The Vista nerd rage feedback loop

— 3:46 PM on October 1, 2007

Ask anyone in the techie community about Windows Vista, and they'll tell you the same thing: Microsoft's latest operating system is a failure. It's slow, bloated, and riddled with flaws. Nobody's buying it, and it's pretty much Redmond's biggest blunder since Windows ME. There's a very strong consensus on this, and you'll no doubt conclude that Vista is indeed both an awful piece of software and a commercial failure—that is, until you talk to actual Vista users or, heaven forbid, Microsoft itself.

There seems to be a striking difference between what the tech press and techies in general say about Vista, and how Vista users actually feel about Vista. As someone who's been using Vista on his primary PC for ten to twelve hours a day since February 17, I can attest to this first-hand: it just isn't anywhere near as bad as everyone says. It's not even a little bad—I can honestly say I haven't once in the past seven months felt like moving back to Windows XP. In fact, I feel like I'm missing out when I have to use XP on another machine.

I'm not the only one to feel this way, either. Out of the tech-savvy people I know, only a couple have reinstalled XP after trying out Vista. The rest might not have any strong feelings one way or the other—a friend of mine got Vista on his new laptop and doesn't see a reason to install it on his main PC, for instance—but they've all settled in just fine as far as I'm aware. The last time I heard somebody say, "I'm thinking about installing Vista, but I hear it's awful," the response was, "No, it's really not that bad." And the last person I know who upgraded said verbatim, "Vista isn't as terrible as I'd suspected."

Of course, this is all anecdotal evidence, and everyone knows Vista isn't selling well at all. Right? Well, maybe not. Following the Vista launch, Microsoft posted its highest quarterly profits yet, lauding "robust demand" for the new operating system. In May, Microsoft boasted that it had sold nearly 40 million copies of Vista. In the company's July financial statement, Microsoft credited Vista as the primary source for a 15% year-over-year increase in OEM revenue. Yes, XP demand is still strong, and copies of Vista aren't flying off store shelves like hot cakes (nor should they considering Microsoft's pricing scheme), but Vista is hardly failing commercially.

Despite the above, tech journalists and bloggers alike post article after article clamoring about Vista's utter failure as an operating system. Those articles go from citing "low" sales numbers to throwing around the Big Bad Three-Letter Acronym—DRM. Such articles invariably fail to mention that Vista's only built-in DRM relates to protected Blu-ray and HD DVD media, that it's necessary to play those media at their intended resolution, and that XP does basically the same thing. People like Ed Bott occasionally attempt to quell the hysteria, but they largely go unheard.

Some even less informed articles rant on about Vista's high memory use—evidence of masses of bloat, they say, when in reality it's little more than Microsoft's SuperFetch memory system in action. Complaints of massive hardware incompatibilities are rampant, too, even though hardware support has largely improved in the few months following the Vista launch, and the fault lies with hardware vendors—not Microsoft—to begin with. The list goes on.

So what's really wrong with Vista? It's not flawed technically and its hardware requirements aren't outrageous (the Aero user interface can be turned off, and although it does seem a tad more memory-hungry than XP, memory is extremely cheap nowadays). It won't drown you under unwanted DRM software, and it won't kill your family, club baby seals, or crucify puppies. Features like User Account Control prompts are a little annoying, but they can be tweaked or disabled, and they're actually useful from a security standpoint. Not to mention Mac OS X, Linux, and any modern operating system has a similar system in place. Hardware and software support left something to be desired originally, but as I mentioned, it has improved significantly since the retail Vista launch eight months ago.

Personally, I think the bad press Vista receives is simply a feedback loop. Geeks don't like change, and they're often very vocal about the fact. Throw in some fear, uncertainty, and doubt from misinformed bloggers and tech journalists, and you have geeks telling each other to hold on to Windows XP like it's the best OS ever made—even though in reality, it's very much outdated and flawed in many ways. Of course, this is hardly the first time a new Microsoft operating system has been shunned by the techie elite. Many geeks similarly recoiled in horror from XP following its release in 2001, and I personally know some who stuck with Windows 98 SE for a couple of years after XP's introduction.

In conclusion, I think too long has passed between Windows releases, and I think geeks have simply forgotten what operating system upgrades are all about. Most of those railing against Vista now will likely make the jump eventually, and the rest had better be ready to wait a long, long time if they expect a better step up from XP than Vista.

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