a clue what the other is really thinking.
Not that there isn’t anything to applaud in Vista. The underlying system is actually quite an improvement. It runs better than XP, certainly starts faster than XP, and uses memory more efficiently than XP ever did. Once games are running they seem to run as well as they did in XP, and other media applications fare as well. I like readyboost, though I don’t currently use it, and I like address space randomization. As a software developer Vista gives me the impression of a more formidable foundation than XP, and .NET continues to be the best application framework available on any operating system platform in my opinion. There are some engineering teams in Redmond that are doing a hell of a job.
But it all seems to go to pieces at the user interface, in usability and the way the security issues are presented. Not that the UI isn’t pretty. It’s pretty, and frustrating as hell. From the reorganized start menu, to control panel, to important subsystems like networking, sharing and security, device management, everything has received a thick coating of translucent blue easy gel. It’s like buying a PC game and finding out it’s a bad XBOX port, and you have to control everything with buttons and scroll wheels. Computers are complex. Some people have a harder time with them than others. Burying all that complexity under layers of Aero doesn’t make it go away: it just makes it a pain in the ass to get to.
I sure hope that Windows 7 is a big improvement, and I realize it’s a little late to be climbing on the “I hate Vista” bandwagon, but I did give this OS a long, serious try. In fact I don’t have any real choice about using it. But my recent laptop purchase got a clean disk and Ubuntu 9.04 as my welcoming gift. I don’t want to play games on it, nor do I need Office, so that takes care of both my big reasons for using Windows. If 7 doesn’t turn things around for me, I might be contemplating Ubuntu as the main OS for my desktop, too. I can always run Windows in a VM for development purposes.