The Vista Downgrading Debate: Time To Start Talking

Warnerc2Small firestorm alert. In the last couple of days CNET and Engadget have blown some air on the embers that have been simmering over Vista issues. And of course in mobile circles those issues smolder pretty close to the surface. It was reported that ““Microsoft is quietly allowing PC Makers to offer a downgrade option to buyers that get machines with the new operating system but want to switch to Windows XP.” Actually this isn’t really news at all. If you follow the link to this document, you’ll see that this has been available for Vista Business and Vista Ultimate customers since the beginning. The ““quietly” part may be news, (I would like to think it was just because this wasn’t communicated effectively by Microsoft and not just lousy reporting), and how some OEMs are handling this may be news, but there is more to the story beyond flame fanning.

Calendars Focused on January 31, 2008 and Eyes on SP1


Fujitsu has recently started shipping an XP disc with its laptops and Tablet PCs, and other OEMS have created programs to keep customers happy at present. That only makes sense. But the real test will become clearer as we get closer to January 31, 2008. That’s the date by which Microsoft has announced that it will no longer allow OEMs to sell XP based systems. And with reports of Vista SP1 being slowly rolled out in Beta, you can bet that the rush is on to ship that service pack prior to January 31 so that Microsoft can keep to its deadline. There is a lot at stake, certainly.

The Mobile Perspective: Information Is The Key

I’ll be the first to admit that Vista doesn’t fulfill the promises of a better mobile OS, which was a part of the initial hype. That’s a shame really, but in trying to keep things in perspective, I can’t say I’m surprised. The delay of getting Vista to market and the pressure that created on the market all around was nothing short of a recipe for chaos. New machine rollout out cycles didn’t jive with the OS delay, but those next generation machines had to get out of the door in order to pay off on the investment already made before the delay was announced.


And of course as mobile users and geeks, in the absence of real information we’ve been tweaking the heck out of our systems to try and make them work better in our mobile framework. But what’s a geek to do? Issues we know about include:


  • Sleep and hibernate
  • Battery life
  • Docking and Undocking
  • Driver issues
  • ReadyBoost
  • Disk thrashing
  • Run away background processes
  • and I’m sure there are more

Most, if not all, of these issues stem from what is going on behind the scenes in Vista. SuperFetch, TMM, ReadyBoost, Remote Differential Compression, the Windows DFS Replication Service, and Beach Indexing are but some of the culprits that often get targeted as tweak candidates. But in my experimenting, I’ve come to believe that we don’t really know enough about what is going on behind the scenes in Vista to correctly identify what tweaks help and hurt in the long run. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried most of them and I’ve seen performance boosts initially. But after awhile, in most cases, things begin to slow down again. Rob and Matt had an interesting discussion on this in the most recent GBM Podcast. But as we tweak, in the absence of solid information, Microsoft and the OEMs are doing the same thing as evidenced by the number of updates that keeping clogging up bandwidth. Do you turn your tweaks off when your system gets updated? I admit, I don’t always do so, and that, I’m speculating could junk up the works here. Here are two inks that offer some tweaking advice for some of the issues mentioned above. (Ultra Mobile PC Tips and Notebook Review.)

The point here is that the whole thing comes down to effective communication and Microsoft has been in a bunker mentality on this. Microsoft needs to offer better explanations about what is going on with these behind the scenes processes. Even more so, Microsoft would do everyone a favor by explaining a lot more in general. A transparent Vista, with all of its faults, has got to be better than a streak smeared window.

I realize there are marketing pressures out there that lead those in control to keep a lid on things, but I think recent events in the industry, in addition to the rap Vista is now getting, have proven that users just aren’t going to take it anymore. As a small example, take a look at some of the heat, generated largely by Microsoft’s silence, over the lack of information on Vista Ultimate Extras. Microsoft, and others, ignore communication at its own peril.

 Since When Did XP Become So Great?


While it might seem like eons ago, XP isn’t too much of a distant memory for me to remember problems associated with that OS, as well as cries of waiting for SP1, followed by SP2 to be released. In fact the ““Wait for SP1” chorus for XP was just as loud as the one singing for Vista today. So, I don’t think much as really changed in that regard.

Granted, by the eventual launch of Vista, things were working pretty well on XP, but I’d offer that this had as much to do with the vast user knowledge that had slowly accumulated about XP, than it had to do with the OS itself, or much communication from Microsoft. Let’s not kid ourselves. We were working with an OS that had us all rationalizing that it was a good thing to reinstall it from scratch every six months or so. We lived with XP for so long, that we had discovered and worked around most of its faults. That leads me to believe that because we haven’t yet accumulated a similar amount of knowledge about Vista, and are wandering around in the dark discovery phase, that we’ve got a bit of distance to travel on this journey. Again, the real question is whether or not Microsoft will provide us with enough of a roadmap, or just let us wander around until users figure it out on their own and share that info.

Time for a Conversation

With Vista SP1 on the horizon, I maintain that we are still a cycle or two away from getting things anywhere near close to what anyone will be satisfied with. And now there are more hurdles in that path placed there by failures of communication. But in the meantime, machines need to be sold, and they need an OS. Keep an eye on that January 31 deadline. The closer we get to it, the more critical it becomes. Microsoft needs to open up, talk about the issues and get some real information out there. The days of hunkering down in the bunker are over. Coincidentally, as I was preparing this post, Hugh MacLeod posted this article on his blog gapingvoid. His 10th point sums it up nicely.

I still happily stand by what I said about Microsoft, late last year:


For too long, Microsoft has allowed other people- the media, the competition and their detractors, especially- to tell their story on their behalf, instead of doing a better job of it themselves.

We firmly believe that Microsoft must start articulating their story better- what they do, why they do it, and why it matters- if they’re to remain happy and prosperous long-term.

Let me put it another way: The future of Microsoft, and how Microsoft talks to people in the future, are one and the same. Yes, Virginia, the future of Microsoft is “Conversation.”