I’m starting to get annoyed when I sit down at a Windows XP computer because it’s missing so many things that I take for granted in Vista. I just reformatted a hard drive and installed Windows XP from scratch for a client and it required far more work than it would have been to do a fresh install of Vista on newer hardware.

Dell and the other manufacturers will stop selling Windows XP on new computers at the end of June (with some weird exceptions), and I don’t think I’m going to miss it much.

  • Vista’s integrated Start menu search is invaluable. I haven’t looked through the Start menu in ages – it’s completely natural to click Start and type in a few letters of a program, then click on it. It’s far easier than hunting through XP’s typically huge cascading menus.
  • The breadcrumb bar in Windows Explorer makes it possible to jump around in a way that simply isn’t possible in XP.
  • Vista’s Aero interface is more than just eye candy – the live previews of items on the task bar or in the Alt-Tab task switcher provide instant feedback that can’t be duplicated in XP.
  • The shadow copy that Vista Business makes twice a day has saved me several times when I’ve been able to roll back to a previous version of a file or recover one that had been accidentally deleted. And Vista’s backup programs are top notch.

And there’s more – new features, new ways of working that have become second nature. Whether it’s doing searches, or speech recognition, or the snipping tool, or using the new performance and monitoring tools – a fair amount of what I do these days is only possible in Vista.

Setting up the Windows XP computer reminded me how many things are required before Windows XP becomes acceptable.

  • A lengthy trip to Dell’s web site to accumulate the hardware drivers required. After installing Windows XP and Service Pack 3, the network card, video card, audio, and modem were all still dead until I downloaded the drivers from a different computer and brought them over on a USB drive. (The hardware drivers supplied with the computer on a Dell CD were woefully out of date, of course.)
  • Outdated programs that have to be removed, even if no third-party programs are installed at all: MSN Explorer, Windows Messenger, Outlook Express.
  • Programs that have to be manually installed for minimal security or essential new functions: Windows Defender; Internet Explorer 7; Microsoft Update; Windows Desktop Search. (Do you remember that by default Windows XP Search features a cartoon dog?)
  • Changes that are required to avoid irritation: turning off the language bar that appears down by the clock; editing the properties of the desktop and start menu and task bar; and more.

Windows XP runs faster on older computers, and it’s good enough. Great! Lots of people should use it.

But there’s another measure of performance that is not well understood. After Service Pack 1 and 18 months of compatibility and driver improvements, Vista’s performance is identical to or better than Windows XP on new, reasonably well-chosen hardware. ExtremeTech just did some tests and reluctantly reported that Vista out-performed XP on the same hardware. The test results were unambiguous but not enough to stop the author from using the usual supercilious, dismissive tone about Vista, which “of course, has been plagued by criticism . . .” Ed Bott’s reaction to the ExtremeTech article makes the point nicely:

“Anyway, the first page was practically a parody of every I-hate-Vista blog post published in the past 18 months, so much so that I almost didn’t bother clicking through the whole thing. And even then it took some effort to continue clicking past Page 2 (a mostly cut-and-paste list of features in XP SP3) and Page 3, which offers a mere three paragraphs (shameful) of “observations” about XP SP3.

“It is not until page 5 that the editorial bias begins to crumble, albeit reluctantly, with a pair of graphs and this priceless description:

“‘Vista somehow outperformed XP in PCMark05’s overall score, but its important subsystem scores (CPU and Memory) were very close to the older operating system.’

“That “somehow” is a nice touch. I found that to pronounce it properly one needs to lift one’s nose in the air, just so, and then stretch out the syllables in somehow, the way Thurston Howell III might have done it. “Vista somehow outperformed XP.” Makes it appear that the actual improvement in performance when running Vista with SP1 on the same hardware as Windows XP is a fluke. Well played, editors!”

Share This