But many of Vista’s “new” features seemed terribly familiar to me–as they will to any user of Apple’s OS X Tiger operating system. Live thumbnails that display petite versions of minimized windows, search boxes integrated into every Explorer window, and especially the Sidebar–which contains “Gadgets” such as a weather updater and a headline reader–all mimic OS X features introduced in 2005. The Windows versions are outstanding–they’re just not really innovative.
Unfortunately, Vista RC1 contained bugs that rendered some promising features, such as the new version of Windows Media Center, unusable for me (an acquaintance who acquired a final copy of Vista ahead of release assures me that all that has been fixed).
My efforts to get Media Center working highlighted two big problems with Vista. First, it’s a memory hog. The hundreds of new features jammed into it have made it a prime example of software bloat, perhaps the quintessence of programmer Niklaus Wirth’s law that software gets slower faster than hardware gets faster (for more on the problems with software design that lead to bloat, see “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Meta”). Although my computer meets the minimum requirements of a “Vista Premium Ready PC,” with one gigabyte of RAM, I could run only a few simple programs, such as a Web browser and word processor, without running out of memory. I couldn’t even watch a movie: Windows Media Player could read the contents of the DVD, but there wasn’t enough memory to actually play it. In short, you need a hell of a computer just to run this OS.
Second, users choosing to install the 64-bit version of Vista on computers they already own will have a hard time finding drivers, the software needed to control hardware subsystems and peripherals such as video cards, modems, or printers. Microsoft’s Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor program, which I ran before installing Vista, assured me that my laptop was fully compatible with the 64-bit version. But once I installed it, my speakers would not work. It seems that none of the companies concerned had written a driver for my sound card; it took more than 10 hours of effort to find a workaround. Nor do drivers exist for my modem, printer, or several other things I rely on. For some of the newer components, like the modem, manufacturers will probably have released 64-bit drivers by the time this review appears. But companies have no incentive to write complicated new drivers for older peripherals like my printer. And because rules written into the 64-bit version of Vista limit the installation of some independently written drivers, users will be virtually forced to buy new peripherals if they want to run it.
Struggling to get my computer to do the most basic things reminded me forcefully of similar battles with previous versions of Windows–for instance, the time an MIT electrical engineer had to help me figure out how to get my computer to display anything on my monitor after I upgraded to Windows 98. Playing with OS X Tiger in order to make accurate comparisons for this review, I had a personal epiphany: Windows is complicated. Macs are simple.