Whatever you do, don’t install Windows Vista

Windows Vista isn’t as bad as Windows Me, but compared to 2000, XP, and Server 2003, it’s a disaster.

In the last few years I’ve grown to prefer OS X, but don’t let that fool you—I’ve used every Windows since 3.0. I actually liked XP quite a bit; however, Vista is not XP. There are just too many problems with Vista to ignore, and as it stands now, you should not install it under any circumstances.

Most of the problems center around User Access Control (UAC), Microsoft’s new ACL-based security strategy. ACL is a broad concept used in web applications and programs like Apache to determine user access rights. The idea is that rights cascade from most general role to most specific role, such that user ‘jsmith’ may be in the same ‘users’ usergroup as ‘rjones’ but have more or less control than ‘rjones’ does.

The problem is that Vista’s ACL implementation is the worst I’ve ever seen.

The Mac ad with John Hodgman pretty much nails it. Every time you want to do something in Vista, no matter how seemingly trivial, it stops everything to nag you, “Do you want to do this?” Sometimes, you have to go through two different prompts just to approve it. That would be fine if the prompts were infrequent—say, when you are installing a program, changing the system configuration, or when you run a new program (but only the first time). Instead, it prompts you constantly, incessantly, not remembering your previous selections. It’s as if Guy Pearce from Memento was handling your security.

You might say, “People complained when Windows was insecure; now Microsoft adds system-level security and you’re still complaining.” But the problem is users, not the fact that they weren’t prompted nonstop every time they tried to use their computer. And as with every other frequent prompt, users will begin to ignore the UAC nags. Users don’t read prompts. Actually, users don’t read much of anything unless it’s directly related to what they’re trying to do. But the way to combat that is not to prompt them constantly, teaching them to ignore yet another warning. It’s to make the warnings as infrequent as possible, so that the user realizes that something out of the ordinary is happening.

If you really hate it, you can turn it off, right? Oh, naive user. Turning off UAC altogether removes all prompts—including the ones that Windows requires to perform certain tasks. Do you know how annoying it is to attempt to rename or delete a Start Menu item, only to have Windows shrug off your command with a terse, “You need permission to perform this action”? Or to type “net stop apache2″ in the console in order to restart Apache, and have Windows dully tell you, “System error 5 has occurred. Access is denied”?

Simply put, the UAC implementation in Vista is braindead. And unless their QA department has completely dropped the ball, I think Microsoft knows it. I think they decided that shipping was more important and that they would fix the most glaring bugs with the first service pack (a reasonable conclusion, I suppose, after six years of development). The problem is, we fools that adopted early have to fight with our computers in order to do anything.

But UAC isn’t the only headache in Vista. Among the others:

  • Frequent explorer.exe crashes
  • Desktop and explorer windows not refreshing—ever!—unless manually forced to do so
  • Like XP, a complete inability to customize the Aero skin with my own colors
  • Settings, often with older programs made for XP, not being remembered (likely related to poor backwards compatibility with UAC)
  • My Recycle Bin disappeared from my desktop altogether, even after a reboot—turns out it set itself not to display all on its own

A UAC kludge to save your sanity

There is something of a fix, though. If you’ve installed Vista Business or Ultimate, you can keep UAC turned on but tell Windows to shut up, er, auto-approve all prompts. The application you want is secpol.msc and detailed instructions on using it can be found at Tweakvista.eu.

A word of warning, though: if you have a hard time managing your own security, don’t turn off UAC. I’m not responsible for any changes you make to your computer. ;-)

Like this post? You might also like Coalmine, my centralized error tracking service for your apps. Coalmine captures errors and all kinds of helpful debugging information, notifies you, and makes it all searchable. Check it out!

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3 comments

  1. I came here looking for “web stuff” and now i’ve been reading this article.

    Call me a freak, but i found out Me was much nicer than 98. It booted faster, it fixed some network bugs of 98, and also included automaticaly all installation files on disk. However you had give it enough ram and to tweak it (a little bit) (make more DOS-compatible, for playing games, we’re talking 7 years ago, put off system restore, include come parts of 98 in it, like msconfig..). But after tweaking it was a nice OS!

    Now i’ve also been playing around with vista 64bit on a mac 24″. This is worse than Me. There’s so much going wrong! Simply do a google search, because i’m not going to write it down right here. I guess you also can tweak it, but i guess you would have to put far more time into tweaking it than i did for win Me.

    I’m a very happy user of XP Pro. So i would want to tweak everything in Vista, to finish with something that works, and looks like some sort of XP including some of the nice vista features.

    Now what, nice vista features? Witch feature in vista is really exciting and is not yet available for xp? Maybe it’s the GDI replacement inclusive DX10? The new “start”menu? (i dont’ like it) The new interface? huge buttons, and easy dragging windows?
    You can have already some nice gui-improvements of vista on XP. http://vseproject.extra.hu/

    Also Leopard has some nice improvements, but on the other side also some really bad things. So MS is not the only one who has done some mistakes. KDE4 is a nice preview of the evolution on linux-GUI. But we can also criticize it.

    As long as we all use a W3C compliant browser (firefox), i don’t bother what OS you use, but i prefer xp above all.

    btw: nice blog (i’ve played a little for a while, with your funny nav-bar :p)

  2. some1heartbeat@yahoo.com

    I DO AGREE WITH EVERYTHING YOU HAVE TOLD HERE, BUT HOW CAN PRIVENT VISTA , I MEAN UNINSTALL VISTA FROM MY NEW HP PAVILION 6799ee WHICH KILLING MY , AND I THINK THAT VISTA IS A COPY OF LINUX PLATFORM , COZ I TRYED LINSPIRE ” LINDOWS” AND I CAN TELL VISTA IS AS SAME LOOK LIKE OF LINSPIRE LINUX , BUT THE LAST IS BETTER, I WISH I COULD INSTALL LINUX ON MY NEW LAPTOP,
    THANKS DEAR AND F**K VISTA.

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