Full Disclosure: Windows--New! Improved! Yada Yada Yada!

Every Microsoft upgrade sets a new standard-in hype.
Illustration: John Cuneo
"This is the easiest-to-use version of Windows yet, and will help bring the power of the PC to new users worldwide," Bill Gates announces. The press release goes on to claim that the operating system "dramatically improves the key areas that keep users waiting on their PC today, including opening applications, accessing the Internet, and shutting down the PC. This enhanced performance, along with powerful new self-maintenance and update features, empowers users to spend more time enjoying their PCs and less time managing their system."

Windows Vista? No, Windows 98.

"Today we unveil the future of computing," trumpets Bill Gates. He cites a reliability report from an independent laboratory: "According to the test, with constant and intense use" in 90 workdays the operating system "never failed."

Windows Vista? No, Windows 2000.

"We are entering an exciting new era of personal computing," declares Bill Gates. "This powerful new version of Windows offers so much to customers--it unlocks the full power of the PC and enables them to enjoy the best of what the digital world has to offer."

Windows honcho Jim Allchin adds that "customers will experience a much more enhanced yet simplified computing experience. Customers can do things they've never done before with a PC; likewise, business users can work smarter and faster with more productive tools to meet the demands of any size company."

Windows Vista? No, Windows XP.

Beginning to see a pattern here? Microsoft introduces new operating system. Microsoft promises great benefits. New operating system doesn't deliver.

Less time "shutting down the PC"? To this day my XP machines often hang until I hold down the physical on/off switch awhile. A Windows that goes 90 days without a single crash? Yeah, right. Hey, XP won't go even a month without a forced reboot to install security fixes!

Apart from Microsoft hype, one thing never changes when the latest version of Windows arrives: the time you have to waste coping with the peccadilloes of the new regime. Will the upgrade really deliver productivity increases that let you get that time back? Not bloody likely.

When you switch to Windows Vista, you'll be figuring out how to cope with questions as little as why 'My Documents' turned into just 'Documents' and as big as where to get a new driver for your old printer--if you can get one at all. Your old security software won't work, so you will have to find, pay for, and install replacements. You'll be tearing your hair out every time you encounter new features that work differently from the old familiar ones for no apparent reason. And if you're a particularly early adopter, you'll probably be googling frantically in search of others who have run into problems similar to yours.

I'm not masochistic enough to test Microsoft's betas and release candidates. The final product is usually rough enough; and as I write, that's not yet available. But I've seen the demos and read the propaganda and first looks. Vista promises a lot of potentially useful new stuff. But for now I can think of only one reason to worry about the thing: It will come with your next PC.

Unless that machine is a Mac, in which case you'll be offered a new OS every year or two with a couple of modest features that pretend to change the world and claim to be worth $130. But at least you'll waste less time in the upgrade process.

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