Windows XP Departs: Good Riddance or Sad Farewell?

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Vista's Improvements: A Real Difference?

Like Windows XP, Windows Vista improves marginally on its predecessors. My esteemed but mildly delusional colleague Ed Albro asserts below that marginal improvements aren't enough to warrant an OS upgrade. And he may have a point.

I certainly wouldn't recommend that everyone run out and buy a copy of Vista to install on their aging PCs. On the other hand, it's not as though Vista is the first Windows upgrade to make much ado about relatively little. If history has taught us anything, it's that marginal improvements are the norm for new OS launches.

In fact, I can think of only two operating system releases in the past 20 years that have bucked this trend: Windows 95 and Mac OS X, both of which massively revamped their respective platforms.

Revolutionary OS upgrades are occasionally necessary to keep the industry moving forward, but they inevitably cause problems for end users working with legacy hardware and software--and sure enough, the historic launches of Win 95 and OS X left users around the world griping over their suddenly obsolete gear.

Of course, if Ed had his way, 92 percent of us would still be glumly clicking around in a heavily patched and repatched version of Windows 95. But at least we wouldn't have had to upgrade any of our hardware to support pesky new-fangled multimedia features.

I concede the points that Vista runs slowly on older hardware and that it has compatibility problems with aging devices and apps. I feel for anyone who has had to buy a new printer because their old one didn't work with Vista. (I have several printers at home, each from a different vendor, and none of them has ever balked at Vista, but I hear tell that this is a problem for some people.) Still, the fact that Vista runs poorly on my oldest laptop neither bothers nor surprises me. If that thing were a horse, I'd have shot it by now anyway.

Windows Vista security warning.
And marginal as they are, the improvements in Windows Vista make a real difference to end users (even though many users may fail to notice it).

Most important, Vista is quantitatively more secure than XP. Yes, the User Account Control feature is annoying, but it does protect hapless users from inadvertently loading their PCs with system-wrecking malware. If anything, the UAC isn't annoying enough, since you can still all too easily to click 'Continue' without considering whether you really want to allow some random process to access your hard drive's boot sector.

But we can't have it both ways: Either we accept an OS that nags us when something we're doing is likely to cause trouble, or we keep living in the malware-ridden universe that is XP. Rather than assault Microsoft for trying to strengthen Windows' system security, I'd prefer to encourage the company to continue hardening the OS.

Vista looks better than XP, though that isn't saying much. While the silver trim of XP Pro is tolerable, I find the forced cheeriness of XP Home's blue, green, and red color scheme fundamentally offensive. And though most users have grown accustomed to XP's clunky menu system, I find Vista's more compartmentalized (and customizable) Start menu far simpler to navigate.

In addition, Vista beats XP hands-down on everyday features like photo management, multimedia entertainment, networking, working with mobile devices, searching for files on the hard drive, and calendaring.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that Windows Vista is amazingly great. But Vista is certainly competent enough that when XP finally fades out of my life, I don't think I'll miss it one bit.


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