Windows XP Departs: Good Riddance or Sad Farewell?

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I'll Miss You, XP

And now speaking in favor of Windows XP is Editor Edward N. Albro.

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Okay, so I know how these point-counterpoint duets are supposed to go. I'm supposed to rip into the arguments presented by my opponent, Robert Strohmeyer, and perhaps rip into him, too. But nothing Robert writes inspires me to call him an ignorant slut. (Working with him every day does, but that's another story.)

Robert's argument, in a nutshell, is that XP isn't as great and Vista isn't as horrible as all the gripers out there make them out to be. I'll grant both points--XP has some significant flaws, and Vista makes some marginal improvements.

Here's the problem: Marginal improvements just aren't enough.

Changing your OS is always a major hassle. Your old hardware may be incompatible with it or too slow to accommodate it (and Vista has had more than its fair share of driver problems). Some software makers will force you to buy new versions of their programs for the new OS. And commands, menus, and shortcuts inevitably get moved around (Microsoft engineers seem to take an almost sadistic pleasure in changing the OS's organization for no apparent reason).

XP, I'll Miss You: Editor Edward N. Albro
Photograph: Robert Cardin
If I'm going to go through that much hassle, it had better be for a good reason. And that's what Vista lacks: a compelling reason for you to upgrade.

Robert cites User Account Control, Vista's more stringent security system. But UAC is an unholy combination of whiny nag and officious bully. Those who can, disable it; those who can't, ignore it.

The interface? If translucent window borders aren't the very definition of a useless change, I don't know what is.

Flip 3D feature of Windows Vista
When Microsoft came around to demo Windows Vista before releasing it, the feature they seemed most proud of was Flip 3D, which shows your open windows three-dimensionally, angled off into space. Since acquiring a Vista-based PC, I've used Flip 3D about three times. Though it looks cool, it actually gets in the way of doing your work quickly. In that respect, it's a bit like Vista itself. (Also, if you really like Flip 3D, you can get it in XP.)

Microsoft's Best Effort

Robert cites some other features that he says make Vista superior to XP: photo management, multimedia entertainment, networking, working with mobile devices, searching for files on your hard drive, and calendaring.

I have to disagree on networking, which I find even more opaque and confusing in Vista than in XP--and that's saying something. As for the other features, I'll cite these personal statistics:

  • Months I've been running Vista on my desktop and XP on my notebook: 18
  • Times I've been working in XP and wished that I had a feature that was available only in Vista: 0

The somewhat discouraging fact is that XP remains the highest expression so far of what Microsoft does. Redmond doesn't do beautiful, and it doesn't do elegantly efficient. That's for the design freaks at Apple. What Windows has always achieved is bureaucratic competence.

It makes lots of devices from lots of different manufacturers work together reasonably well. You'll encounter problems occasionally, and you won't always love the way it works, but generally it gets the job done.

And even 18 months later, XP still gets the job done better than Vista. It's just a better bureaucracy. That's faint praise, I know, but it's reason enough to stick with XP if you can.

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