Windows Vista Rant

Stan Whalley

Where is computing taking us? I ask myself this question quite often and I never get near to answering it. Will future computing applications be web-centric like Microsoft wants them to be? Microsoft would love to rent us applications (it does already) and charge us for support. Companies like Red Hat and Suse Linux have made a tidy living out of selling support for what is, essentially, free software.

Who really wants their valuable data to be unnecessarily bounced back and forth over any network with the potential risks involved? Most people like to have their data within arms reach and to work on it with software installed on their own computer. I certainly do, it feels like I'm in control that way. Control is very important, ask Microsoft, Sony et al.

I don't have an issue with paying for support but I don't want to pay for support of a product that is seriously flawed to begin with. The situation is that corporations believe in the survival of the fittest and this works well, particularly if you have created a virtual monopoly for your products. The chink in the armour is that if the product isn't the fittest then someone will pull the rug from under you, no matter that you have a monopoly. Sell a poor product and you won't be top dog. Ever.

This is why I feel that Windows Vista is the wrong product for tomorrow; it has some interesting and potentially useful features but is still built on a foundation of poor architecture. For example, Symantec has already voiced concerns about the stability and security in early builds of Vista and these may not be that simple to rectify.

Microsoft will rectify most of the problems that Vista will come with in the first version released to manufacturing, as it did with Windows XP. I used Windows XP from release client one and the differences between that and Windows XP SP2 are almost enough to consider it a new operating system in its own right.

Why is Vista still flawed and why is it taking so long to bring to fruition? The Vista concept (Longhorn) came about before Windows XP was released and is (if I'm not mistaken) based on the NT kernel like Windows 2000 and XP. As all the problems with securing XP became apparent this should have forced close examination of any future NT based operating system. There must have come a point when the choice to stay with the NT kernel or abandon it and create a new one was reached.

In my opinion Microsoft took the wrong path; re-writing and patching something that hackers know inside out is not what the clever money would do. But is this issue down to cost or the inability to innovate? Or even down to arrogance?

I saw a lot of security fixes in Windows XP from RC1 through to SP2 and over the course of Vista's life I think its users will see much the same. Windows XP SP2 is reasonably safe and stable if you look after it; it is certainly a better environment to work in than the Windows 9x series of operating systems. Many XP users are happy with that product and will be looking to Vista to provide something better, not just a fancy new GUI but also in the engine compartment where it matters. Security has become a major issue in computing and customers don't just expect to be secure, they want to be so with the minimum of effort and expense. Users don't want to have to pay for software to secure a flawed product.

What about Microsoft, will the Vista delays have an impact on how people perceive the company? Will Vista sell? Of course it will; it will be the only option for most people who buy a new computer, as was Windows XP. But will people upgrade to Vista as willingly as they did from Windows 9x to XP? I doubt it; XP was a far better product than Windows 9x even at RC2 level. It was based on a better kernel after all. Yes, I think they will. Not just the shareholders but also those who were led to believe that Microsoft was omnipotent because it made a superior product. You can play the “keep them on the edge of their seats” trick when you don't have the Internet hawks on your back as with Windows 95 but that won't wash these days.

The pen is mightier than the sword but not the big mouth. It's not only the delays to Vista that will colour people's perception of Microsoft, it is also the obvious incompetence, blatant greed and desire for control over its customers that is making many of those with a voice in the IT world look for alternatives to Microsoft's wares.

Where is computing taking us? I don't know, but I suspect that if Microsoft doesn't change its business model and get its software right then piracy will be the least of its worries.