In January of 2007, Microsoft debuted what would become one of the most heavily criticized projects in it’s history. That project was Windows Vista, an operating system that is known more for it’s extended development time and myriad of post-release problems than for what it eventually became, or the monumental stepping stone that it was in the path to the beloved Windows 7 and even the more modern Windows 10.
Why was Vista so controversial? There may be more reasons that words to explain them. However the list can be narrowed down into a few major events that made it a popular punching bag among IT circles.
The Development Debacle
The first major problem for Vista was it’s extremely long development cycle. Originally code named “Longhorn”, the development for Vista began before the release of Windows XP. And therein lies part of the development problem. When Windows XP was released it too was plagued by post-release problems, many of which were security related. As a result, many of the developers who were working on Vista were re-assigned to help with security updates and patches for the currently available XP. This was the first step in the delays which stretched development time to over 6 years.
In 2004, after numerous test builds, presentations and demonstrations, one thing became very clear. Vista was a mess. It was a pot-luck of spaghetti code and leaky, half-baked features that caused major performance and reliability problems. As a result, the project was re-worked to help bring conformity and a clearer vision to what the OS was supposed to be. Of course, doing this meant delaying the release date even further, and what was originally supposed to be a release in late 2003 was now being slated for Christmas 2006. The release was pushed back again, this time to January 2007, to give extra time to device software developers to create functioning drivers. This was necessary as Windows XP drivers would not work in Vista due to the gravity of the underlying changes in the OS. Hindsight being 20/20, this final delay should have been the “red flag” for users and developers alike. Unfortunately, it was not heeded.
The release of Vista was underwhelming to say the least and a downright disaster to say the most. Early and day-one adopters were met with instability, crashes, and non-functioning peripherals. This was especially true of the (then “new”) 64-bit version of the OS. Teething problems were not entirely unexpected and working drivers were eventually released however the stage had already been set.
Perhaps more surprising than the initial problems that plagued Vista’s launch was the reaction from many of it’s users who quickly developed a very negative attitude towards it’s interface as well as it’s functionality. One of the biggest concerns among users was the new User Account Control (UAC) system that was deemed overly aggressive. This system would activate a allow/deny pop-up dialog when attempting to make changes to the system. While a sound concept, the initial implementation would ask about nearly everything, including menial tasks like deleting shortcuts from the Start menu.
Part of the negativity towards Vista could perhaps be pointed at the fact that it’s predecessor, Windows XP had been around for 6 years and users were becoming very comfortable with it. There was a certain way to do things within the system and users of XP were used to doing them in that manner. Vista changed some of these methods and backlash immediately followed because of it. As a result, Vista quickly developed a stigma of “I don’t like this because it’s different”.
Perhaps one of Vista’s biggest problems was the hardware it required to run well. This could again be traced back to Windows XP’s longer-than-usual run as a top OS however Microsoft shares at least equal culpability in this area.
The minimum requirements to run Vista were set at a point that was far too low to provide a good user experience. This, coupled with the “Vista Ready” campaign with computer manufacturers led to many Vista equipped systems being too under-powered to reliably run the OS and, as a result, it led to claims that Vista was slow, bloated, and inefficient.
Some of these claims were true however. For example, it was shown shortly after Vista’s release that file copy and transfer operations were, in fact, slower than Windows XP on the same system.
The Mojave Experiment
Seeing it’s 6 year investment floundering, Microsoft was forced to scramble for a solution. While the major technical issues were resolved within a few months, the damage to Vista’s reputation had already been done. It’s market-share compared to XP was embarrassing and the outlook was grim. So Microsoft developed a marketing plan to reinvent Vista’s image.
The Mojave Experiment was an advertising campaign run in 2008 in an attempt to reinvent this image. The advertisements shown were presented as a public case study in which computer users were asked their thoughts on Windows Vista, with the general notion being negative. Afterwards, the users were shown a “new” Microsoft system called “Mojave” and then asked to rate it. This time the notion was generally positive and far better than Vista. The users were then told that the Mojave OS was actually Windows Vista, much to their surprise.
The campaign was widely criticized as deceptive and not telling the whole story. And while it may have been true that Vista was not as bad as it’s reputation would have made it out to be, the campaign did little to change the perceptions regarding it.
Windows 7 Debuts
After the Mohave experiment, it didn’t take Microsoft long to decide that the next course of action was to move on and attempt to just put Vista behind them. In July of 2009 Windows 7 was released to the public and was almost immediately complimented as “what Vista should have been”. Windows 7 quickly stole the spotlight and relegated Vista to nothing more than a has-been product. The market share for Vista quickly fell as many users moved away from it and to the newer Windows. As a result, Vista quickly fell off the radar of many people and it faded into obscurity for many people.
With Windows 7 proving to be the “golden child” of operating systems, Vista became the punching bag of the tech community. Microsoft did keep working on it however and after a couple years and two service packs, it became a system that wasn’t half bad and not deserving of nearly as much criticism as is directed at it even today.
Unfortunately however, the time has come for it to fade out completely. And while it may now be considered a solid OS, the annals of history will likely remember it as one of the greatest botch-jobs of all time.